Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is advancing rapidly. Allied Market Research projects that the worldwide market will grow from an estimated US$54 billion in 2019 to $557 billion by 2026.1 At the end of 2018, 74 cities around the world had autonomous vehicle pilot programs under way. The number has increased since then, and for good reason. AVs have the potential to transform the transportation industry, making it far safer and more efficient than the current system of driver-controlled vehicles. The technology could also have broad effects on society at large, radically changing the notion of car ownership, where people work and live, and how vehicles are designed and evaluated by consumers. The Covid-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing with contactless interactions has accelerated mass pilot programs of AV technologies, with a number of public and private organization around the world using AVs for the transportation of passengers, medical supplies, food, and parcels.
However, technology is only one aspect of an autonomous transportation network — and likely not the greatest barrier to adoption. Governments need to sort through issues such as changes to infrastructure and regulations. OEMs and telecom companies will need to collaborate on communications standards. Insurers will need to rethink liability in a vehicle accident. Also, consumers will need to embrace the technology, primarily by believing that it is safe.
These are challenging issues, but they are not new. Indeed, the commercial airline industry may have the answers. Today, commercial aircraft operate mostly through automated systems. The next generation of avionics and air traffic control technology will bring the industry one step closer to full autonomy. In that way, the airline industry offers critical lessons for how AV technology may develop, and how government policymakers and other stakeholders across the AV ecosystem should properly prepare for the gradual introduction of the technology.
1 Allied Market Research, “Autonomous Vehicle Market Outlook - 2026”.
“The airline industry offers critical lessons for how AV technology may develop, and how government policymakers and other stakeholders across the AV ecosystem should properly prepare for the gradual introduction of the technology.”