The good news is that the UK is finally embracing the prospect of the driverless car revolution, having dithered for a few years
Most of the time, we are too ambitious in our predictions: 100 years ago, many believed that we would all be zipping around in private helicopters by now. So it is always a pleasant surprise when fictional representations of the future turn out to be too conservative. In the 1990 blockbuster Total Recall, set in 2084, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character hops into a pretty basic driverless taxi, operated by a silly-looking robot. We won’t have to wait that long for the real revolution.
Free markets and technology are interacting to trigger a productivity, social and economic revolution: at some point in the 2020s, driverless cars will go mainstream, delivering a massive boost to global GDP and tearing up the way we live and work. The view – fashionable a few years ago – that the world faces a new phase of stagnation because we have run out of new ideas and technology has turned out to be predictable nonsense.
The tidal wave of disruption from a combination of the internet, automation, miniaturisation, satellites and advanced batteries is only just beginning to be felt. Amazon’s remarkable results this week – a 23pc rise in quarterly sales, and an actual profit – are nothing compared to the growth that tech firms will experience when they crack the automotive market. Driverless cars will destroy high-speed rail, usher in a new golden age for individual transportation and undermine cities by encouraging longer commutes.
The good news is that the UK is finally embracing the prospect of the driverless car revolution, having dithered for a few years. There are three driverless projects getting under way in Britain; while not as significant as Google’s tests in California, they are nevertheless important practical developments, of a significance equal to Volvo’s decision to test a fleet of 100 semi-autonomous vehicles in Gothenburg in 14 months’ time.
Disputes over liability are a big challenge for driverless cars: who will be responsible if the car crashes? The manufacturer, the software maker or the owner? Critically, what happens if the cars or car system is hacked? And how can we stop cyber warfare against autonomous vehicles that are linked to each other via the internet? For the system to work, insurance payments would need to be made as promptly as they are today, and issues of liability worked out speedily behind the scenes by the various parties; meanwhile, the authorities need to help the industry crack down on the cyber crime and cyber terrorism of the sort that has just engulfed TalkTalk .
The insurers increasingly understand that they too need to move with the times. Axa has partnered with the Venturer driverless test in Bristol and the UK Autodrive one in Milton Keynes, as David J Williams, the firm’s managing director of underwriting, told The Telegraph’s Smart Cities Conference recently. Insurers pay out £27m every day in motor claims for around 35m vehicles on the road, with 90pc of accidents caused by human error (rather than mechanical faults, or trees falling on cars and the like). The technology to start bringing this down is ready: data from The Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre show that adopting autonomous emergency braking in contemporary vehicles cuts collisions by 15pc and injuries by 18pc. The economic and human benefits from the driverless revolution will begin to be felt very soon, even before we get fully autonomous vehicles that talk to one another while whizzing down motorways in giant convoys, slashing the time it takes to travel. In North America, Peloton Technology is working with freight companies to ensure fleets of lorries can travel as if connected by a digital tow bar.
Around 30pc of congestion levels in cities are caused by people looking for parking spaces. Progress here can be made quickly even before full automation: Williams said parking technology firm Smart Parking and Westminster council are installing 3,000 infra-red sensors in parking bays; these will determine whether they are full or vacant, improving the allocation of space.
Thanks to lots of small improvements and eventually some giant ones, the driverless car revolution will give the world economy a massive boost.
This article was written by Allister Heath from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.