Tran­si­tion to au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles un­der way

The Star Late Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Roy Cokayne

THE EARLY stages of a tran­si­tion to au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles (AVs) is un­der way.

S&P Global Rat­ings ad­mit­ted as much in a re­port re­leased yes

ter­day ti­tled The Road Ahead for Au­ton­o­mous Ve­hi­cles, where it re­ferred to the com­mer­cial roll­out of “hands-free” fea­tures on some premium ve­hi­cles this year.

How­ever, S&P be­lieves the mass adop­tion of driver­less AVs is still decades away.

It re­ferred to the pedes­trian fa­tal­ity in March this year by an Uber au­ton­o­mous test ve­hi­cle, adding it high­lighted both the sig­nif­i­cant tech­ni­cal chal­lenges and limitations with this trans­for­ma­tive tech­nol­ogy, and the many practical, tech­ni­cal and moral ques­tions that needed to be re­solved prior to its mass adop­tion.

S&P said full-scale test­ing of self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles with­out hu­man con­trol was un­der way in cities glob­ally by a num­ber of com­pa­nies.

BMW Group con­firmed this week that it had be­come the first in­ter­na­tional car­maker to ob­tain the au­ton­o­mous driv­ing road test li­cence in China, mark­ing a big step on its path to au­ton­o­mous driv­ing.

It of­fi­cially ob­tained the Shang­hai in­tel­li­gent con­nected au­ton­o­mous driv­ing test li­cence, is­sued by the in­tel­li­gent con­nected ve­hi­cle road test promotion team, con­sist­ing of Shang­hai’s mu­nic­i­pal com­mis­sion of econ­omy and in­for­ma­ti­sa­tion, Shang­hai’s mu­nic­i­pal pub­lic se­cu­rity bureau and Shang­hai’s mu­nic­i­pal trans­porta­tion com­mis­sion.

BMW said this achieve­ment un­der­lined its lead­ing role in the de­vel­op­ment of au­ton­o­mous driv­ing in the Chi­nese au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try.

The test sites in Shang­hai cur­rently cover a to­tal dis­tance of about 5.6km, but this was planned to grow quickly over time.

BMW Group said the test fleet was based on the lat­est BMW 7 Se­ries mod­els, start­ing with two op­er­at­ing ve­hi­cles this month and adding up to seven ve­hi­cles by De­cem­ber in China.

S&P be­lieves fully au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle pen­e­tra­tion would be in­flu­enced by and sig­nif­i­cantly lag of elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

It ex­pects the mar­ket growth of elec- tric ve­hi­cles could ap­proach a 10 per­cent share of US light ve­hi­cle sales by 2025 com­pared to 1.1 per­cent at present, which was be­hind its fore­cast of a 25 per­cent share in Europe and 20 per­cent share in China.

S&P has a low and high dis­rup­tion sce­nario for the adop­tion of AVs.

Its low dis­rup­tion sce­nario only fore­sees ad­vanced AVs with a 2 per­cent share of light ve­hi­cle sales by 2030, ris­ing to 10 per­cent by 2040.

How­ever, S&P said that should “the rev­o­lu­tion” fol­low their high dis­rup­tion sce­nario where AVs com­prise a 30 per­cent share of light ve­hi­cle sales by 2030 and 50 per­cent by 2050, “the ef­fects on so­ci­ety will be pro­found and far-reach­ing”.

“Semi-au­to­mated to fully au­ton­o­mous all elec­tric ve­hi­cles share the road – aug­mented by ride-shar­ing tech­nolo­gies and TNCs (trans­port net­work com­pa­nies) – are likely to alter how cities are de­signed, grow and func­tion, af­fect­ing where we live and work.

“AVs will in­tro­duce life-sav­ing and ul­ti­mately labour-sav­ing tech­nolo­gies, while fun­da­men­tally al­ter­ing the move­ment of peo­ple and goods, dis­rupt­ing busi­ness mod­els along the way,” it said.

But S&P stressed that the tra­jec­tory of AV growth was com­plex and un­pre­dictable, be­cause it faced hur­dles be­yond tech­nol­ogy and cost.

