The Reality Behind the Driverless Car Phenomena

Professor Andry Rakotonirainy presents on 'Disruption In Action: The True Impact Driverless Cars Could Have on Society' at CXO Disrupt Brisbane.

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The driverless car is already here. But just how might it transform and disrupt? Not just in terms of the way we live and work and use what is available to us in our day-to-day urban experience, but our relationship with the entire ecosystem that is built around the automobile.

Then there is that nebulous, but at the same time very tangible relationship between the human driver and a machine that is, and always will be, more than a form of transportation for billions.

To put it another way, when was the last time you heard anyone give a pet name to their fridge?

Does this mean that the greatest obstacle that stands between the driverless automobile is the driver who doesn’t want to ‘give up’ their car and all that that means?

Professor Andry Rakotonirainy, presenting at CXO Disrupt

These were some of the compelling thought satellites that swept over the automated vehicle discussion presented by Andry Rakotonirainy at OmniChannel Media’s CXO Disrupt event in Brisbane earlier in the month.

Rakotonirainy, an expert in the intelligent transport systems, told the packed auditorium that the insights he would deliver derived from his and colleagues recent research activity.

The talk argued the inherent virtues of the driverless transport environment in terms of safety, monetary savings, environmental impact and urban ‘liveability’.

Rakotonirainy explained that there is an average of 1.24 million traffic fatalities every year; 92% of these due to human error. “Take the driver out of the loop,” he concluded, “you save lives.”

The broad research question he and colleagues face is therefore, ‘how do we change human behaviour in order to improve safety?’

Right now, he said, no system can “match the human response to the unexpected [so] we have to teach the computer how to respond to the long tail of unlikely critical events.”

Communicating via the “Internet of Things”

The future of the driverless car envisages a scenario where vehicles can ‘talk’ to each other and anticipate issues. Each vehicle would be equipped with GPS guidance, and visual tracking and radar technology enabling safe and precise orientation relative to objects it is sharing space with.

“TAKE THE DRIVER OUT OF THE LOOP, YOU SAVE LIVES.” – RAKOTONIRAINY 

“The problem is not the technology,” he said, explaining that the basic platforms are already in place. “But the mix of vehicles, the driverless vehicle [must negotiate with, including] bicycles, pedestrian’s and other non-autonomous cars.”

In this world the Internet of Things (IoT), the Cloud, and the autonomous vehicle will intersect and this will mean, “data is the new crude oil,” he said.

“We are facing a tsunami of data and the people who emerge from this very complex system are people who can analyse that data.”

Amongst the benefits Rakotonirainy outlined in terms of a new ecosystem created by the driverless car was a linking of meaningful work time, and a softening of environmental and urban impact.

Professor Rakotonirainy, presenting at CXO Disrupt

Using Brisbane as a test case, he said that 30% of the congestion the city experiences’ was down to “people looking for a park.”

In a driverless transport environment vehicle ownership as we know it would be a thing of the past, cars would be ‘shared’ by multiple users, making the car space largely obsolete, since a huge percentage would not need to ‘park’.

He imagined a transport environment without buses and taxis, fewer vehicles, enabling more efficient journeys, producing cleaner air, better energy to use rates, and passengers spending less time travelling allowing the more productive pursuits. “If only five minutes of the average time spent in a car were monetised a global revenue pool of 25billion Euros with profitability emerges,” he said.

Rakotonirainy says that by 2028 the first fully autonomous will appear; by 2032, 50% of vehicles sold will be self-driving.

Still, this future is predicated on thought leaders ability to offer the consumer an experience where people feel safe and secure…can the car risk being another ‘thing’ in the Internet of Things or can it remain an experience? It is mistake to focus on the technology Rakotonirainy said. The real question he asked was: is the consumer prepared to surrender the wheel and the ‘last bastion of freedom’ the car still represents for so many? Will they rebel and resist this technological intervention?

“We design products, but ‘things’ we sell,” he said. “We sell the individual, social, cultural experience and the benefits they engender.”

In the end he also admitted: “People love their V8s and their burnouts.”