Sunday, June 8, 2014

Self-Drive Cars and the Future of Transportation

Self-Drive Cars
Google recently announced a prototype of a totally self-drive car. After running modified cars with Google self-drive technology and clocking up more than 700,000 miles, it has decided to move to the next stage. The prototype (which is still a long way from production) has no driver controls and is powered by battery.
Many people are probably asking themselves, "Would I ever buy one of these?" and are probably giving themselves a negative response. They are suspicious about a device that takes away their control. But in order to understand this innovation's potential, we need to dig a little deeper.

We need to consider the increasing challenges to modern transportation, and the innovations of recent years. In the same week that Google announced its self-drive car prototype there were two other significant transportation stories:
1. Faced with the increasing health-threatening air pollution, the Chinese government announced that it is taking six million older cars that do not comply with emissions standards off the road. Some 31% of Beijing's air pollution is caused by cars, so the new law is expected to make a serious impact.
2. Uber, the transportation network startup whose value has rocketed up to $12b. announced that it is seeking $500m in additional venture capital. ReadWrite web has an article "Why Uber, not HP is the Future of Technology". Uber has been expanding its operations to more than a hundred cities around the world, despite many legal challenges from many traditional taxi companies.

There have been other important innovations in transportation news in the recent period.
- Beginning from the 1970's more than 500 cities, in every continent, have established bicycle rental schemes. Within the 2 year period between 2011 to 2013, the number of bicycles in such schemes doubled to more than 500,000. Millions of commuters now rely on these programs.
- Electric or hybrid vehicles are beginning to take off. The Chinese have made electric vehicles mandatory for public transportation, including taxis. Cities from New Delhi to San Francisco have been establishing charging stations and government incentives. Constant advances in battery technology are bringing down the costs.

So going back to the thought, "Would you buy a Google self-drive car?", well that may be entirely the wrong question. You need to take into consideration all of the other transportation stories, and let your imagination run a little.
Imagine a city where Google teams up with a company like Uber to create a fleet of self-drive taxis. In your mobile phone app you key in a route, and moments later, an electric Uber Google self-drive taxi stops on the curb. Better and safer than a rental bike, cheaper than a normal taxi, cleaner than the smog producing vehicles that threaten our health. And no need to own a car.