or ‘how everything we do is NOT driven by you’
I was reading something on the BBC the other day which I found very interesting. I decided to put a few words down about it myself, I think this might be another post that will veer from one topic to another and back again. I perhaps should not have used the word veer, since this topic of thought is driverless cars!
Ford, that bastion of production values, the founder of the production line and creator of the Ford Capri is no longer a car maker. No longer a car maker? They still produce millions of the metal wagons every year. However last year Ford starting calling itself a ‘technology company’. I found this very interesting, Ford are part of the chase to achieve driverless cars, in fact they have declared that by 2021 they will be selling the things. Google, Apple and Tesla are also in the race, along with Honda.
The most interesting part of this race is, rather like motorsport itself, there are classes of driverless cars. Level 0 is an old-fashioned car, rather like the Ford Capri I mentioned earlier, it looks fantastic but it does nothing to help you drive. It came as a surprise to me to find out I already drive a level 2 car. I say I drive it, but being a level 2 (there are 6 levels in all 0-5) it sometimes drives me. How does my car fall under level 2? Well the fact that my car has front radar and automatic collision braking got me into level 1, the fact my car also has cruise control got me into level 2. The Tesla is a level 3 car, it will change lanes for you. The real interesting things happen when you get to level 4 and 5. Level 4 means the car will do everything for you, but does have the controls fitted so that you can intervene if you need to, level 5 is the top step on the podium, no steering wheel or pedals! You will quite literally be passenger to your own fate.
So to get to level 5 you need software, lots of software. This is how Ford has reasoned that they are now a technology firm. The biggest car makers have all been buying up software and radar firms for the last couple of years because it is their future. The report from the Economist about the future of car making is very interesting. The predictions are that some firms will thrive, driven by the role out of driverless vehicles, others will fold. The idea that some car makers will go under, primarily because they have not got on board with the shift of technology, leads in nicely to the buyout of GM by Peugeot/Citroen. It is a very old economic principle that buying out your competition and becoming the biggest fish is the pond is a good way to consolidate profit and market share. But set against this complex idea that car makers are going to stop being car makers in the next 10-15 years, that they are going to become technology firms that produce hi-tech ‘movement pods’, is a stab at buyout and creating a bigger firm the best bet for Peugeot/Citroen.? VW did there amalgamating years ago, to create a super large production stable of several brands. VW might yet enter the driverless stakes, in fact my level 2 driverless car is a Skoda, part of the VW group. VW have the software, they managed to get millions of cars through emission tests they could not pass with it, so the processing power must be there for the next steps.
Having a Level 5 car is only part of the step though, both Google and Apple talk about the idea that apps for car sharing will be part of the future. So I might not need to own a driverless car, I might just need an app so that I can arrange a car share with another owner to get myself to work every day. So a network of unowned cars, acting like minicabs, picking people up and taking them to where they need to be without the need to ever own the car itself. If I was the UK government I would be getting straight to this, imagine the lost revenue from, less driving tests, less licences, less car tax, less fuel duty and all the other stealth tax (10% VAT on insurance). It is going to cost them a fortune! Of course the new driverless cars will need transponders in the roads, fixed radar mapping points and band width to function. So the UK government might be able to reclaim some of the lost income with infrastructure improvements to road systems that will charge the car users (or the cars themselves) to keep everything on the straight and narrow. Also look at all the driving schools and instructors who will be redundant.
Do driverless car actually cause a lack of choice in ownership? Is this shift in technology anti-capitalist? If we are car sharing rides in driverless cars, the need for ownership is removed. No longer might I hanker after a Jaguar, fine looking things they are, if in fact I do not need to own a car. If I am just sharing it to get me to work, will I really care what it looks like, is the fact that I will not drive it going to break the mould of ownership engagement? If we break the emotional relationship with our cars, I still love my old Capri-30 years since I sold it, is that going to ruin the business model for the luxury, pretty car makers? If we do not own the driverless car, then who will? Leasing firms will be interested in getting as many paying customers into their cars as possible, so 2 seater coupes are not going to be popular, driverless or not. No taxi firm has thought ‘let’s get 16 Ferrari’s, it will lose us money but we will look fantastic’.
The last question to consider here, is will it make our roads safer? I watched the test session last week with two robotic racing cars. No drivers, just software guiding the two 160 mile an hour cars round the track, it took 2 laps for one car to crash. We will all be safer with driverless cars. Perhaps the most pertinent question is, how we the transition take place? If driverless cars are safer, then all the person driven cars would have to get off road the day before the driverless cars take hold. Could we mix the two categories safely? Will cars driven by humans need to stick to one lane, whilst the other lanes are for driverless cars? That is a massive stress on all parties involved.
And perhaps the most important question of all, will Prof Brian May have to update his Ford advertisement jingle to ‘everything we do, is NOT driven by you’