Can Autonomous Vehicles Ride the Electric Vehicles Wave?

I’m excited to see that electric vehicles are getting more and more attention lately. President-Elect Biden is making them a political priority (link here), they continue to be an area of strategic focus for automakers (see examples here and here), and state policy makers are turning their attention to them as well (see here). Seemingly, we are going to see a meaningful uptick in electric vehicle production, sales and usage, for both individual and commercial markets.

I’d like to believe that a significant increase in electric vehicle interest and adoption is due to a growing acknowledgement of climate change and the damage we’re inflicting on our environment every day. Massive weather events, poor air quality, and unpredictable temperature swings have created a sense of urgency for policy makers, businesses, and the general public to shift away from fossil fuels.

So what does this mean for autonomous vehicles?  We know that shared driverless vehicles have the potential to benefit the environment as well – through decreased congestion and more efficient driving routes.  I’m wondering if this impetus or another comparable trigger – like traffic safety – will cause a similar shift in focus on driverless vehicles. What will it take to get the public and policymakers on board?

  • Maybe our post-Coronavirus world will be so car-focused and have so much congestion that shared driverless vehicles will become a big priority? I wish that was the case, but I’d be surprised…
  • Maybe road safety will receive heightened attention due to the greater usage of bikes and scooters causing more safety incidents?  I also wish that was the case, but I’d be equally surprised…
  • Maybe our post-Coronavirus world will reduce or even eliminate traditional in-person shopping, which will significantly increase the world’s package delivery requirements? I think we may have found our trigger!

As grocery stores, retail stores, and pharmacies see less and less foot traffic, our delivery vehicles are becoming busier and busier. Reducing the labor costs and congestion associated with these delivery vehicles will likely be a huge “driver” (pun intended!) for change. I’m hopeful that goods movement requirements will allow us to see the technological advances and supportive policy changes that will advance the driverless technology in the same way that the electric vehicle technology is being accelerated today.

Any other triggers I’m not thinking of?

About Lauren Isaac

Lauren Isaac is the Director of Business Initiatives for the North American operation of EasyMile. Easymile provides electric, driverless shuttles that are designed to cover short distances in multi-use environments. Prior to working at EasyMile, Lauren worked at WSP where she was involved in various projects involving advanced technologies that can improve mobility in cities. Lauren wrote a guide titled “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies” regarding how local and regional governments should respond to autonomous vehicles in the short, medium, and long term. In addition, Lauren maintains the blog, “Driving Towards Driverless”, and has presented on this topic at more than 75 industry conferences. She recently did a TEDx Talk, and has been published in Forbes and the Chicago Tribune among other publications.
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