TOKYO -- “Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.” This quote from the late Peter Drucker, a pioneer of management theory, couldn’t describe our fascination with driverless cars better.
It seems like every day brings another video of a flying car prototype or a story of another company announcing its entrance in the race for vehicle autonomy, making it difficult to cut through the noise. But beyond the hype lies serious questions for the convenience and fuel industries about how they will react and change in the face of this emerging technology.
Tokyo-based research and investment company Mizuho recently released an infographic explaining its vision of the future of autonomous vehicles. Here's a summary of the study’s findings and what they might mean for c-stores …
A whopping 97% of today’s car accidents are caused by human error, resulting in nearly 3,400 traffic-related deaths every day, according to the study.
Mizuho points to semi-autonomous features such as 360-degree cameras, lane-departure warnings, drowsy-driver assistance and adaptive cruise control as examples of existing driving assistance features that are focused on making driving safer.
Mizuho cited the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that said self-driving cars will likely be powered by electricity. While electricity seems to be the front-runner in the alternative fuel race, there is still a possibility that other fuel sources, such as hydrogen fuel cells, could pull ahead.
The infographic also claims that electric cars will be more efficient thanks to their intelligence, and that their use will encourage shared rides over private car ownership. Overall, the study claims that self-driving cars will have 90% lower greenhouse gas emissions per mile by 2030 compared to today’s gas-powered vehicles.
These claims assume plenty about the future of driverless car and electric vehicle technology but ultimately match with widely accepted opinion on the fuels of the future.
Today, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) is a $2 billion market. The study suggests that will reach $6 billion by 2019.
The study said that modern industries will see the biggest gains from this growth. These include semiconductor and subsystem suppliers, big data, artificial intelligence, 3-D mapping and wireless connectivity.
It also asserts that electronics will make up 50% of car production costs by 2030.
One step at a time
Americans will not wake up 40 years from now to a world of autonomous vehicles overnight. ADAS features are being rolled out incrementally. They will eventually combine and coalesce into a fully automated driving machine, according to the report.
Today’s vehicles include modest examples of autonomous driving, such as automatically braking or accelerating in emergencies. Tesla’s self-driving capabilities even allow highway drivers to stay in their lane with little effort. The report said capabilities like this will become more mainstream by 2020 and that "mind-free" driving will be common on highways by 2030.
The report refers to mind-free driving as the ability for vehicles to perform some functions on their own, including trajectory planning and avoiding crashes or traffic jams. Fully automated driving—transportation without the need for any human intervention—won’t come until 2040, according to the report.
The road is dark
The infographic concludes that the steady advancement of self-driving technology will spark new competition in the tech and auto industries. It also claims that lawmakers will “reform regulations to accommodate a driverless world.”
The reality is that the road to driverless cars will be long and arduous. But that’s no reason for c-store operators to ignore these advancements in technology. The convenience industry needs to ask itself serious questions about its very purpose in the face of this emerging transportation revolution.
Fuel retailers specifically need to imagine the possibility of a world where most cars don’t run on gasoline. Like the rise of driverless cars, this change in fuel sources will not happen overnight and there will be great resistance, but this is the future. If convenience stores don’t claim their place in this future today, the industry could be pushed out of it tomorrow.