Major Disruptors Section 2

On Tuesday I started a blog post series on the major disruptors of the next decade. You can see the first post at:

A Series on the Major Future Disruptors of the next decade – Section 1

The first post centred on introducing the subject and looking first of all at driverless cars and the effects it may have on the insurance industry, taxis, and the road building supply chain. Today we continue to look at other sectors that may be affected in a major way:

Public Transport

A system of government subsidised and supported driverless cars would essentially be a hybrid public/private system. It is a complex issue to compare the utility of public and private transport in those circumstances but the most likely scenario is that more people will transfer to cars and away from trains, buses ad trams. The advantages of a personalised transport offering with increased comfort, door to door delivery, and specialised and personalised  services will be pretty compelling.

As always this will be a dynamic situation as less congestion on public transport may make that more appealing for some people. Overall though it is likely that there will be less demand for public transport, less demand for new public transport investment and a problem for all the shops and systems that have built up around the train and tram stops.

Hospitals and the medical supply chain

A 90% reduction in road trauma would have a significant effect on the hospital system and its supply chain. Road trauma supplies a large part of the business of major hospitals. Having suffered such trauma myself there is also a large component of ancillary services such as rehabilitation services, physiotherapy, insurance systems etc that flow on from the original trauma.

Apart from the reduction in the emotional toll if we saved $30 billion a year in hospital costs (see the first post in this series) it will have significant flow on effects in terms of short terms need for new hospitals, long term care requirements for the seriously injured, and all the income flows that come with the whole system.

Car manufacturing

Global implementation of driverless cars will mean sweeping changes to the car manufacturing system due to a number of key factors:

  • If we do not own cars then we are likely to be less concerned about the models of cars that we use and we will have far less model ranges. The experience will be far more focused on what happens when we are in the car from the point of view of connectivity, entertainment, safety and our capacity to work while in motion than they will an emotional attachment to a car model.
  • Cars will be driven far more than they currently are. Cars are currently used on 4-6% of their daily life. If we reduce the number of cars on the road by 60-70% then the mileage done by most cars will be much higher than it previously was. In fact some uses may be five times as high if a model is adopted where a basic car model is the workhorse of the system and we use other cars less for specialty occasions such as moving stuff or a luxury dinner night.

This means that it is likely that the number of car models will reduce significantly and the focus will be on durability and reliability and a faster changeover of the life of cars measured in time while they last longer in terms of kilometres traveled. So while there may be a bloodbath in car manufacturing as these adjustments are made there is the capacity to have significant reductions in the costs of car manufacturing and running costs based on improved model volumes and increased durability from improved design, and more rapid innovation cycles.

Real Estate Markets

One of the key drivers (sic) for real estate prices in inner city areas is the price of the commute to work for a large number of people. That price is both on of an economic price of vehicles, fuel and parking but also one of a personal toll in terms of time spent travelling and lack of productivity. I live I Brunswick (6km from the Melbourne CBD) because it is 15-20 minutes into the city via tram or train, it is 15 minutes to the airport (and I travel a lot interstate and internationally), and it has a car sharing service which means I save money I would otherwise spend on owning a car. I am prepared to send more money on housing for those reasons.

If the time spent travelling can be reduced by the smart use of driverless cars creating less traffic on the road, and if costs can be reduced by sharing use of those cars and no parking, and you can get all the connected services you want inside those cars would you be prepared to travel further? If you could work in the car on the way back and forwards to an office with specialised cars that allow that in comfort plus use virtual reality technologies to have meetings while you travel would you travel further? If you could have a drink on the way home and watch your favourite comedy show in the car that no-one else in the family likes watching would you travel further? Personally I would like the capacity to have a 30 minute power nap.

If the answer to any of those questions is yes it is likely to cause a reduction in price pressures for inner city living and an increasing prices for real estate a little further out.

As an extra change all those inner city car parks will disappear, freeing up more space for accommodation and/or offices. I would be factoring that into my investment thinking right now.

Postal and Delivery Services

If we think through the issues of driverless cars and demand for their services if we implement a wholesale implementation of driverless cars then obviously there will be peak demand times around travel to work that will determine overall volumes. This means that there will be lots of times where there are large excesses of available vehicles. If we combine this with the opportunity for advances in robotics to create automated delivery systems it is easy to see a system that will replace all current postal and parcel delivery systems

A semi-autonomous system that would flex and change and link to when people are actually at home rather than based on logistics systems that seek to get us to provide a window of our time would be much more efficient. Imagine a system that senses when you arrive home and sends you a message asking if you are able to take delivery in the next 90 minutes. Parcels could be kept continually in motion and exchanged between vehicles in a way that keeps the parcel within deliverable distance of your home on a continual basis using smart logarithms. This would eliminate warehousing and provide a much more efficient system and provide a much reduced cost of delivery by utilising vehicles that are already in motion and being used rather than those dedicated to delivery.

