All posts by Jess.Polak

Uni Student • Communications Major • Tech Enthusiast • Lady Geek

The Economics of Driverless Cars

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When looking at the future of driverless cars, we need to take into account the different economic changes that will occur with this shift in technology. What job industries will suffer and will new ones arise? Will the actual price of the vehicle be affordable for the average family? Do the benefits outweigh the negatives? These are all important questions that should be addressed before autonomous vehicles are mass produced to make the transition easier.

Currently, vehicles form a big part of the economy whether you’re thinking of manufacturers, insurers, mechanics, dealers or even taxi drivers. For those businesses that don’t adjust in time, it is possible that they could lose “hundreds of billions of dollars” (Dallegro, 2014) and some would likely bankrupt. However at this point in time, many car manufacturers are wary of investing in autonomous vehicles because “anything that reduces the number of vehicles on the road, or reduces the overall cost of these vehicles, without providing a new revenue stream to compensate” (Stayton, 2015) is risky for companies and until the change becomes imminent, most manufacturers will stick to the status quo.

Even the government would lose revenue with a flip to autonomous cars since there would be no need for licensing fees and, since these vehicles follow the road rules at all time, there would no longer be fines for illegal driving habits like speeding and drinking under the influence. This all doesn’t cast the friendliest light for a shift towards driverless technology for companies who rely on the industry, but with the possibilities of safer roads and lower carbon emissions, autonomous vehicles are the way of the future. One industry that will certainly boom in the wake of driverless cars will be software development since the programs controlling the vehicles will have to be constantly updated to ensure safety in all situations and to stay on top of newly built roads. Although there may be some initial losses for the big boys, the future for the little people seems far brighter.

Anyone who has owned a car would be well aware of the ongoing cost to upkeep the vehicle. There’s ever-changing fuel prices, insurance, servicing, mechanics and that’s not even counting the initial purchase of the car which is a lot of money to drop whether it’s brand new or second hand. With self-driving cars, it would be possible to “rent them by the hour” (Ozimek, 2014) – a much cheaper system compared to a taxi. So for those who didn’t require a car on a daily basis or only for a short commute, rather than paying for insurance and other fees, they could rent cars based on their needs. This could help save the average family thousands of dollars a year which would make it much easier to save money in general whether that’s for a house deposit, a holiday or a little treat for yourself.

Robin Chase (2014), CEO of Buzzcar (a peer-to-peer car sharing service), provides a few statistics to help explain the benefits of self-driving cars for the average consumer. He mentions that 80% of people drive alone in their car and can spend roughly $9000 of their income every year for an asset that is used only 5% of the time. Although an important asset in this day and age, and quite a time saving one at that, autonomous vehicles would take a step further and increase the potential for car pooling (think of a company car that picks you up every morning and takes you home), save even more of your time by allowing you to work on tasks on-the-go and help you save some cash along the way. Also, for people who owned these self-driving cars, it could be an extra form of income. Rather than having our modern day taxi services, one person would be able to manage their own fleet of cars and simply work from home.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015), Australia has 764 motor vehicles per 1000 people which places it in the top 10 list of countries by vehicles per capita. Google is aiming to increase car utilization from between 5-10% to 75% through sharing (Dallegro, 2014). So if Australia were to move towards self-driving cars, a decrease in the number of cars on the road would be likely to occur. However, this brings in the question of affordability. Right now, the autonomous technology that needs to be added to a base model can add several thousand dollars to the price tag; the systems needed for a driverless Infiniti Q50 “costs an additional $6600 above the base sticker price” (Tannert, 2014). If the prices remain high, it will be difficult to convince the consumers to invest in the technology. The costs will definitely decrease with enough demand, however there needs to be a market from the everyday person in the first place rather than having sparse celebrities buying the product.

With technology improving at a rapid rate and a constant emphasis on keeping roads safe, it’s a no-brainer to move towards autonomous technology. Even with the initial shock to the car industry, it is very possible that new jobs will arise from the very creation of this technology and with enough adjustment, the transition will easily fit in to our culture. On an individual scale, the benefits seem almost magical and will be a relief to commuters everywhere although it may be a bit more difficult to get those rev-heads to stop grinding those gears.

Reference List:

Self-Driving Culture

When it comes to self-driving cars, the regulation won’t be the only thing that needs to change if it becomes the norm. In fact, there will be a whole host of environmental, economic and even social factors that will go through a change. To explain these future possibilities, I’ll go into detail about each aspect and explain both the positive and negative outcomes that are likely to happen during a widespread adoption of the technology. I will first focus on how self-driving cars will affect the environment and will then look at economic and social changes in later posts.