It be­lieved the growth of AVs would lag that of elec­tric ve­hi­cles, based on the in­her­ent ad­van­tages of elec­tric ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing lower main­te­nance cost, be­cause of fewer mov­ing parts, zero emis­sions and lower op­er­at­ing costs per kilo­me­tre.

While elec­tric ve­hi­cle growth was pri­mar­ily de­ter­mined by bat­tery cost de­vel­op­ments and sup­port­ing in­fra­struc­ture, S&P said AV growth faced many hur­dles be­yond tech­nol­ogy and cost.

These in­cluded le­gal and reg­u­la­tory de­vel­op­ments, con­sumer ac­cep­tance and hu­man be­hav­iour, pub­lic opin­ion on safety and li­a­bil­i­ties, and tax­a­tion and in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing.

S&P said the ini­tial growth phase of AVs was likely to lead to more con­ges­tion, be­cause con­ven­tional cars would have to in­ter­act with AVs, which would also likely be reg­u­lated in a con­ser­va­tive man­ner.

“This new dy­namic could in­crease the num­ber of ve­hi­cles miles trav­elled and the use of ride-shar­ing ser­vices. There may also be calls for ded­i­cated lanes or road­ways to sep­a­rate AVs and driver-op­er­ated ve­hi­cles.

“The be­hav­iour of driv­ers and pedes­tri­ans to AVs, which is just be­gin­ning, is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict,” it said.

S&P added that while AVs would ul­ti­mately re­sult in fewer au­to­mo­tive deaths and in­juries, it was clear that pub­lic opin­ion would be de­fined by in­ci­dents and ca­su­al­ties dur­ing the test­ing phase.

“So­ci­ety may have lit­tle tol­er­ance for the inevitable road ac­ci­dents and fa­tal­i­ties caused by AVs. Equally, how in­sur­ance com­pa­nies will adapt the poli­cies they write to take ac­count of driver­less cars is presently un­known.

“As AVs be­come con­nected to, and ul­ti­mately con­trolled by au­to­mated sys­tems, de­sign­ing cy­ber-se­cu­rity mea­sures to pro­tect against po­ten­tial hack­ing of crash pre­ven­tion sys­tems, caus­ing them to fail, will be an im­por­tant fac­tor in cus­tomer ac­cep­tance and crit­i­cal in as­sur­ing pub­lic safety,” it said.

S&P added that the pro­lif­er­a­tion of AVs would af­fect travel be­hav­iour and pat­terns.

Smart ve­hi­cles com­mu­ni­cat­ing with other ve­hi­cles and road­way in­fra­struc­ture could use real-time traf­fic data to an­tic­i­pate what was ahead, make bet­ter route choices and syn­chro­nise speeds to use shorter head­ways.

“All of this should re­sult in bet­ter use of in­fra­struc­ture, less ve­hi­cle flow break­down and less con­ges­tion,” it said.

S&P also be­lieved that ve­hi­cle own­er­ship pat­terns could change and with more AVs on the road, in­di­vid­ual car own­er­ship would face de­fla­tion­ary pres­sures, be­cause driver­less cars served mul­ti­ple pur­poses and pas­sen­gers.

It said there was the pos­si­bil­ity of shared or frac­tional own­er­ship, but be­lieved many peo­ple would still want to own a car, re­sult­ing in car own­er­ship re­main­ing stable in the US, with po­ten­tially fewer ve­hi­cles per house­hold, but more house­holds own­ing a car.

S&P said AVs would have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on em­ploy­ment down the road, be­cause they could dis­place a por­tion of the work­force whose pri­mary jobs was be­hind the wheel.

The US Depart­ment of Com­merce es­ti­mated last year that 15.5 mil­lion US work­ers had jobs that could be af­fected by AVs, which rep­re­sented about one in nine work­ers.

AVs could also dis­place in­sur­ance agents and ad­justers, car body re­pair­ers and me­chan­ics plus un­skilled and semi­skilled jobs re­lated to ve­hi­cle park­ing and traf­fic enforcement, S&P said.

PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

BMW Group con­firmed this week that it had be­come the first in­ter­na­tional car­maker to ob­tain the au­ton­o­mous driv­ing road test li­cence in China, mark­ing a big step on its path to au­ton­o­mous driv­ing. This is its Vi­sion Next 100 con­cept car.

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