A look to the future

Self-driving cars

Last year, 383’s Peter Honnor shared his thoughts on what the future might hold for in-car UX. With the race for autonomous vehicles hotting up, what’s the impact going to be like when they’re fully rolled out?

Bracing for the inevitable

Self-driving cars are on the way. No ifs, buts or maybes, and the way we travel is going to be changed forever. Tech giants such as Google and car manufacturers such as Audi, BMW and Volvo are successfully proving that technology, code and computers can be infinitely more perceptive and react quicker than any human behind the wheel.

A great example of this is Google’s driverless car programme, which has clocked well over 1 million autonomous miles, with only 7 accidents during this time. Of these 7 accidents, all were primarily caused by human controlled vehicles and 6 were cars driving into the back of the Google cars at stop signs and traffic lights. Considering that an average driver will struggle to drive 1 million miles in their entire lifetime, it’s pretty clear that statistically, riding in a self driving car is almost as safe as driving yourself and when more self driving cars are on the roads, the accident rate will drop even further.

How the general public will take to driverless cars is yet to be seen, but for myself, as a relatively sane 35 year old father of 2 with a penchant for self preservation, I can already feel my extremities clenching at the thought of the first time I take my hands off the steering wheel in hope of the computers taking control. But crucially, I can also foresee a time when I view my car as an autonomous tool of family transportation rather than an extension of my personality and driving history.

Take a look at the car that’s sitting on your drive at the moment – chances are that unless it’s an MPV, the driving experience was part of the decision-making process that lead you to that car. Maybe it was the way it handles, maybe it’s because it’s easy to see out of and you’ve never really cracked parallel parking, maybe it was because of how it feels with the top down, or maybe it was how you can put your foot down and a childish grin is immediately drawn upon your face.

Now – consider your future car can drive itself for 95% of the time – are the elements that delivered a rewarding driving experience actually relevant in the purchasing process? If my car can get me to where I need to be in the quickest possible time given the routes available, traffic and in the most fuel efficient manner, do I really want something that can go from 0 – 60 in less than 6 seconds? Probably not.

Perhaps most significantly, the introduction of self-driving cars will fuel a complete revolution in the way manufacturers market their machines and how consumers ultimately choose which car to purchase.

Similarly, if a self driving car from Hyundai or Kia can transport myself and my family in greater safety in the prevailing weather conditions that I could ever possibly hope to in a new BMW, Audi or Lexus, will any stubborn badge snobbery influence my purchasing decision? Again, probably not.

The basic utility of car ownership, getting ourselves and our families from A to B, can viably be replaced by a team of digital chauffeurs who are never far away and happy to oblige no matter where we are, or the time of day or night.

Utility trumps emotion

Spotify and Netflix have proven that effective delivery of utility can successfully trump the desire and need for ownership when it’s positioned in the right manner, so why couldn’t a future driverless Uber service completely negate our need for car ownership?

Whilst this may seem a far conceptual leap, consider this – if you currently had access to an Uber driver who was never more than 5 minutes away, and could transport you and your family quicker, cheaper and more efficiently than you could ever hope to in your own car, would you really sign on the dotted line for a new car? Maybe not.

So with the likes of Google, BMW, Audi and Uber all rushing to develop and create their self-driving offerings, one thing becomes perfectly clear:

In the near future, the way we view, purchase and engage with the humble car that sits in our drive is going to change immeasurably and forever.