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Environmentally, self-driving cars will be an immense step further forward in limiting greenhouse gas emissions and also decreasing the amount of fuel we use every trip. With the invention of electric cars and the emphasis on eco-friendly vehicles, it’s clear that the world is looking for a solution to the vast amount of fossil fuels burnt every year. In the US, cars account “for 27 percent of the harmful gases emitted into the atmosphere” (Wang, 2015) and this number could easily be narrowed by the mass movement towards self-driving cars. One way this could happen would be through simple aerodynamics; when vehicles follow closely behind each other, there is less air resistance therefore fuel consumption is limited. According to Zia Wadud (2016), the total energy consumption can be cut down between 4% and 25% with this simple method and since self-driving cars constantly communicate as they travel, this would allow for safe transportation in these formations – unlike for humans for which it is called tailgating and is actually illegal. Daimler Trucks tested this platoon type formation using three big rigs on the autobahn and found that it not only reduced “fuel consumption by 7%” (Hursch, 2016), but it also meant they took up less road space. Keeping this in mind, automated vehicles would not only have a positive effect on car drivers, but on the truck industry as well.

As it turns out, humans are quite inefficient at driving because we tend to rapidly accelerate and brake unnecessarily – something as simple as cruise control helps maintain speed and can help drivers cut down on their fuel consumption. Self-driving cars have proven to be more eco-friendly and efficient than us humanoids and this is largely due to their ability to communicate with each other which eliminates excessive braking and accelerating. Ucilia Wang (2016) claims that “fuel efficiency could be boosted more than 30 percent” this way and the benefits go further since this would also “smooth out traffic flow” (Wadud, 2016). If the roads became 100% autonomous, the communication system could mean that there would no longer be a need for signs and traffic lights as each vehicle is programmed to follow certain rules on roads. Also, intersections could be regulated by a timer overseen through the communication system rather than spending money on building traffic lights.

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Anyone who plans to drive into the city always falls into the same trap; congested roads, pedestrians crossing the road randomly and traffic lights that change far too quickly – a simple recipe for stress. On the other hand, autonomous vehicles will have the potential to minimize the amount of cars driving around in the city because rather than having a vast amount of individuals commuting to work every day, people can make use of car pooling and rent self-driving cars to take them to places without having to worry about expensive parking tickets or being late. These developments would be worth implementing “if self-driving vehicles have a high probability of effecting positive change on the cityscape” (Stayton, 2015) which at the moment seems to be the case. Here, autonomous cars would enable city-driving to become hassle-free and safer for pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers alike.

We’re already starting to see pieces of autonomous technology on the road from parking assists to cruise control and even automatic braking systems for some models. Once the technology has reached a point where it has been tried, tested, and proven to be a better driver than a human (which so far it has managed quite well), it is only logical to adopt it on a large scale as it will allow for safer roads and will also provide more leisure time for commuters – imagine playing your favourite video game on the road to work. With the changes that are imminent with the production of self-driving cars, the one thing that does need to happen is the creation of in-depth legislation dealing with the possibilities of the technology; this would certainly make it easier to implement the technology and would help avoid confusion when the time comes.

Reference List:
– Hirsch, J. (2016), Daimler tests self driving truck platoon in live traffic, Trucks. Accessed at: (https://www.trucks.com/2016/03/21/daimler-tests-self-driving-truck-platoon-in-live-traffic/
– Stayton, E. (2015), Driverless Dreams: Technological Narratives and the Shape of the Automated Car, Program in Comparative Media Studies/Writing. Accessed at: http://www.estayton.com/Stayton_DriverlessDreams_May5_2015.pdf
– Wadud, Z. (2016), Will self driving cars reduce energy use and make travel better for the environment?, The Conversation. Accessed at: http://theconversation.com/will-self-driving-cars-reduce-energy-use-and-make-travel-better-for-the-environment-55363
– Wang, U. (2015), Are self driving vehicles good for the environment?, Ensia. Accessed at: http://ensia.com/features/are-self-driving-vehicles-good-for-the-environment/

Self-Driving To The Future

To best present my research, I’ll be creating a digital artefact consisting of three podcasts focusing on different aspects of self-driving cars. The topics will include regulation, car culture and the technology needed to run these machines. Regulation will focus on the legislation that is currently put in place across Australia, America and Sweden as well as what needs to be considered in the future. With car culture, I will focus on what changes might happen in the future including the effect on jobs such as taxi drivers, mechanics and even police since there would be no need for RBT’s and the highway patrol when these driverless cars are made to obey the law in every situation. Also, it will be interesting to take note of possible changes in perception between cars and prestige as, in modern times, different models of cars can be a sign of wealth. Finally, I will be looking at the technology behind the self-driving car and the problems that could arise including the possibility of hacking and cyber-terrorism.

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For now, I’ll focus on regulation in this post and give a general overview of what legislation is currently in action. In Australia, it seems that South Australia is ahead of the curve having just legalized driverless cars, paving the way for the country to move towards autonomous technology (Tucker, 2016). The state has already conducted self-driving trials with Volvo models late last year and this will allow driverless technology to further develop and help create safer roads – as long as people are willing to change their driving habits.

