Will it ever happen?

A Google concept car that might be used for fleets of autonomous taxis. Credit: Google

We talk a lot about smart cities where traffic flows with no bottlenecks and jams. And cities are investing in bettering their infrastructures as well as creating a smarter citizen culture (walk or bike, don't drive).

Yet, Google and a few others, including Uber, are looking at autonomous cars, and autonomous taxis, as a way to improve cities traffic.

Now a study from Berkeley Lab (LBNL) claims that moving to autonomous taxis would greatly benefit the environment and increase the city smartness.

According to the study an autonomous electric car by 2030 would be 63 to 80% cheaper in terms of greenhouse CO2 emission than an hybrid care driven by a person and 90% better than a 2014 gasoline car.

Interestingly, almost half of the saving would be the consequence of rightsizing the car to the specific passenger need. 

The advantage of autonomous cars is twofold: you don't have the cost of the driver and the cars can move in a platoon formation (one after the other at such a short distance that they dramatically cut on air drag. This savings are enough to offset the higher cost of electric-autonomus cars. According to the study, even by 2030, a gasoline privately owned car will still be cheaper to buy than an electric-autonomous car.

The additional "stuff" you need to have a reliable autonomous car today would add some 150,000$ to the price and although this is expected to decrease sharply in the coming years/decade it will still remain substantial.

Clearly, this is another case that relates to the data economy I have been discussed in the previous weeks. Notice the high demand for data to provide the best car given the need of a passenger, where best relates to its size, the location it is with respect to the passenger calling for it and the probability of a request from a nearby passenger once the present one will be dropped off. And this with respect to all other autonomous cars in the fleet potential whereabouts.

At the same time notice that if such a scenario will ever come to pass millions of taxi drivers will be out of job.

The shift towards driverless autonomous cars will require affordable technology but it will not happen unless a profound change of culture takes place. 

Although it is clear to everybody that it makes very little sense to own something that is being used only 4% of the time if you have a good alternative, many people today are not ready to get rid of their private car.

It will be interesting to watch how this area will evolve and along with it how WE will evolve....

Author - Roberto Saracco

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