Robot cars as soon as 2021
Cities have to plan their taxes now to avoid far worse traffic when people buy self-driving cars
FORD and Volvo are the latest companies to announce their plans to sell cars that can drive themselves in the next five years.
Both companies have co-opted fastmoving start-up talent to add momentum to the slow process of development that is typical of car companies.
Volvo is working with Uber while Ford has invested in or is collaborating with four start-ups to help deliver on its aim to sell many fully autonomous vehicles by 2021.
Volvo Cars said in a statement that Uber has signed an agreement to establish a joint project that will develop new base vehicles that will be able to incorporate the latest developments in AD technologies, up to and including fully autonomous driverless cars.
The base vehicles will be manufactured by Volvo Cars and then purchased from Volvo by Uber. The new base vehicle will be developed on Volvo Cars’ fully modular Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). SPA has been developed as part of Volvo Cars’ global industrial transformation programme, which started in 2010, and has been prepared from the outset for the latest autonomous drive technologies as well as next generation electrification and connectivity developments.
Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive, commented: “Over one million people die in car accidents every year. These are tragedies that self-driving technology can help solve, but we can’t do this alone.
“That’s why our partnership with a great manufacturer like Volvo is so important. Volvo is a leader in vehicle development and best-in-class when it comes to safety. By combining the capabilities of Uber and Volvo we will get to the future faster, together.”
Cheap robot Fords for all
At Ford’s Palo Alto campus, Ford president and CEO Mark Fields said the next 10 years will be the decade of the robot car, adding Ford predicts autonomous vehicles will have as big an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago.
And the good news, like Henry Ford’s affordable T-models, the robot Fords will be aimed at everyone’s pockets.
“We’re dedicated to putting on the road an autonomous vehicle that can improve safety and solve social and environmental challenges for millions of people — not just those who can afford luxury vehicles.”
To make this dream a reality Ford plan to be a leader in autonomous vehicles, as well as in connectivity, mobility, the customer experience, and data and analytics. The company already has over a decade of autonomous vehicle research and development, and said its first fully autonomous vehicle will be a Society of Automotive Engineers-rated level 4-capable vehicle. This means it will be able to steer itself like the little Google car without a steering wheel or fuel and brake pedals.
Ford said this first model was being specifically designed for commercial mobility services, such as ride sharing and ride hailing, and will be available in high volumes.
To deliver an autonomous vehicle in 2021, Ford announced four key investments and collaborations that are expanding its strong research in advanced algorithms, 3D mapping, LiDAR, and radar and camera sensors and is increasing its Silicon Valley operations, creating a dedicated campus in Palo Alto.
A visionary woman’s view
Robin Chase, co-founder of Veniam vehicle mesh, as well as co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, commented in an opinion piece that she did not think five years was too short to start selling robot cars around the world.
She said in an essay first published on Back Channel that a normal person would typically drive less than 965 000 km in their lifetime, but a fleet of self-learning robot cars can drive this distance — learning every centimetre of the way — in a matter of weeks. And the robot cars constantly share their learning with each other. “They are doing so now, for multiple companies: dozens of cars are now driving all-day shifts in Mountain View, Austin, Ann Arbor, Wuhu, China, and Singapore,” wrote Chase.
“In the last few years, a hundred Google cars have completed two million miles of on-road travel without injuries or fatalities, and are simulating and learning from three million virtual miles of driving every day. Tesla has 50 000 vehicles, sold to the public, that are driving autonomously on highways right now, collecting millions of more miles of real world driving experience (albeit with one fatality).
“This gives companies like Google, Tesla, GM, Ford, Toyota, BMW, and Nissan the confidence to promise commercial sales of fully autonomous cars by 2020, less than four years away.
Chase, however, warns city planners that robot cars will not necessarily be a good thing.
“Right now, our ‘congested’ roads and cities are mostly filled by individuals driving alone in their cars (75% of all trips). Just imagine our streets and your frustration when 50% of the cars have no people in them at all.”
Chase warns professional drivers will become unemployed when robot taxis and trucks take over, adding it won’t only be the drivers who lose their jobs.
“As personal car owners switch from owning a vehicle they use just five percent of the time and costs them 18% of their income to being driven for a fraction of that price, we’ll see lay-offs in repairs and maintenance, and car insurance, as well as car design and manufacturing and distribution/logistics.”
But she adds city planners are now at a fork in the road where they can fix the broken transport system so that more people can escape the poverty trap by getting to places cheaply, and she said it starts by thinking differently about tax.
“The cost and inaccessibility of transport has been found to be the largest barrier keeping people in poverty.
“Shared AVs have the potential to transform access to opportunities. We’ll also have way fewer traffic deaths and injuries, greener and more livable cities; clean air; reduced CO2 emissions; more disposable income and more money spent locally. This goes a long way towards compensating for those lost jobs.”
Chase asks if it still made economic sense to tax labour in the new automated world. “It makes much more sense to be taxing the new technical platforms that are generating the profits, and taxing the wealth of the small number of talented and lucky people who founded and financed these new jobless wonders,” she wrote.
‘Our congested roads and cities are mostly filled by individuals driving alone in their cars (75% of all trips). Just imagine our streets and your frustration when 50% of the cars have no people in them at all.’
Ford and Volvo have announced their plans to have fully autonomous vehicles on the road in the next few years, with the Ford Fusion Hybrid research vehicle (left) already being tested in Michigan, Arizona and California, while Volvo and Uber have announced a partnership to build the next generation of electrified, self-driving cars.