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What Will The Future Of Driving Look Like?

"Faster and cheaper" will spur autonomous vehicles with the car approaching the scale and ubiquity of the smartphone, says Uber's Thijs Niks.

An analysis by Morgan Stanley estimates that by 2030, cars will drive more than 19.6 billion miles globally — considerably higher than the 10.2 billion they traveled in 2015.

It’s worth noting that the pace of growth is much higher than the expected production of cars and light vehicles during the same period.

The Morgan Stanley report placed a major emphasis on shared mobility, a transportation concept that includes pooled ride-hailing services like Uber, Lyft, as well as municipal transportation features of “Smart Cities” — like app-based bike or car sharing companies, such as Citi Bike and Zipcar.

Shared cars — taxis and cars operated by ride-sharing companies, but not car rental — in 2015 accounted for 4 percent of global miles traveled, Morgan Stanley found. But by 2030, Morgan Stanley estimates that number could reach 26 percent.

In a Twitter thread last week, Thijs Niks, a product manager at Uber, plotted out his own view of the future of road travel and he’s focused on the idea of autonomous vehicles.

While Niks’ analysis contains an obvious bias — Uber has been aggressively battling it out with Google, the major automakers, and rivals like Lyft to create a driverless car and truck fleet — the possibilities he’s enumerated are worth considering.

Cheaper, Faster, Safer

Starting with Jeff Bezos’ premise for predicting the future: “What won’t change?” Niks’ lists consumers’ fixed demands from transportation:

  • Cheaper
  • Faster
  • More reliable
  • Safer
  • Door-to-door
  • Private
  • Less polluting

Niks then lists current tech trends:

  • Electric motors will develop faster than gasoline ones.
  • Batteries will store more power & become cheaper.
  • Computers will be faster, smaller & cheaper.
  • Cameras will be better, smaller & cheaper.
  • Connectivity will be faster, cheaper & wide-spread.

“See the keywords there? Faster and cheaper,” Niks writes. “Much of it driven by the production scale of smartphones. It’s good to keep in mind William Gibson’s advice about this all: ‘The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.'”

The Smartphone On Wheels

Niks compares the scale and ubiquity to the smartphone, which has led to so many changes in way people shop and interact with each other and with businesses. In a broader sense, the race to power autonomous vehicles by the likes of Uber, Google, and auto and tech companies represents a larger competition for revenues that will be tied to the burgeoning Internet of Things.

Just as the smartphone opened up even greater vistas in marketing, the rise of IoT will significantly alter the way all businesses function and the way consumers move around the world in general.

In terms of making the driverless car a broader consumer product, as opposed to something more niche-oriented around technophiles and those who regard themselves urban sophisticates, is the fact that automakers are among the largest advertisers and a car is one of the most important and central considered purchases a person makes (apart from where they live).

The driverless car is also part of the wave that’s forming the Connected Home. It’s no coincidence that the Connected Home is already a reality for many consumers via voice-activated assistants like Amazon’s Alexa. And all the IoT that will stretch from a person’s home to their car to will also follow them where they work and live.

Therefore, the companies that provide the backbone to autonomous vehicle mapping technology will also have a direct pipeline to consumers and businesses in all facets.

Ultimately, the car is a central part of the equation that goes into the “connected consumer.”

“Self-driving cars will be safer, can go faster, drive closer to other cars, optimize fuel usage better, free up parking space in the city, and free up time compared to human-controlled cars,” Niks writes.

Software Drives The World

Ultimately, the ability of software to solve the problems of cost and safety will be the determining aspect of how quickly the driverless car enters the mainstream.

And while companies like Google and Apple have been amazingly profitable thanks to the software that has made smartphones more than a portable phones, transportation is an even more valuable business arena. So it’s natural that as those companies seek greater growth, conquering — or at least being a significant participant — the automotive space is viewed as crucial.

“‘Software is eating the world,” Niks says, citing Marc Andreessen’s dictum, “and self-driving cars are a perfect example of that. Much of what will make a future car successful will be determined by how good the software is and the software companies of the world have noticed. The software companies’ bet is that the value in the production chain will shift from manufacturing metal boxes to building software systems.”