Autonomous Vehicles: are Humans Ready?

Until recently, autonomous vehicles were dismissed as science fiction yet now there is a race by industry, governments, universities and the public to catch up. But are we humans ready for autonomous vehicles? Stephen Taylor, our City Executive, discusses.

A car moving through a city

"With younger generations now moving away from car ownership, and our ageing population driving less, are the days of the driven vehicle now numbered?"

When electric car maker Tesla showed off some driverless car technology across Sydney Harbour Bridge late last year it grabbed a lot of attention. But driverless cars-they’re also called autonomous or robotic-have been making headlines around the world for quite some time now.

High end car companies and many of the leading tech giants like Google or Apple have been in the space for some time, with Google seen as most likely to perfect the process. Mercedes Benz has been trialling autonomous car technology for years too and at the Geneva Car Show in February they showed off a futuristic prototype that turned heads.

In fact, many of the most expensive cars already come with some sort of autonomous car tech in place using Collision Avoidance, Pedestrian Detection and Adaptive Cruise Control. Swedish car maker Volvo, a pioneer in robotic car technology, has even gone so far as to promise that its cars will be crash free by 2020.

This could be great news for road safety and traffic of course. Over 90% of car accidents in Australia are due to human error while an Infrastructure Australia Audit indicated that Sydney had 7 of the top 10 congested roads in the country, a problem expected to get worse as the city adds another 1.6 million people by 2030.

While autonomous vehicles were often dismissed as science fiction by many until fairly recently, there’s now something of a race by industry, governments, universities and the public to catch up.

While there’s no exact timeline on when they’ll be commercially available, regulators in Europe, the U.S. and even here in Australia have now started to look seriously at the implications of driverless cars, in some cases already drafting rules on when and how they can take to public roads. The South Australian government has been the most proactive and so far and is the only Australian state to have moved to update its road laws to allow driverless vehicles on its roads.

Google's driverless car in 2014.

The biggest test though is likely to be how we react to the whole idea, but so far that’s looking fairly positive according to surveys.

One of the most reliable surveys recently undertaken by the World Economics Forum  found that 58% of people would be happy to take a ride in a fully driverless car and there didn’t really seem to be any difference across age groups. While 43.5% said the main reason they want driverless cars is so the car can find a parking spot and park itself, over a third were keen on the option to multi-task while driving especially when in traffic.

With younger generations now moving away from car ownership, and our ageing population driving less, are the days of the driven vehicle now numbered?

If we accept that hypothesis are our cities ready too?

Stephen Taylor

Australian Cities Director +61 2 8907 9084 Ask me a question
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