Successful industrialization of driverless cars will depend on getting over many significant hurdles. Failure only requires getting tripped up by a few of them. In part two of this series, I outlined seven key hurdles to industrial-size scaling of driverless cars. Overcoming hurdles to scaling is not enough, however.
In this concluding article, I explore the challenges to broader market acceptance. I outline eight additional hurdles related to trust, market viability and managing secondary effects. All must be overcome for driverless cars to truly revolutionize transportation.
Trust. It is not enough for developers and manufacturers to believe their AVs are good enough for widespread use, they must convince others, too. To do so, they must overcome three huge hurdles:
8. Independent verification and validation. To date, developers have kept their development processes rather opaque. They’ve shared little detail about their requirements, specifications, design or testing. An independent, systematic process is needed to verify and validate developers’ claims of their AVs’ efficacy. Many are likely to demand this, including policy makers, regulators, insurers, investors, the public at large and, of course, customers. The best developers should embrace this—it would limit liability and distinguish them from laggards and lower-quality copycats.
9. Standardization and regulation. Industry standards and government regulation cover almost every aspect of cars today. Industrialization of driverless cars will require significant doses of both, too. Standards, especially those enforced by government regulation, ensure reliability, compatibility, interoperability and economies of scale. They also increase public safety and reduce provider liability.
10. Public acceptance. Most new products take hold by attracting early adopters. The lessons and resources from that initial success help developers “cross the chasm” to mainstream success. The industrialization of AVs will depend on much earlier and broader public acceptance. AVs affect not only the early-adopting customers inside them, but also every non-customer on and near the roads those AVs travel. Without widespread acceptance—including by those who would not choose to ride in the AVs—industrialization is not likely to be allowed.
Market Viability. The next three hurdles deal with whether AV-enabled business models work in the short term and the long term, both in beating the competition and other opponents.
11. Business viability. Analyses of AV TaaS business models are generally optimistic about the possibility of providing service for much less than the cost of human-driven services or personal car ownership. Current cost-per-mile estimates are nowhere near long-term targets, however. Most players are also underestimating the cost to scale. It remains to be seen whether rosy market plans will survive contact with the marketplace.
12. Stakeholder resistance. As the old saying goes, one person’s savings is another’s lost revenue. The industrialization of driverless cars will require overcoming the resistance of a large host of potential losers, including regulators, car dealers, insurers, personal injury lawyers, oil companies, truck drivers and transit unions. This will not be easy, as the potential losers include some of the most influential policy shapers at federal, state and local levels.
13. Private ownership. AV TaaS services are only a waypoint on the path to transformation of the private ownership market. If AVs are to revolutionize transportation, they will have to appeal to consumers who have long preferred to own their own cars. Privately owned cars account for the vast majority of all cars and all miles driven.
Secondary Effects. Technology always bites back. The industrialization of AVs could induce huge negative secondary effects. Most will unfold slowly, but two consequences are already concerning and must be addressed as part of the industrialization process.
14. Congestion. Faster, cheaper and better transportation will deliver greater economic opportunity and quality of life—especially for those who might otherwise not have access to it, like the poor, handicapped and elderly. But, it might also cause a surge in congestion by driving up the number of vehicles and vehicle miles traveled. This happened with ride-hail services, including Uber and Lyft. According to a recent study by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, for example, congestion in the densest parts of San Francisco increased by as much as 73% between 2010 and 2016. The ride-hail services collectively accounted for more than half of the increase in daily vehicle hours of delay.
15. Job loss. Some argue that the history of technology, including transportation technology, shows that new services will create more jobs, not less. Few argue, however, that the new jobs go to those who lost the old ones. There’s no getting around the fact that every AV Uber means one less human Uber driver—even if other jobs are created for engineers, maintainers, dispatchers, customer service reps, etc. The same holds true for AV shuttles, buses, trucks and so on. Early AV TaaS providers will operate under an intense spotlight on this issue. Providers will have to anticipate and ameliorate potential public and regulator backlash on job loss.
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There’s an old saying in Silicon Valley that one should never mistake a clear view for a short distance. The revolutionary potential of AVs is clear. Yet, we are still far from the widespread adoption needed to realize their benefits.
Don’t mistake a long distance for an unattainable goal, though. As a close observer, I am enthusiastic (and pleasantly surprised) by the progress that has been made on AV technology. Leading developers like Waymo, GM Cruise, nuTonomy and their diaspora have raced to build AVs and progressed faster than many, just a few years ago, thought possible.
See also: Driverless Cars and the ’90-90 Rule’
Industrialization is a marathon, not a sprint. It depends on overcoming many hurdles, including the 15 I’ve laid out. The challenges of doing so are great—likely greater than many current players (and their investors) perceive and are positioned to address. New strategies are needed. A shakeout is likely.
That’s how innovation and market disruption work. That is why most contenders fail and why outsized rewards go to those who succeed. Whoever thought that a phone maker or a search engine company could be worth a trillion dollars? Is it outlandish to believe, as I still do, that driverless cars would be worth multiple trillions?