In an age of profound technological innovation, drivereless cars have the potential of disrupting the automation industry, our daily commutes... and motorsport races.
The predictions are coming thick and fast on the back of a flurry of announcements around the driverless car future. Consider these recent vendor and organisational activities:
- Uber’s purchase of Otto (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-uber-tech-volvo-otto-idUSKCN10T1TR) is a stab at reducing or eliminating driver fatigue for high platform, long haul and semi-trailer vehicles.
- Ford Motor Corporations targeted release of 10,000 driverless passenger vehicles within 5 years to directly assault the “car for hire” models of Uber and Lyft (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/17/business/ford-promises-fleets-of-driverless-cars-within-five-years.html?_r=0)
- Tesla’s existing driverless option, Autopilot (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/600772/10-breakthrough-technologies-2016-tesla-autopilot/)
- Google working to subvert the model altogether (https://www.google.com/selfdrivingcar/where/)
Driverless vehicles will, no doubt, have an enormous impact on the lives of millions of people around the world. It will affect those that wish to own a vehicle and those that make causal use of ‘for hire’ services. Different industries will grow and evolve as the prolific use of this new ‘commodity’ become more widespread and mainstream.
Existing auto industries will wither and cease to be of importance except to a very small niche ‘collector’ community. Some of the auto events may also radically change their appearance and content, in order to maintain relevance in a fundamentally changed world.
In a future where the performance of the vehicle is more a matter of the complexity of the software and the comprehensiveness of the automated collision avoidance and occupant safety provisions, and less about 0-100km in x seconds, where does that leave the high-performance racing industry? Will Supercars become a software company expo? Will the Bathurst 1000 Top 10 Shootout be “the best 10 lines of code written this year”? Will the F1 GP championship be a matter of identical software and different hardware, and the car owner/team becomes the only race as there will be no driver?!
I am not suggesting that the human propensity to engage in adrenaline producing activities will diminish with the advent of driverless vehicles, however, I do believe that the increasing sophistication of driverless vehicles – of all dimensions – will fundamentally alter the relationships that we have with one of the most ubiquitous machines they we have ever invented.
Imagine the day when you’re asked, “Have you updated your shared ride’s software to 22.1 yet? You really should. The new Café Experience upgrade ensures coordinated delivery of your favourite coffee at the drive-through with logging your purchase against the loyalty card. All automatically! It’s great.”