Millennial misgivings could put brakes on autonomy

Jason Ford - News Editor, The EngineerJason Ford, news editor

Discussions surrounding the future of mobility often focus on vehicle autonomy, which is unsurprising given that IHS Automotive predicts global sales of nearly 21 million self-driving units in 2035.

Google is arguably one of the more high-profile proponents of vehicle autonomy, and its fleet of vehicles on public roads has clocked up over two million miles of driving in fully autonomous mode.

The company’s SUVs and prototype vehicles are reporting between 24,000 and 26,000 miles per week in autonomous mode, but Google is only one of many companies looking to make the leap into autonomy, bringing with them a raft of suppliers keen to deliver the systems that will ensure vehicle safety.

One such entity is Ford Motor Company, which plans to have a fully-autonomous ‘ride-hailing’ service on the road by 2021 and has made investments in Silicon Valley to help make this happen.

Ford’s solution will be built without steering wheels, accelerators or brake pedals, with the company contributing an undisclosed amount of funding to Civil Maps to bring high-resolution 3D mapping capabilities to the automotive giant’s autonomous cars.

In the UK, start-up FiveAI aims to bring Level 5 autonomy to vehicles through the application of artificial intelligence.

According to The Engineer, July 2016, early approaches to autonomous vehicles have required accurate 3D maps built using point cloud technology. In use, each vehicle then correlates against that map to work out where it is and establish a track to follow.

By using AI, machine learning and computer vision, FiveAI’s software will remove the need for highly detailed prior 3D mapping of environments.

So far we’ve touched on examples of vehicle autonomy occurring in the experimental domain; the proposed manner in which certain autonomous vehicles will be used; and a glimpse at the shift of focus amongst OEMs who may be looking more to Silicon Valley and regions like it for the technologies that will sell their vehicles.

Whilst we may not know what the vehicle-buying public will want from mobility in 2035, we can look to a survey conducted in Europe by Goodyear/ThinkYoung that shows 85 per cent of so-called Millennials (people aged 18-30) planning to own a car in the next years.

This demographic shows the automotive industry as having a significant role to play in a more eco-friendly future, with smart, affordable and connected cars toping the automotive wish list by 2025. Millennials are keen also on personalisation, with popular future developments that include:

  • Adaptable CO2 emission levels (33.5 per cent)
  • Vehicles that adapt to all terrains and weather conditions (32.8 per cent)
  • Vehicles that adapt to selected fuel consumption targets (28.7 per cent)
  • On-demand car services (24.8 per cent)
  • Vehicles that adapt to driving style (19.5 per cent)

According to the survey of 2,564 millennials, autonomous vehicles have a role to play in smart safety, but 40.6 per cent prefer basic levels of autonomy (e.g. cruise control and anti-lock brakes). The report adds that the biggest hurdle to fully autonomous, self-driving cars in 2025 was identified as reliability (55.5 per cent), affordability (45.7 per cent) and concerns about security and privacy (38.5 per cent).

“As they have middling confidence in autonomous cars due to reliability and safety concerns, millennials want the development of autonomous cars to focus on safety and a stress-free experience,” the survey stated.

Goodyear and ThinkYoung will be taking these and other issues into their Future of Mobility 2016 conference, which takes place at London Transport Museum on October 12.

The final panel discussion will consider the pros and cons of driverless technology on our roads, and what needs to be done to make the transition as smooth for society as possible.

Autonomous mobility is an area that’s advancing incredibly rapidly, and one that we’ll be exploring in more depth in the November issue of The Engineer.

In the meantime, let us know your thoughts on the technology in the comments section below.