How May Consumers Respond to Autonomous Travel?

_V_astly _M_ore _T_ravel

A few months ago I was dreaming of a glorious autonomous electrified future. Yet sometimes science is the equivalent of a bucket of ice water applied during a heavenly nap.

Let’s recap. Electric vehicles powered by 100% clean renewables may do away with almost all local and global pollutants. Awesome. Autonomous vehicles, in theory, will be able to better dispatch individual cars to uncongested routes, use less space (since they possibly require less distance between cars) and possibly make fewer mistakes – leading to less congestion and possibly fewer accidents. Dreamy. But what this dream holds constant is vehicle miles traveled – namely how the demand for travel will change in response to this new technology. Lucas last week already told us that Millenials will not save our collective butts by driving less. Looks like they will not drive any less. And the studies Lucas quotes do not take into account autonomous driving. So how do we figure out whether consumers will put more or fewer miles on their vehicles once they have access to autonomous transportation. One approach is to make all kinds of assumptions. The other approach is to get creative. My engineering colleague Joan Walker and collaborators decided to do the latter. In their experiment they provided 13 households with free chauffeur service for 60 hours for one week.

Here is what that looked like. A person was sitting in your car in the driveway. You could get in the car and they would drive you wherever you want to go. Or you could tell them to go get your dry cleaning, get you a unicorn frappucino at Starbucks or pick up the kids. Sort of what we would hope cool cars of the future would […]

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