Driverless Cars: Could Vehicle Ownership be Relegated to History?

Driverless cars could eventually result in the death of car ownership, according to Phil Williams, project manager of the Technology Strategy Board special interest group Robotics and Autonomous Systems.

Williams, who was speaking at RE.WORK’s AI & Robotics Innovation Forum, said: “The likelihood is that we will see a reduction of car ownership”.

He said that transport was likely to move towards being a service. “Today it’s called a taxi,” he added. “In 10 or 15 years time it might be an easy car.”

This change would be likely to come about because payment-per-trip would increasingly become the most affordable option. Williams highlighted how insurance, MOT and road tax are already proving too expensive for some, and suggested that as driverless cars became mainstream they would make the cost of individual journeys much cheaper.

The percentage of young people learning to drive in developed countries has been on the decline over the past few years, a trend that experts are connecting with rising costs of car ownership and driving lessons and the increase of online activities.

driverless-car-landscape

Hugo Elias, senior engineer at Shadow Robot Company, also indentified a likely move towards driverless taxis and away from ownership.

“By 2020 every car manufactured in the past 10 years will be driverless, 10 years after than perhaps all cars will be driverless,” he said.

“Perhaps at some point in the future almost nobody will own their own cars.”

He argued that this could result in fewer cars in operation. Unlike now where most cars spend a large percentage of their service life sat in garages or driveways, driverless taxis could run almost all of the time, meaning a smaller number would be needed for the same number of people.

This, Elias believes, could have an impact on the design of cities. There would be a move away from car-centric cities such as Los Angles, and a rise in smaller cities built to accommodate pedestrians and bikes, such as Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

driverless-car-portrait

However, Paul Newman, BP professor of information engineering at the University of Oxford, was keen to stress that fully driverless cars that would operate completely autonomously were a long way from being a reality.

“This is a technology that’s going to blend over time. It’s not going to be a step change,” he said.

Newman, who is involved in the development of the first road-legal driverless car in the UK, argued that the technology that is underdevelopment at present is “hands-free driving” that still requires drivers to be alert and ready to take control.

“Insurance will disable the car if you sleep in it,” he said.

He did concede that truly driverless technology could eventually be possible, but argued that this was a very long time away. Newman said: “Maybe many, many, many, many years down the line you may not be facing forwards.”


Images courtesy of Mike and Maaike.


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