Why Driverless Cars are the 51st Shade of Grey

Why Driverless Cars are the 51st Shade of Grey

Driverless cars are a hot topic nowadays. Everybody is giving you pieces of information about what is happening. 31december2099 is here to tell you what happens next.

Why Driverless Cars are the 51st Shade of GreyIn designing this scenario, we rely on two basic guidelines. First, the diffusion of a technology happens gradually. Sometimes it’s a slow process, sometimes is fast, but rarely is out of the blue. Second, every innovation is surrounded by other technologies. Some are enablers, some might slow down or even replace a new idea before it sees the light.

We are going to surprise you with an unexpected statement. Driverless cars are not intelligent at all. They adopt a combination of maps, some pre-uploaded and some generated by a laser system which scans the surroundings. Pre-uploaded maps must be 100% accurate, so need frequent updates. The laser system might cost more than the rest of the vehicle.

Why Driverless Cars are the 51st Shade of GreyPre-uploaded maps store information of the streets, speed limits, fixed obstacles etc… All items that need maintenance. The good news is that maps will be soon replaced. There are two innovations helping to get rid of this obsolete and static technology. The first is connection between vehicles; cars will exchange updated information, talk each other. The second is satellites with accuracy measured in inches. IoT and satellites are mature to give an help.

About the laser system, the issue about cost is a bit more relevant. Because it’s not the only piece of expensive equipment. Radars, video control system, position estimators etc… are adding costs to the shopping cart. For sure, the more driverless cars spread, the more the cost will go down.

So, what is going to happen? We believe driverless vehicles won’t be cars but buses, trucks and shuttles, at least in phase 1. Each time a vehicle has to run a fixed predetermined route, it’s likely it will be driverless. From flight terminals to parking lots. From train stations to business centers. From one area to another in the same construction site. Into private properties.

In a second phase, countries, regions and towns will rule about driverless cars. And allow them to circulate. It will become clear who has the responsibility with insurances. It will be the car manufacturer for unmanned vehicles and the owner for normal cars. At this stage, it’s likely that the driver could take the lead if necessary, with brakes and wheel. The system will a mix between human and computer. If the cost of equipment is still too high, only premium cars will be driverless.

For a long time there will be the coexistence of autonomous vehicles and manned cars. Some car manufacturers will make opposition to this new technology. Jaguar recently stated that people are not a cargo and they will never build driverless cars. It’s correct, some people will continue to find pleasure in driving, especially sport cars. But they will become a minority.

The automotive commercial model at this stage will crumble. I don’t see a single valid reason to remain a car owner. As long as I will be able to book and have a driverless car at my place in a short time.

Revenues will come from renting the vehicle and from the entertainment inside of it. Today our cars are relatively advertising free. When you drive, you are subject to billboards or radio communication, but your main focus is still the road.

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Why Driverless Cars are the 51st Shade of GreyTomorrow, inside the car, you will have to to find ways to spend time. Conversation and everything you can do on your device will be free of charge. Any other entertainment or service will have a price. Good news, the possibilities will be infinite: music, gaming, news, movies, books, magazines etc…

Can we imagine a clean and neat urban environment with less traffic and pollution? Yes, when driverless cars will meet witricity. In the long term we foresee a scenario where the road pavement will supply electricity to vehicles. A car will charge when parked, but potentially also in motion and for sure when stop in front of a traffic light. That is the last phase. Then we can expect manned vehicles to slowly disappear, until somebody will decide to ban them.


Resources on driverless cars

Google Self-Driving Car Project


How Driverless Cars Will Radically Change Every Aspect of Our Lives




The Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion



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  1. “The automotive commercial model at this stage will crumble. I don’t see a single valid reason to remain a car owner.” – There is a reason and it is in the very large numbers. Though, it may affect only a few personal decisions, it will affect your ability to chose via crucial regulations, which will kill “generalized self driving car”. Yes, specific narrow defined commercial usage will be where autonomous cars take over.
    And here is the reason: We know that technology fails. It must. It keeps up proportional to the cost. Reliability is one thing that mass production can’t shave off cost efficiently. By my professional estimate, just for “assisted” features of modern cars (ex. self-braking) cost of the AI system in order to match current aircraft standards must be in 100000$ range. Not for the car, just for that system. And no mass production can shave that number much because most of it is in the cost of quality and dependability. More autonomous car, say Google-self-driving one definitely requires similar systems at the cost of 300000-500000$. Again, without much ability to drive cost down by mass production if quality is to be maintained. Modern assisted- and experimental self-driving cars fail aircraft quality standards.
    Now, here is where human intuition fails: Google-self-driving and quite a number of assisted-AI cars have apparently stellar safety records. Humans are improperly intuitively giddy about such records. Because we fail to properly take an account of the number of “car-hours” and chances for failure that are still relatively low. What will inevitably happen as assisted- and self-driving cars increase in numbers (about your step (1)) is that the law of large numbers will impose itself. Failures will happen. Because humans are not used to this type of failure and “drivers” would be on the initial “high” of pride in their new toy technology, very quickly we will have accidents with dozens of victims. If not dozens-and-dozens. “But humans are bad drivers…”. Yes, but we are exceptionally good in intuitively predicting failures of other humans and foresee them. No one expects (no, not the Spanish Inquisition 🙂 ) well behaving car on a dense fast moving highway to suddenly slam the brakes. Bad human drivers do many idiotic things, they do not drive well and orderly in high speed dense traffic just to slam the brakes. That type of accidents will start to happen with AI cars. I predict first with the “assisted” cars. Because there will be very many of them soon, manufacturers are jumping on a band wagon too fast with no associated quality, just the opposite. More numbers-more chances for failure…
    Even few such horrific accidents that will inevitably be traced to the AI car features will, again inevitably, turn the public into the witch hunt. People will refuse to purchase “assisted” models, making just emerging “self driving” market too weak to succeed. More over, “caring politicians” will ride on that wave and regulate the hell out of the market. Leaving space only for highly profitable commercial usage such as self-driving trucks in which the prohibitive cost of the proper AI systems (and likely prohibitive cost of insurance) could be overcome by savings on drivers salaries and other efficiencies.
    So, I boldly predict that in our life time and likely within the whole century, self-driving cars will be limited to a commercial usage niche. Because of the combined effects of the law of large numbers, cost of quality and most importantly related effects of the human nature.

    • Great comment!
      Let me just add a few figures to your considerations for the sake of completeness:
      – the laser system used by Google to build 3D maps of the surroundings costs about 70 k $ and it’s the most expensive piece of equipment installed
      – in 2015 Google road tested 1 million miles and reports 14 minor accidents on public roads where they met 180 million vehicles… the law of big numbers is already operating quite safely
      A couple of additional comments:
      – I agree it will take much longer than extreme optimists think
      – when both old school manufacturers (Mercedes, Toyota, Renault etc…) and new generation companies (Tesla, Google etc..) are spending massively in a new technology… be sure it’s because they want it on the streets


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