CARMAKERS like to talk about autonomous vehicles (AVs) as if they will be in showrooms in three or four years’ time. The rosy scenarios suggest people will soon be whisked from place to place by road-going robots, with little input from those on board. AVs will end the drudgery of driving, we are told. With their lightning reactions, tireless attention to traffic, better all-round vision and respect for the law, AVs will be safer drivers than most motorists. They won’t get tired, drunk, have fits of road rage, or become distracted by texting, chatting, eating or fiddling with the entertainment system.
The family AV will ferry children to school; adults to work, malls, movies, bars and restaurants; the elderly to the doctor’s office and back. For some, car ownership will be a thing of the past, as the cost of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft tumbles once human drivers are no longer needed. Going driverless could cut hailing costs by as much as 80%, say optimists. Welcome to the brave new world of mobility-on-demand.