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Self-driving taxis will cut accidents by 90%

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A recent report has revealed that the widespread adoption of autonomous cars and taxis could lead to a revolutionary transformation of cities.

Widespread urban adoption of self-driving vehicles (SDVs) and “robo-taxis,” or self-driving taxis, could result in a 60% drop in the number of cars on city streets, an 80% or greater decrease in tailpipe emissions, and 90% fewer road accidents, according to a new report by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) prepared in collaboration with the World Economic Forum.

Self-Driving Vehicles, Robo-Taxis, and the Urban Mobility Revolution, released today, builds on earlier research by BCG and the World Economic Forum, including a survey of more than 5,500 consumers in ten countries—the largest global survey on SDVs to date. The report examines four potential scenarios for SDVs in an urban context and describes the possible impact of each one. While broad consumer adoption of SDVs—to which BCG’s research shows there are few barriers—would by itself lead to significant disruption, the real revolution in urban mobility will come with widespread adoption of robo-taxis.

“There is a compelling case to be made for SDVs in cities,” said Nikolaus Lang, a BCG senior partner and report coauthor. “Ride-shared, electric robo-taxis can substantially transform and improve urban transportation and, by direct extension, livability, by providing more people with easier access to mobility, making streets safer, and freeing up space no longer needed for parking. The major players—industry, consumers, and policymakers—are excited and engaged.”

Some 58% of consumers in cities around the world are open to trying out SDVs. Willingness is highest among younger consumers: 63% of those aged 29 or younger are willing to ride in a fully self-driving car, compared with 46% of consumers aged 51 or older.

Acceptance of SDVs is highest in emerging markets. In India, for example, willingness is 85%, while consumers in Japan and the Netherlands are most reluctant (36% and 41%, respectively). Consumers cite the convenience of parking assistance and an increase in productivity while traveling as the top two reasons for interest in SDVs. When asked who should produce SDVs, almost 50% of respondents look to traditional-car manufacturers. Trust in automakers is highest in France, Germany, and Japan; it is weaker in India, the US, and China, where tech companies have high visibility.

Although few consumers have even seen an SDV, their expectations for how SDVs will differ from traditional cars are quite specific. More than 35% expect SDVs to be hybrid vehicles, and another 29% anticipate that they will be electric.

Many consumers are willing to pay a premium of $5,000 or more for a fully self-driving car. In France, India, and Japan, every second consumer is ready to pay more for an SDV. This willingness to pay extra is driven by an economic logic that balances the incremental cost against potential cost savings in other areas, such as lower parking fees, fuel savings, and even lower housing costs if it becomes more convenient to live farther from the more expensive city core.

The research also involved in-depth interviews with 25 urban policymakers in 12 cities. Some 60% of these policymakers expect that by 2025, at least one city will have banned traditional-car ownership, partly as a result of robo-taxi fleets. Another 24% believe that this will happen by 2030. In terms of operating robo-taxi fleets, policymakers clearly see the private sector in the lead and envision a multiplayer setup rather than a monopolistic structure. Numerous trials involving SDVs are already underway in cities as diverse as Singapore, London, and Gothenburg. Gothenburg is currently planning to launch a pilot of 100 SDVs on its ring road in 2017.

In addition to conducting research with consumers and city policymakers, BCG and the World Economic Forum developed four comprehensive scenarios—based on autonomous technology, ride sharing, and electrification—for the city of the future. Here are the scenarios, in order of potential impact:

The Premium Car That Drives Itself. SDVs complement the existing mobility landscape as high-end offerings. This results in a small reduction (about 1%) in the number of vehicles on the streets through limited sharing of self-driving vehicles and fewer accidents—a drop of almost 20%—because SDVs, without human error as a risk factor, are much safer.

SDVs Rule the Streets. In this scenario, SDVs replace most traditional cars but are still primarily privately owned. One in ten SDVs is shared by multiple individuals, and the total number of cars in the city falls by 8%. The number of accidents drops by 55%, and there is a 5% increase in freed-up parking space.

Robo-Taxis Take Over. Robo-taxis are the primary mobility option in the city. The biggest change is a nearly 50% decrease in the number of cars as consumers abandon privately owned vehicles for shared robo-taxis. There are almost 90% fewer accidents, and nearly 40% of parking space is freed up.

The Ridesharing Revolution. Shared robo-taxis are the main mobility mode. Every self-driving taxi now averages 2 passengers instead of the 1.2 assumed to be the average occupancy previously. Ridesharing frees up more parking space (54%) and further lowers the number of cars needed to provide the same level of mobility to the population (59%). Accidents decrease by 87%.

“No single scenario will play out exactly as described, but our analysis makes it clear that the potential benefits for society are huge if SDVs are combined with ride sharing and electrification,” said Michael Rüßmann, a BCG senior partner and report coauthor. “A power train shift from internal-combustion to electric engines is essential if cities want to cut tailpipe emissions, and ride sharing in urban areas is required to reduce the number of vehicles that are on the streets at any given time. Autonomous capabilities are the key to big improvements in road safety. These three factors—ride sharing, autonomous driving, and electrification—reinforce each other to facilitate fast adoption.”

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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