August 20, 2016

Impact of driverless cars in India

1471527911_uber_self-driving-carI have been following diverless cars technology for past few years and so was pleasantly surprised to know that UBER is launching its driverless cars in US. I expected this to happen in next 1-2 years just that not so soon.

This is how UBER's driverless car looks like... initially a passive driver will be there but over a period of time the car will be 100% autonomous. The car is manufactured by VOLVO specifically for UBER.

Now the combination of driverless or autonomous cars AND smartphone technology will revolutionize life in some completely unexpected ways (some good some real bad).

Here are my thoughts with reference to India (most of it will be true elsewhere also).

Google self driving cars

  • a typical car is used "on an average across multiple owners" for an hour or so everyday. The other time it is simply lying parked and is not in use. This is a colossal waste of money but it is considered acceptable as there was no choice.
  • a driverless car means cars will be available round the clock. One car can easily replace 20 of our regular cars.
  • driverless cars are a million times safer than human driven ones. Human beings tend to break signals, doze off or drive drunk, get excited or angry very fast and tend to show off or take risks which are not required.
  • driverless cars operate "off the cloud" so the experience is collectively shared. For eg., any Google driverless car has a databank of 1.5 million miles of driving experience.
  • because of above, there will be no need to own a car. Private ownership will come down.
  • at the very least, about 90% of the cars will go off the road... the process will mean more empty roads leading to faster / safer movement of cars and even lesser incentive to own a car.
  • manufacture of human driver cars will be expensive because of diminishing economies of scale
  • since most accidents will be caused by human beings, in the not so distant future, human car drivers will be banned and production of these cars will stop.
Driverless "PODS" at Heathrow Airport
Some other positives
  • using a driverless car will be cheaper than taking a bus
  • roads will be vacant as a significantly smaller number of cars  can transport people.
  • you will no longer see cars parked in society buildings/ apartments and neither on roads
  • open space will increase massively
  • expect more green cover and space for cyclists.
  • no traffic signals required as autonomous cars can communicate with each other.
  • no speed breakers
  • you need only 4-5 cities in the world to be completely driverless - the viral effect it releases will do the rest for the world.
Negatives... and these are big ones
  • the automobile industry will collapse as private ownership of vehicles will come down to less than 5% of what it is today (one driverless car can replace 20 regular cars)
  • imagine what the above can do to employment in the auto sector and related ones.
  • how countries will deal with big drop in employment, revenue, GDP is something I don't know
  • driving schools will shut down. There will be no need of roadside mechanics
  • no demand for chaffeurs. Watchmen washing cars will lose their additional income
  • insurance companies will lose a huge chunk of their business
  • demand for petrol/ diesel will come down massively due to combination of driverless and the simultaneous shift towards battery driven cars. The recent oil crash is partly because of this
  • countries dependent on oil will see their economies collapsing (Saudi Arabia?).
  • Grey areas - in an extreme situation, will a driverless car knock off a pedestrian in order to save 4 occupants inside? And what about insurance
This can impact India faster than one can imagine. Indians have shown a tendency to skip technologies and leapfrog to the next one. For eg., pagers to mobile, dematerialisation of shares, net banking (OTP, password grids, IMPS etc).

Before I forget.... driverless trucks is an even bigger product under testing

Mercedes Benz Driverless Truck Video

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