Connected, automated and autonomous

Connected, automated and autonomous

Autonomous vehicles have been the big buzz in the auto industry for several years, but when will they become reality? A Ricardo White Paper takes a deep dive into the whole complex subject and, as we discover, comes up with some surprising answers. 
Much of the automotive industry and countless tech companies are working feverishly to bring self-driving vehicles to market, but their work has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons – the handful of highly publicized accidents that have highlighted the risks involved in early on-the-road testing. Some commentators, perhaps understandably, are beginning to question the wisdom of pushing so fast into this avenue of development.
Indeed, it is worth asking why there is such a sense of urgency. Why are these connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) suddenly top of everyone’s priority list? What are the drivers behind this sudden shift in thinking? These are among the questions addressed in a White Paper just published by Ricardo. Entitled The automation revolution coming to mobility and transport by 2025, the report warns in no uncertain terms that “CAVs are coming a lot faster than many observers expect.”

Drivers for automation

One of the most frequently cited reasons for the promotion of automated vehicles is that of safety. Vehicles driven by computers don’t get tired, distracted or impatient, it is argued. Another potential benefit, more easily demonstrated, is that vehicles under the control of optimized route planning and powertrain efficiency software will be more environmentally friendly than those piloted by erratic humans.
And while in the short term automated vehicles themselves may not do much to relieve inner-city congestion, they will at least allow their drivers to make more productive use of their time in the car.
Longer term, too, widespread automation of the vehicle parc could help speed up journey times by coordinating traffic flows and preventing overloading of particular routes, much as air traffic control networks already do for commercial aviation.
But why is this race for automation happening right now? Again, the consensus is that it has been triggered by a combination of simultaneous pressures and developments. Environmental concerns have hastened the arrival of electric vehicles, which are inherently easier to control through their electronics, and the timely maturing of smartphone technology in millions of people’s pockets now offers a ready-made interface for user-friendly consumer access to a wide range of transport options, including cars.
Nor need the automated initiative be limited to passenger cars: in fact it is likely to become accepted in other domains first. Everything from trucks and drones to personal mobility devices stands to be drawn into the automated arena and, of these applications, trucks and goods delivery systems could be the first to yield demonstrable economic benefit.

Impacts of automation

If connected and automated vehicles do become as widespread as some are predicting, what will be the consequences for the automotive industry? And how will this impact on the way in which we use the various modes of transportation available to us?
Once again, there is a measure of general agreement that the arrival of CAVs is likely to result in a decline in overall unit sales of vehicles across a variety of categories. Fully robotic taxis would become prevalent within city regions, say the Ricardo paper’s authors: “….and with good coverage the need for personal car ownership could be reduced to the point where it could become redundant.”
In the new mindset of the market, argue some, people will become less intent on owning a vehicle and the focus will shift towards using pooled vehicles as a service; the early stages of this are already evident in the car-share schemes being run by companies such as GM, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Smart.
The consequences of this shift will be profound at all levels of the supply chain, and some OEMs – especially premium manufacturers – will have to fundamentally realign their business models. Premium manufacturers invest heavily in the status and public standing of their brand names and, as the Ricardo report points out, while vehicle manufacturers are able to enjoy a high value path when selling to consumers, the value path to mobility providers will be of much lower value. Consumers would effectively disappear from the sales equation, and in a future automated scenario the business model of the industry would shift from a B2C to a B2B one, much like the way today’s major airlines deal with aircraft

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