By Bernie Goldbach.
A little more than 100 years ago, with the western world wrapped up in the War to End All Wars, my grandmother became an orphan. Her parents did not perish in WWI. They were struck down by new forms of transportation.
I think about how startled (and frustrated) by great grandparents must have been when being fatally injured on separate days by a tram and a lorry. These heavy vehicles were new to the roads around Lancaster County in Pennsylvania and they moved much faster than the horse-drawn carts that my ancestors knew in County Clare. Technology had arrived in the early 20th century and it disrupted my family tree. Advances in transportation led to my Irish family dispatching my great aunt from Ennis to Pennsylvania to bring my grandmother through her teens and into married life.
One hundred years ago, when my family heritage was being reinvigorated by the charms of the Old County, some futurists were spouting off about horse-drawn transport being on its last legs. Today, some people boldly predict the death of the private motor car.
That might be a major leap for a society riveted by Top Gear. However, there is some certainty in the argument that our relationship with transportation is shifting gears. One certainty that will extend beyond the run of Top Gear is how our cities themselves will be reshaped in the steady move towards autonomous vehicles. We will discover little things—such as our need for parking—will change markedly.
I’ve set up alerts to read everything spawned by Google’s self-driving cars, by ERTICO - ITS Europe and CAVCOE. ERTICO - ITS Europe is a partnership of over 100 companies and institutions involved in the production of intelligent transport systems. CAVCOE provides consulting services in the deployment of automated vehicles. Google’s autonomous vehicles are making a clear run at logging more miles than any other entity.
As I write these comments for #Cong16, Google’s self-driving odometer has rolled through more than two million miles on public roads—and the previous million road miles rolled over within one year. Add another million miles on test tracks with crash test cyclists and robotic cows and Alphabet’s 60 self-driving vehicles have written their own pages in history books as they collect real-world experience on roads in four States of the USA.
This is not simple highway time. Those two million miles represent more tarmacadam travel than my family has logged since emigrating to the States in the 19th century. The autonomous cars are learning how to handle construction zones, hand gestures, flashing ambulance lights, and bovines. The only question in my mind concerns local traffic in my area—things like “loose horses”.
“There are miles and then there are miles,” Dmitri Dolgov, the software lead on Google’s car program, told the Wall Street Journal. “An even better way to think about it is not just in terms of miles or time, rather it’s the number of interactions that you have with the world and richness and complexity of those interactions.”
The Daily Tech News Show with Tom Merritt gives air time to Tesla Motors’ Autopilot, a semiautonomous feature that can control the car in certain conditions. General Motors, America’s largest auto maker, acquired Cruise Automation Inc., the developer of self-driving technology, in a deal valued at $1 billion earlier in 2016. The company also invested $500 million in Lyft Inc., a ride-hailing service that along with Uber Technologies Inc. is changing the notion of car ownership. Other auto makers have announced their own plans for self-driving cars within a few years, including Ford, which is targeting 2021.
During the summer of 2016, Uber began testing its own self-driving cars on the streets of Pittsburgh. If you follow news from LinkedIn searches, you know Apple is said to be working on its own self-driving car.
Both Uber and Lyft believe their fleets will see a major uptick in autonomous vehicle rides by the time #Cong21 arrives. By #Cong25, “private car ownership will all but end in major U.S. cities,” declared Lyft co-founder John Zimmer on Medium.
Analysts think this is no passing fad. IHS Markit estimates global sales of autonomous vehicles will reach 21 million in 2035. Boston Consulting Group estimates sales of autonomous features will generate $77 billion that year.
Apple has designed efforts to build an electric car as a “committed project” and has set a target ship date for 2019, according to people friendly to #Cong16. More than 1500 people are involved, applying expertise in such areas as batteries, sensors and hardware-software integration to the next generation of cars.
Across the world, the market for electric cars remains weak because of low prices for diesel and petrol. And many consumers have major concerns about vehicle price and battery range. In Ireland, the Nissan Leaf is the highest-volume battery-powered vehicles, but it is only a sliver of the motor industry’s 85 million global annual vehicle sales.
If emissions standards continue tightening around the world, even anti-Green Trump policies won’t deflect car companies from investing billions of dollars in plans to launch electric cars between now and the end of the decade. Brands spanning General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet to Volkswagen AG’s Audi and Porsche will have long-range electric vehicles aimed at the mass market in car showrooms across Ireland.
It’s my hope I can drive an electric car past the old family home in County Clare while meandering around Irish roads looking for people meeting up at #Cong20. And if that electric car has autonomous features, I will switch them on to make a victory lap around Ennis while I read this blog post out loud to my bored passengers in the self-driving car.
(Bernie Goldbach teaches creative media for business in the Limerick Institute of Technology. He learned about this subject material while watching Tom Murphy’s video of John Breslin in the BMW i3, reading Tim Higgins, Daisuke Wakabayashi and Mike Ramsey in the Wall Street Journal and listening to Tom Merritt’s Daily Tech News Show.)