 

Urban Planning

A significant change to road use, the number of vehicles on the road, changes in parking requirements, and the desirability of living areas has significant challenges for urban planning. If this change is likely in 10 years then the changes start to impact on the thinking for urban planning well before that point. At what stage should the approaches to urban planning change? This is a very tricky question. Even if we had an implementation date right now it would still be a difficult question to answer. We should all start thinking through these issues now

 

 

Most of the focus on these issues so far has been on the disruptions of existing infrastructure, industries and business models. In the next post I will look more at the possibilities for new jobs and services that might spring from the wide scale implementation of a driverless car society.

 

Paul Higgins

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Implementation of Driverless Cars – A case for public subsidy of private transport systems

My family had a vigorous discussion over the Christmas break on driverless car technologies and the implementation timetable and pathway (yes we are like that, and if you don’t like it don’t turn up).

While we disagreed on the timelines there was general agreement that the technology is inevitable and desirable. My view was that there is a strong case for government subsidies to implement the technology which has some similar network effects as the fax machine: who buys the first fax machine?

Now, having a driverless car has some initial advantages, even if you are the only adopter. For instance if you can read/work/sleep instead of driving it is a great time saver while reducing your chances of having an accident. However the benefits of us all having driverless cars are far greater because network benefits accumulate exponentially as the number of vehicles with the technology grows.

This means that there is a significant case for a huge publicly funded effort for implementation to maximise early adoption rates. This was reinforced for me in the last week while reading several items:

The New Killer Apps: How Large Companies Can Out-Innovate Start-Ups

Audi’s traffic light assistance helps you hit every green light

The Men Who United the States: The Amazing Stories of the Explorers, Inventors and Mavericks Who Made America

In the New Killer Apps the authors describe some of the cost savings that implementation of driverless cars in the USA including:

“The American Automobile Association studied crash data in the ninety-nine largest urban areas in the United States and estimated the total accident-related costs— including medical costs, loss of productivity, legal costs, travel delays, pain, and lost quality of life— to be roughly $ 300 billion. Adjusting those numbers to cover the entire country suggests annual costs of about $ 450 billion. Now take 90 percent off these numbers. Google claims its car could save almost 30,000 lives each year on US highways, prevent nearly two million additional injuries, and reduce accident-related expenses by at least $ 400 billion a year”

Mui, Chunka; Carroll, Paul (2013-12-02). The New Killer Apps: How Large Companies Can Out-Innovate Start-Ups (pp. 19-20). Cornerloft Press. Kindle Edition.

They also go on to postulate that there would be other savings include fuel costs due to more efficient driving, and productivity improvements due to time saving. They also state that the demand for cars would be reduced by 90% due to improved utilisation of vehicles. While it is true there would be reduced demand for cars I highly doubt it would be at this level because the reduced demand theory is largely based on the fact that we only use use our cars a small percentage of the time. I no longer have a car for this reason and use Flexicar a local car sharing service. In Australia the data indicates we only use our cars on average 4% of the time and they lie idle the rest of the time. However the figure of 90% reduction in car demand is likely to be an exaggeration due to two factors:

  1. There will be a requirements for cars at peak times that will need to be filled, meaning that at other times there will still be a large capacity underutilisation.
  2. If we increase the overall capacity utilisation of our cars then they will not last as long. If we increase average car utilisation to say 20% then we will increase the mileage of our cars 5 times. In Australia that would mean moving average distance traveled to 70,000 km per year instead of the current 14,000 ( 9208.0 – Survey of Motor Vehicle Use, Australia, 12 months ended 30 June 2012 ). That means a 5 year old car would have traveled 350,000 km so changeover rates would be much higher. (there are some interesting design issues here – designing and building cars with greater durability while still allowing technology updates for instance)

There are clearly huge savings to be made in implementation of a true driverless car system if the Google assumptions are only partly correct.

In the Audi story the article states:

“Using both live and predictive data beamed into the vehicle’s navigation unit via onboard wifi, TLA doesn’t need a single camera to tell you when the light is going to change. Local data sources provide information about traffic light patterns, and the in car system uses that data and the motion of the car to predict exactly how long it’ll be until the green light goes red”

Clearly this does not work that well unless almost everyone is on the system. If drivers ahead of you are travelling too slowly for the system or brake suddenly then it would not be of much value. Also if you were travelling slowly to match your speed against when the next light would change and behind you was a trail of angry drivers trying to pass you then it could cause more problems than it solves. This magically disappears if all cars are on the system and fuel and time efficiency are gained as well as reduced accidents.

