Where Are All the Self-Driving Cars?

June 12, 2020

Recently, journalists explored the disconnect between the envisioned future and the current state of development in the autonomous vehicle world.

June 12, 2020—When reading about topics like vehicle autonomy, connected systems and automatic service scheduling, it can be difficult to bridge the mental gap between what could be and what is, currently.

That's certainly been the challenge for the people and organizations developing that tech, as some recent articles explored. Some companies had promised driverless fleets on the streets by around this time, according to an article in Bloomberg. That includes a General Motors plan to put autonomous taxis in San Francisco by 2020 and a Daimler plan to have 10,000 autonomous taxis by 2021.

One of the more notable systems that's on the road today, Tesla's Autopilot, gave the world a reminder that there's still work to be done when a Tesla in Taiwan ran straight into an overturned truck on a highway (safety note: An attentive driver is still required).

It takes a lot of capital for this development, too. As Bloomberg points out, the COVID-19 economic hit could prove to be a fatal blow to smaller, undercapitalized development companies working on autonomy.

Still, a lot of money continues to pour into these ventures. Larry Burns, a former General Motors executive, told Bloomberg that "if I was sitting on a big pile of money, and I believed autonomous was inevitable—which I do—this would be a good play.”

The Idea of Mobility

One big hurdle in the wider adoption of autonomous driving technology is public perception. Many observers predict a radically different transportation system than the one we have today.

A recent article in ZDNet explored that perception change with an organization called the Experiences Per Mile Advisory Council. The Council's vision for an electric, connected, shared and autonomous vehicle environment leaves the occupants to focus on the experience of riding rather than the duty of driving.

In a blog post, the Council identifies some of the barriers that it says are between the current state of mobility and the future. To borrow from the post:

Reduce Complexity to Remove Barriers
Technology is getting too complicated. This is likely a reflection that while many of these devices work well individually, integrating them all into a seamless digital and mobility experience is getting harder.

Focus on Usability and Familiarity
Cars rank lower-than-average when it comes to usability. The majority of all respondents feel that staying connected and productive in the car is a challenge – with many struggling to read SMS messages, keep up with news or safely check their calendars on the go.

Prioritize Experience in Connectivity
Digital experiences have become a key factor when purchasing a vehicle. Respondents listed the following items as the top digital things (of top 10 things) they will look for in the next car they buy: enables better productivity while driving; provides helpful suggestions on things like gas stations or alternative routes; makes it easier to stay in touch with friends/family when driving; and provides a fun and entertaining environment.

What Does This Mean For My Shop?

 Running a shop is all about knowing the customer's needs. It isn't hard to envision all the things that might change about how a shop finds customers and schedules service or repair in a world where vehicles are shared, connected and autonomous.

One of the more grandiose scenarios envisions a connected, autonomous vehicle running a diagnostic check on itself, finding a need for service and pulling up to the shop automatically. It might use an AI program to schedule an appointment with your shop automatically. In an accident, a connected vehicle might automatically send information to an insurance company, which in turn automatically sets up repair appointments with the shop.

While operators might be rightly preoccupied with the designs, gadgets and tech that will require new repair and service methods, it's important to consider how much your customer relationship means to your shop and how that might change as the nature of vehicle ownership changes.

Image: Waymo

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