Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption and pace of development of many technologies. Driverless cars, a culmination of several cutting-edge technological advancements, are also fast gaining momentum. 2021 may finally be the year when driverless cars become mainstream.

Pandemic creates opportunity

Driverless cars, already a  proof-of-concept, featuring Google’s self-driving-car-arm Waymo topped 100,000 trips last year: Its robotaxi service ,fully driverless vehicles, drove 70,000 miles on US roads. Consumer attitudes towards public transport are also changing. As more people have stayed home, the use of  public transport has also declined greatly as a direct consequence. More consumers are veering towards vehicle ownership as a means to an end. In such an environment, Waymo’s robotaxi service could find many opportunities. 

Zoox, an Amazon owned entity, too is starting its autonomous robotaxi range soon, sensing tremendous opportunity in the market.  The range unveiled does not have a steering wheel and can go up to 75 miles per hour. 

 As communities worldwide have been relegated to remote-working environments,  the need to transport goods and services sans human interaction has become increasingly important. 

Existing supply chains have found themselves strained as delivery infrastructures have become disrupted. The risk of exposure for logistics personnel was another catalyst for an emphasis for a solution to supply chain woes.

According to a weforum article, self-driving vehicles could play a critical role in last-mile-logistics: Delivering goods from the warehouse to end-users, home-deliveries from restaurants, and even from retailers to mailboxes.  A mix of self-driving cars and drones could help organizations maintain an automated delivery vehicles (ADV) backbone for logistics. 

The reaction of suppliers in China shows the potential for rapid introduction of delivery vehicles that are driverless. A variety of providers, including JD.com and Meituan Dianping, have accelerated the use of automated vehicles, as highlighted by this article on mobility in China during the pandemic.

China’s biggest logistics service provider, DiDi Chuxing, organized a team of  336 ride-hailing drivers for  emergency services to the medical personnel in pandemic struck regions of China. In Shanghai, Beijing, Ningbo and Xiamen, free service teams were set-up to aid native hospitals.

As social distancing has become the new normal, driverless vehicles can find significant opportunity in passenger vehicles and for last-mile-delivery in logistics. Driverless Vehicles won’t be affected by quarantines, can run 24/7, and can reliably transport passengers and goods.  They are also immune to strikes and can avoid unforeseen disruptions that can impact humans. In the long run, driverless could lead to highly efficient and reliable systems of transportation. 

The only factor that can prevent the mass-adoption of driverless cars is regulation. Given that driverless cars are the need of the hour, governments and automobile manufacturers could work together to create an ecosystem to foster the quick adoption of automated vehicles. The trend is still in its early stages but could soon  find widespread adoption in certain regions, starting with the US and China.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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