Autonomous Vehicles: Part 2
Posted by Roseanne: Jul 09, 2018 • 5 min read
Last week, James McKemey discussed autonomous vehicles. This week he's back, this time discussing how big of a deal autonomous electric vehicles will be!
If you haven't read part 1, you can read it now here.
How big a deal will AEVs be?
No doubt autonomous tech is going to be a big deal. We just aren’t certain it will be quite as big a deal as Tony thinks it will be. Here are James McKemey’s 100% ironclad, guaranteed outcomes spurious, if vaguely intuitive, predictions:
- Driving is going to die
This saddens many, including me. I like driving. At least some of the time. Some of the time it is purely a means to a destination. The utopian view is that people will drive when they want to and the robot will drive when they don’t. I think that’s where it starts, but in time the steering wheel goes. Why will it die despite many not wanting it to? Purely because the robots will be safer. There will come a point where we can categorically say that allowing squishy, flawed, organic matter to pilot heavy metal kills and maims thousands of people globally unnecessarily. The argument of “Oh, but I like driving” feels hella week when looked at in the context of unnecessarily bereaved families (and for those immediately thinking of the US gun debate here, remember there’s no constitutional right to drive!). It will surely live on through tracks, race meets etc, in much the same way horse riding does.
The upside is this means the car becomes a wholly different and much more flexible space. And the possibilities here are awesome, both on the vehicle tech front, but there will also be interesting social impacts.
This change will be gradual and there will be legacy driven vehicles around for some decades to come. But I do believe it will come.
- Car ownership will reduce, but will not die
Tony believes that car ownership will become such an irrational financial decision (10x the cost of equivalent ride sharing) that we will simply stop doing it. Perhaps missing from this analysis is that car ownership is already an irrational financial decision, but people still gladly do it. Why?
If you don’t live in proximity to the myriad transport options city living offers, then a car is immensely convenient. Yes, there is a global trend towards urbanisation and increased population in the big cities, but there will still be a substantial suburban and rural population for whom the shared AEVs may struggle to reach sufficiently swiftly. Furthermore lugging your stuff into and out of the shared car for each trip will suck, particularly for families. It will always be appealing to have your own space for you and your family.
Incidentally, there will emerge a huge industry in conditioning and cleaning shared AEVs. Your author has heard the “Blue Car” shared electric vehicles in Paris are nicknamed by some as “public toilets”, on the basis of their sometimes less than optimal cleanliness. If we are to desire to get in an AEV, it’s going to have to have a bit of pizzazz of the renderings, and less of the p&$£ of the public transport. But I think the robots will probably solve the cleanliness issue too.
If we all made the economically rational decision for our mobility there would be far fewer new car sales. We tend to make purchases aligned with our perceived status. Many who would object to being viewed this way will drive mid-priced, reliable vehicles like VWs. That is still a status purchase. It’s just a different status to a flashy, premium purchase. It’s a sensible, safe, unfussy, but intr. Yes, AEV services will segment into economy, premium and luxury services, but people like to own stuff - and as they age they like to own stuff more. (NB: it’s very hard to predict what behaviours are intergenerational quantum shifts and which are new behaviours that appeal to people when they are young - your author is in his mid-30s and has spent years watching his friends effortlessly morphing into their parents).
So I foresee a world where youthful urbanites don’t own cars, just ride share AEVs when they aren’t cycling or using public transport. A large proportion of the rest of the populace keeping their attachment to their own mobile space, particularly once they have a family.
The prudent amongst you will note, I’ve pretty much described a more enhanced version of life in 2018. The key difference is in the near future the Ubers don’t have drivers and all the cars are electric. And yes, we’ll require less parking, particularly in city centres, freeing up valuable space, but maybe not quite as dramatically as Tony purports.
Those home chargers may well allow the public to own a shared AEV, charge it up at home and rent it out to earn them revenue. Indeed today’s Ubers are typically owned by the drivers who lend their usage to the Uber fleet. It’s wholly possible leasing/purchasing an AEV may become an investment opportunity for individuals, without having to do the driving.
Charging will have to adapt, but topping up will remain
AEVs require automated charging. So we’ll need to solve the plugging in challenge. The leading solution is wireless or inductive charging here and perfect parking AEVs will nix the alignment challenge to the convenience of that tech. But there are a number of other drawbacks with wireless charging that might give smart conductive charging the edge here. Time will tell, which tech wins here.
Clearly a shared AEV will have a higher utilisation than a privately owned car. So we can’t rely on the traditional 95% downtime for charging that owned (A)EVs have. However, in order to satisfy demand during peak hours, the fleet will have to be sized such that there is significant redundancy overnight. This overnight redundancy will offer opportunities to provide other services (e.g. make deliveries), but will also provide an opportunity to charge, supplemented by day time “grazing” type charging. As such, we foresee distributed charging continuing, but overnight high density charging hub AEV parks also having a role (private AEVs may well take advantage of these facilities too), alongside high powered, rapid charging in similar levels to that required for existing EVs.