This is what I mean by network efficiencies. There must be a tipping point at which once there are enough driverless cars on the roads that benefits start to accrue more quickly and more adoption takes place. For instance if nearly all the cars on the road were driverless and communicating with each other then travel time information would be greatly improved. However the benefits accrue to different sections of the community rather than just accruing to the user, and accrue at different time frames, and there will be many self interested parties. The following are just a few examples:

  • Reduced accident rates mean a huge reduction in physical trauma and medical costs on top of the reduction in emotional trauma. This is largely saved in the government sector both in operating costs but also in continuing demand for new hospital facilities (this is also complicated by demographic changes, growth of cities, and urban intensification).
  • Individual car owners will save money in the longer term but will have the legacy costs of their current vehicles and their financing costs which may inhibit adoption and cause political backlashes. For instance if you new car is suddenly almost worthless and you have a car loan against the asset what do you do?
  • A number of sectors will miss out on income. The government will miss out on speeding fines and drink driving fines. Panel beaters, car insurers,and car manufacturers will all suffer significant revenue losses as will taxi operators and taxi licence holders.
  • If the general public came to the conclusion that large scale adoption of driverless cars was a good thing and about to happen in the next 3 years new car sales would plummet. Who would buy a new car today if it was virtually worthless in 3 years time?

Which brings me to Simon Winchester’s fine book,The Men Who United the States. In it he describes how a young Eisenhower was part of an army project to cross the USA by road in 1919 to test the capability the road system for military transport in case of war (Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower – Transcontinental Motor Convoy, 1919).Winchester claims that this experience led to Eisenhower’s long term commitment to the National road system which was later built at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and changed the nature of America.

There is a similar case for a large scale public investment in the adoption of driverless cars across the world. As many of the benefits accrue to government through lower costs in the health system then there is an overriding case for the government to get involved on several levels:

  • Implementation of the necessary technology systems outside of the cars themselves which link the cars to the rest of the transport system including traffic light systems.
  • A major effort to overcome any legislative barriers and risk issues, and coordinating national approaches to the problems. As an example the implementation of all this technology is likely to result in more accurate data on causes of accidents even if the overall numbers fall significantly. There will be cases where failures in the car technology causes an accident. In that case the manufacturers are likely to be held liable for the costs in that accident through the courts. At the same time the manufacturers would not accrue any of the benefits of the large reductions in accidents flowing from the technology adoption. There is a strong case for governments sharing those costs with the manufactures to reduce the costs of implementation ( I would be against indemnifying the manufacturers as they need some skin in the game).
  • Public subsidy of the system in a similar way that we subsidise private road use and public transport systems now but at least initially for a different reason. There is likely to be significant barriers to adoption of the technology which will be tied to initial costs and social attitudes. In a networked system such as large scale of adoption of driverless cars the advantages accrue much faster with higher rates of adoption. A pure business case can be made to government subsidising the system in the initial phase to significantly reduce costs and ramp up adoption rates with the payback being more rapid reduction in government costs.

Beyond all the economic arguments the human cost of road trauma is enormous and long lasting. As someone who was hit by a car 2 years ago and was lucky to escape with some serious injuries which I have mostly recovered from I have enormous sympathy for those who have not been so lucky. I was in hospital for 10 days and had 4 anesthetics and two lots of surgery but the day I left a patient in my ward was being moved to rehab after being in hospital for over 3 months, with the prospect of never walking normally again. I was able to compete in a triathlon again last Sunday in an embarrassingly slow time but at least I could finish. My thoughts go constantly to those who have not been so lucky.

My question is where are the visionary leaders of our time who will take on the huge challenge of implementing a system that can change the lives of thousands of people over the next 50 years? Who will hold the experience of meeting a severely injured car accident victim in their head in the same way Eisenhower held in his head the difficulties of crossing the USA in 1919 and set about changing the system?

Paul Higgins

Further Links:

Large-scale trial of driverless cars to begin on public roads

The world’s first large-scale test of driverless cars will involve 100 Volvos taking to the streets of Gothenburg in 2017

BMW FORECASTS CARS WILL BE HIGHLY AUTOMATED BY 2020, DRIVERLESS BY 2025.

U.K. town will build driverless podcar system

Milton Keynes, a town of more than 200,000 people, announced that it will begin a pilot program for a transit system that uses driverless, electric podcars starting in 2015.

The £65 million pilot project will use 100 podcars (that can hold two passenger each) which can be summoned by a smartphone. The initial test will have the podcars travel on a one mile route between the city’s train station and shopping centers and offices. Each ride will cost £2. The pilot will run for two years and continue if the test run is positive, possibly even spreading to other cities in the U.K.

Further links posted up by futurist P A Martin Börjesson:

New IHS Automotive study forecasts nearly 12 million yearly self-driving cars sales and almost 54 million in use on global highways by 2035

The Driverless City

 

Update:

Volvo’s first self-driving cars now being tested live on public roads in Swedish city