On the other side of the world in the country of Sweden, self-driving technology is taking a step forward by introducing 100 autonomous cars for willing commuters. Using “specially-picked roads that have no cyclists or pedestrians” (ONE News, 2016), drivers will have the chance to experience what it will feel like to keep their hands off the wheel on their daily routine. So far, the majority of trials have either had a test driver in the vehicle or had no humans in the car making Sweden a definite leader in improving autonomous technology.

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With America being the base for Google’s self-driving cars, there has been an ongoing call to create “uniform rules across the country” (Naughton, 2016) since, at the moment, only 23 states have implemented important legislation to oversee their research. Although cautious of the developing technology, many are supporting the roll-out of autonomous vehicles due to the belief that they will help lower collisions on the road. Fatigue, drink driving and distracting factors such as eating and talking on the phone will no longer be an issue in driverless cars and automated vehicles also help improve mobility for the elderly and disabled. With this in mind, the benefits of this technology are worth considering, but their needs to be a nationwide shift to allow self-driving cars to be released for the masses.

It is interesting to see what countries will be the first to take up driverless cars on a mass scale and whether society will reach a point where people no longer drive. At this point, the technology itself has a lot of room for improvement and governments still need to consider what laws will have to change, but the potential for safer driving conditions and the ability to spend your commute doing other tasks makes it well worth the wait.

Reference List:
Naughton, K. (2016), Driverless car rollout seen stalling without nationwide rules, Bloomberg. Accessed at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-15/uniform-u-s-rules-for-driverless-cars-urged-to-speed-rollout
– ONE News (2016), ‘Eyes of the road’: Driverless car experiment to send a whole new message, TVNZ. Accessed at: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/world/eyes-off-road-driverless-car-experiment-send-whole-new-message
– Tucker, H. (2016), South Australia has just legalised driverless cars, Business Insider Australia. Accessed at: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/south-australia-has-just-legalised-driverless-cars-2016-4

Self-Driving Shenanigans

Technology is constantly evolving with an emphasis on making life more convenient and helping certain chores become less time-consuming. Self-driving cars are one of these technologies and it’s easy to see the ways in which you could benefit from them. You could be dropped off at work and the car could park itself, you would no longer need a designated driver on those late-night celebrations, there would be no need to get angry at someone who didn’t indicate and you could spend your time productively as you were chauffeured to your destination. Such simple changes that provide a whole new way of living, and yet there are still a few hurdles to cross before its initiation – on top of the fact that the technology has not been perfected.

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With both self-driving cars and humans on the roads, the legal issue of who is responsible for a crash comes into question – should the passenger or the software be blamed and who pays for the damages? Just recently, Google’s self-driving car was the cause of an accident for the first time – all previous incidents occurred when a driver took over its automated system (Kantrowitz, 2016). According to a report by Google, the car “believed the bus would stop or slow down” but the driver did neither of these actions (which is perfectly acceptable) and therefore it made contact with the vehicle. In the future, new laws will have to be implemented to ensure the safety of both drivers and passengers as well as eliminating any grey areas; a similar thing is occurring now with drones due to its increased use and popularity. To bring this back to my project, I’ll take a look into the legislation that is currently in place and what other laws they may have to take into account when autonomous cars are more wide-spread.

Another aspect of self-driving cars that needs to be addressed is the potential for cyber-terrorism. Anyone who has seen I, Robot may have a well-founded reason to be afraid of autonomous technology, but what happens when an autonomous vehicle is hacked not by an artificial intelligence, but by a terrorist? Cars could be be forced off the road, driven into crowds of people or made to crash into a building. Hackers have a knack for adapting to new technologies and those developing these vehicles must be aware of these possibilities while they design their cars.

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Google has used a series of car models for its road-testing including the Toyota Prius and Audi TT, but now their fleet mainly consists of prototypes and modified Lexus SUVs. However, Google is not the only company looking into the self-driving market; Volvo has planned to release 100 autonomous cars by 2017 that will be used by actual customers in Sweden (ONE News, 2016). As part of my research on self-driving cars, I will look at our car culture and compare it to how it may look in the future. If no one is driving the car, high-powered engines become unnecessary for the everyday trip and driving itself becomes a hobby rather than an expectation. So then will certain brands still grant passengers a level of status? Will a drivers licence no longer be a rite of passage? Will there be groups opposed to this autonomous driving? It will be interesting to see how our culture changes through time towards this technology and whether it is possible that one day driving will be limited to sports racing.

Reference List:
Kantrowitz, A. (2016), Watch This Sad Bus Driver Get Hit By A Driverless Car and Realize He Can Only Blame Technology, Buzzfeed. Accessed at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/alexkantrowitz/watch-googles-self-driving-car-hit-a-bus#.hfGOxpQK3q
– ONE News (2016), ‘Eyes OFF the road’: Driverless car experiment to send a whole new message, TVNZ. Accessed at: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/world/eyes-off-road-driverless-car-experiment-send-whole-new-message