Robotic carsharing services will put fleets of autonomous vehicles at our app-driven beck and call. What do these super-cheap, super-safe connected vehicle systems mean for the transportation industry?
Most cars spend most of their time parked and not being of any use to anyone, but carsharing schemes are changing that. “Street rental” services like Getaround allow car owners to rent out their vehicles via a mobile app when they’re not in use, and ridesharing services like Uber allow car owners to drive their vehicles as taxis when they might otherwise be idle. In the (possibly quite near) future, autonomous vehicle technology will merge with these consumer ridesharing services to form what’s being called “robotic” carsharing; think Uber minus the driver, responding to your in-app ride request automatically.
Uber is already well underway developing its own autonomous vehicle technology. The company announced in May that its autonomous Ford Fusion will begin cruising the streets of Pittsburgh, the site of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center (ATC). The ATC was created with the goal of developing autonomous technology for the Uber fleet that will ultimately supplant its driver-operated service.
While government agencies in the US and Europe are investing heavily in autonomous and connected vehicle technology to realize the massive safety benefits the technologies offer, it may in fact be these robotic carsharing services that bring the first fully autonomous vehicles to the streets.
According to Dominique Bonte of ABI research, the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) already in use in consumer and commercial vehicles will eventually evolve to achieve most of the safety benefits of autonomous technology, like obstacle detection and collision avoidance, before fully autonomous vehicles ever become a practical reality. While ADAS will increase costs but dramatically improve safety, robotic carsharing has the potential to dramatically reduce costs by eliminating the driver, improving vehicle supply when and where it’s needed, and enabling 24-hour operation.
This cost savings inherent in vehicle sharing may even signal the latter days of the privately owned car. Says Bonte, “Robotic carsharing will increase the convenience of carsharing and allow much-lower pricing, resulting in the ‘Car as a Service’ becoming a mainstream use case, ultimately replacing car ownership.”
ABI projects that by 2030, 400 million people will rely on robotic carsharing services.
Robotic carsharing will add another layer to already complex autonomous and connected vehicle systems. An autonomous vehicle takes in sensor data, processes it, and controls itself to navigate roads and traffic. Connected autonomous vehicles add connectivity with the environment, other vehicles, and the Internet. Robotic systems will do all of that, while also interfacing with, and being controlled by, a consumer app. In addition, consumers will continue to expect greater access to data in the car, particularly for data-heavy media streaming. Which connectivity technologies will be able to deliver all the data throughput with low latency and a near guarantee of reliability?
ABI Research believes the answer lies with the forthcoming standards for the fifth generation of mobile networks (5G). The standard specifies the very high data rates and low latency needed for the connected infrastructure and is built atop existing cellular technology, making it the most likely workable technology for connecting a robotic carsharing system. According to ABI’s Bonte, 5G’s low latency, high speeds, and high throughputs will not only enable robotic systems and “infotainment,” but will make cars and vehicle sensors a part of the Internet of Things.
“5G cellular connectivity will enable a large number of use cases including V2V for safety applications; high-bandwidth multimedia streaming; cloud-to-car applications for vehicle life cycle, maintenance, and cyber security management; and car-to-cloud for crowdsourcing vehicle sensor data to create high-accuracy 3D maps, real-time traffic and parking space information, hyperlocal weather data, and so on,” says Bonte.
In July, the FCC set aside bandwidth for 5G development, and industries are pushing for its realization by 2020.
On the Road 24/7
Robotic carsharing schemes are poised to change the automotive industry fundamentally. When carsharing becomes cheaper than vehicle ownership and cars are in use up to 70% of the time, design requirements for car components must evolve in accordance. While maintenance will be made easier in many ways by sensor monitoring and analytics tools like predictive maintenance, components in unmanned robotic fleets must be more durable, redundant, and long-lasting than ever. With better utilization, cars will need to withstand possibly hundreds of thousands of miles of wear and tear every year.
The automotive and connector industries are pretty good at this already, regularly producing cables and connectors that withstand a decade or two of dust, shock, and vibration without failing, not to mention the decades of experience connector companies have in automation in harsh environments. The challenge for connector and cable manufacturers will be applying these lessons to new components and technologies, especially RF components like cellular and Wi-Fi radios. Many companies are already on their way with product lines geared to autonomous technology planned or already in production.
In spite of talk of robotic carsharing ending the era of private cars, it seems unlikely that driving will ever disappear: People will always love cars and driving. In fact, if ADAS can make crashing practically impossible, and autonomous technology and robotic services can take the cost and tedium out of driving, we may be entering a golden age of driving. Perhaps in a couple decades we’ll be able to cheaply call up a robotic Ferrari from the beach that’ll even let us maneuver a few curves risk-free on the way home.
Neil Shurtz is a contributor to Connector+Cable Assembly Supplier based in San Francisco. As a freelancer and in his work in public relations for high-tech companies, he has written about technology in the oil and gas, aerospace, and manufacturing industries. Shurtz specializes in framing complex and niche technical topics in a broader social context.