Saturday, December 4, 2021

Autonomous Cars... Unfortunately Not Gonna Solve Real World Problems

Once, people thought fast highways would improve efficiency and erase traffic congestion and accidents. After these highways were actually built, however, induced demand quickly clogged them up, as people took advantage of the new roads to make new trips that they didn’t make before. Futurama -- not the show, the exhibition -- made this point.

If -- a big "if" -- autonomous vehicles do eventually arrive, they risk introducing a more dangerous version of the same phenomenon. Not only will efficient autonomous motorways tempt people to drive further, but the ability to work -- or even sleep -- while travelling will make people think much less of a long commute.

Cars might also become less energy-efficient as they’re modified to meet the demands of users. Electric vehicles carry heavy (and in the case of Lithium Ion batteries, more dangerous) their power supply with them. Passengers may run them at higher speeds because the cars themselves may be safer, but this consumes more energy due to aerodynamic resistance. Car manufacturers may also begin to design larger vehicles to accommodate mobile offices. 

In the autonomous vehicle utopia, we are told self-driving cars will be shared, rather than owned privately. Admittedly this would be a more sustainable option, but, unfortunately, people get attached to their cars. They like having a vehicle that is instantly available, that they can use as a mobile storage locker, and that signals their social status. While Uber, Lyft and other services show people appreciate the convenience of summoning a lift from an app, it is doubtful such services will replace private vehicle ownership.

One model being explored in Europe sees the autonomous vehicle collect you up on your way to an appointment, more in the style of a last-mile shuttle for public transit. It would move slowly but comfortably, picking up multiple passengers on its way to the local transit hub, where you would board a fast and efficient light rail line. You would still arrive at your destination with time to spare.

Of course, in all likelihood, autonomous vehicles will only become a niche product. Watch the video...

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