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Is it goodbye, private car?

Could cars be the next part of everyday life to be transformed from a physical product into an on-demand service? Some technologists and economists predict that the privately-owned car will go the way of the horse and buggy within in a decade, writes ALEX THOMSON, co-founder at Naked, an AI-based car insurance business.

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Over the past decade or so, the technology industry has transformed many things we used to buy as physical products into digital services we subscribe to or access on a pay-per-use basis. Think about how we have moved from buying CDs towards paying a monthly subscription to use Spotify, or the shift from DVDs to Netflix.

Could cars be the next part of everyday life to be transformed from a physical product into an on-demand service? Some technologists and economists predict that the privately-owned car will go the way of the horse and buggy within in a decade. In their view, only motor enthusiasts and the rich will one day own personal cars, which they will use for leisure rather than transportation.

One study in the US, for example, forecasts that private car ownership will fall by as much 80% by 2030 and that using electric ride-shares will be four to 10 times cheaper than buying a new car by 2021. The researchers foresee a world where communal, autonomous (self-driving) electric cars owned by cities or ride-sharing companies offer a safe, efficient and flexible personal transportation system.

We’re already at the beginning of this revolution, with ride-hailing services like Uber and Taxify already potentially cheaper for some people than owning a car. Car sharing services such as Zipcar – which enables you to subscribe by the month and then hire a car by the hour – and Turo – an Airbnb-like service that matches car owners with car renters – have also started to pop up around the world.

MyTreasury.co.za crunched the basic numbers and found using Uber could be more cost-effective on a per-kilometre basis for people in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban who travel less than 50 kilometres a day. The reason for this is that you pay only for the distance you travel, without the costs of car ownership such as maintenance, insurance, financing, licences and depreciation.

One also needs to add in the lifestyle costs. How much of your time do you spend stuck in traffic or looking for parking? What if you could be making calls and working on your computer during your commute instead of sitting at the wheel?

The end of the parking lot?

The authors of the US study I cited earlier believe that the effect of shared ride-hailing will completely change how cities work in the years to come. Not only will it be more efficient to increase the utilisation of vehicles by sharing them, it will also reduce the amount of space we currently use for parking in cities where real-estate is expensive and in short supply.

What’s more, autonomous vehicles should be safer since their software will not make mistakes, drive recklessly or get behind the wheel after a beer too many after a long lunch on Friday. In theory, a shift to shared, driverless cars should also improve traffic flow by reducing the stop-start rhythm of human driving.

As great as that all sounds, shared, driverless vehicles are most likely further in the future than the more optimistic forecasts suggest. While the technology is advancing fast, it may take longer to change human behaviour. For many of us in the middle classes, a car is more than a way to get from point A to point B. It is also a status symbol, a fashion statement and an emblem of personal freedom.

This is why car ownership remains stubbornly high even in European and Asian cities with cheap, reliable public transport and bans on, or congestion charges for, private cars in their centres. The transition will be even slower in a country like South Africa. The taxi industry, unions and government will resist the job losses; autonomous vehicles are probably also not ready to navigate the unpredictable drivers of Jozi’s mean streets.

Transforming car ownership

Still, the rise of on-demand technology is already affecting many aspects of the car ownership experience. Our data at Naked indicates that a surprisingly small percentage – just over 21% – of our customers opt for car hire as part of their insurance cover. We suspect the reason for this is that many of our customers choose to save on their premiums knowing that they can Uber for a while if something happens to their car.

Car insurance itself is also turning into an on-demand service, powered by artificial intelligence and algorithms, just like ride-hailing services. For example, Naked’s CoverPause allows customers to switch their accident cover off when they are not using their vehicle for a while.

You can save around half of your insurance premium on the days that you are not driving. Simply press one button on the app to downgrade your cover. If you want to drive again, you can switch back to full cover with one click. In future, we can also expect to see car insurance pricing models, such as paying for each kilometre you drive, to become more common.

So, while car ownership and car insurance are likely to be a part of your life for some years to come, connected technology will change your experience in remarkable ways. Today, buying and switching insurance from your phone is as quick and easy as registering for Uber and hailing your first ride.

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Cars connect to traffic lights

New Jaguar Land Rover technology using Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2X) connects cars to traffic lights so drivers can avoid getting stuck at red and help free up traffic flow in cities.

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The world’s first traffic lights were installed exactly 150 years ago outside the Houses of Parliament in London. Since then drivers around the globe have spent billions of hours waiting for green. With Jaguar Land Rover’s latest tech, however, their days could be numbered.

The Green Light Optimal Speed Advisory (GLOSA) system allows cars to “talk” to traffic lights and inform the driver the speed they should drive as they approach junctions or signals.

Widespread adoption of the V2X technology will prevent drivers from racing to beat the lights and improve air quality by reducing harsh acceleration or braking near lights. The goal is for the V2X revolution to create free-flowing cities with fewer delays and less commuter stress.

The connected technology is currently being trialed on a Jaguar F-PACE, as part of a £20 million (R371 million) collaborative research project.

Like all Jaguar or Land Rover vehicles today, the F-PACE already boasts a wide range of sophisticated Advanced Driver Assistance (ADAS) features. The connected technology trials are enhancing existing ADAS features by increasing the line of sight of a vehicle when it is connected via the internet to other vehicles and infrastructure. GLOSA is being tested alongside a host of other measures to slash the time commuters spend in traffic.

For example, Intersection Collision Warning (ICW) alerts drivers when it is unsafe to proceed at a junction. ICW informs drivers if other cars are approaching from another road and can suggest the order in which cars should proceed at a junction.

Jaguar Land Rover has also addressed time lost to searching for a parking space by providing real-time information of available spaces to drivers and developed an Emergency Vehicle Warning to alert motorists when a fire engine, police car or ambulance is approaching. The advanced technology builds on the connected systems already available on the Jaguar F-PACE such as Adaptive Cruise Control.

Oriol Quintana-Morales, Jaguar Land Rover Connected Technology Research Engineer, said: “This cutting-edge technology will radically reduce the time we waste at traffic lights. It has the potential to revolutionise driving by creating safe, free-flowing cities that take the stress out of commuting. Our research is motivated by the chance to make future journeys as comfortable and stress-free as possible for all our customers.”

The trials are part of the £20 million government-funded project, UK Autodrive, which has helped accelerate the development of Jaguar Land Rover’s future self-driving and connected technology. As well as strengthening the Midlands’ position as a hub of mobility innovation. Britain’s biggest car maker, headquartered in Coventry, is working on connected technology as part of its pledge to deliver zero accidents, zero congestion and zero emissions.

Connected technology will link the vehicle to everything around it, allowing seamless, free-flowing traffic that will pave the way for delivering self-driving vehicles.

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Roborace reveals new vehicle

Roborace has given its fans a first look at what the new competition vehicle for Season Alpha will look like at the WebSummmit conference in Lisbon, Portugal.

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DevBot 2.0 utilizes sensors similar to that in Robocar and is also fully electric, but has the addition of a cockpit for a human driver.

Season Alpha will see teams comprising of both a human driver and an AI driver. Lap times from the duo will be compared with that of other human + machine teams to determine a winner.

DevBot 2.0 will be launched in the new year but Roborace CEO Lucas Di Grassi has shared some first glimpses of what 2019 holds for the series in an interview on stage at WebSummit.

Season Alpha will see teams compete starting in Spring 2019 using the DevBot 2.0 vehicles to develop their automated driving systems, with professional drivers teaching the AI how to improve, as well as learning from the AI how to better their own performance.

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