This article first appeared in the Bus-News magazine, Issue 1 2023.
“52% of UK drivers wrongly believe they can buy a fully autonomous car today.”
A recent report from Thatcham Research highlights that people believe that automation is more advanced than it is. However, this confusion masks a more fundamental issue around autonomous vehicles: ‘what are they really for?’
In 2019, Professor Glenn Lyons of the University of the West of England ran a series of workshops – The Driverless Cars Emulsion. People keen to realise the benefits of driverless cars were brought together with those who foresaw increased traffic and environmental impact if autonomous personal cars proliferate.
The events discussed why autonomous vehicles are really being developed: is it so that people can purchase their own automated car or is autonomy, in fact, much more useful when it is incorporated in shared vehicles?
One of the emergent elements was the recognition that:
“Thinking about how driverless cars might impact us gives a new opportunity to explore existing strengths and weakness of mobility and consider how these can be positively addressed.”
Whilst much of the media around autonomous driving still assumes that driverless cars will be personal vehicles, in fact, most trials of autonomous vehicles are shared. Whether in Europe, where autonomous buses are being tested or in the US where autonomous cars are being trialled as taxis.
The use cases being tested across Europe focus on the most expensive part of the public transport network, the last mile. Where high passenger numbers and economies of scale are unlikely, the opportunities to bring down the costs per passenger are limited. Reducing the driver cost is one possible option – which is where autonomy comes in.
In Lyon, autonomous shuttles were set up to transport people from tram stops to a stadium development under construction. The development was expected to attract only a limited flow of passengers throughout the day whilst it was unfinished, hence the use of small vehicles to take people from the station to ‘virtual stops’ within the stadium. The shuttles were run as on-demand vehicles, booked and managed through the Padam Mobility DRT platform integrated with the autonomous driving software.
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