The development of connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) is a key focus for the automotive sector. Fully-connected and -autonomous vehicles will have a profound effect on society — enabling those less-abled to move around more easily, improving commutes and making driving safer. With this in mind, it’s anticipated that over the next ten to 20 years our choice of ‘every day’ vehicles will change dramatically.

It’s easy to get excited about this technology and its social, environmental and economic consequences. In my view, there are four important considerations to make when thinking about our CAV future, which are:

  • How are people being moved around?
  • What are people doing when they’re being moved around?
  • Who can be moved around?
  • How does the movement of people impact on the wider landscape?

Each of these can truly spark innovation, with companies throughout the sector eager to play a part in the automotive revolution. The opportunities this presents to do good through technology are many — here’s a look at some key areas of interest.

How are people being moved around?

Current vehicles focus on the driver — unsurprising, given that having one is a standard requirement whenever you want to go somewhere. However, when CAVs reach full autonomy, this will no longer be the case — removing one of the key constraints on vehicle design and gifting both interior and exterior design innovators the freedom to focus on other aims, such as improved comfort, capacity and safety.

Making driving easier and more comfortable seems to go against a key societal aim — to get us all more active. One way to do this would be to encourage more cycling or walking. Therefore, it’s important that policy around CAVs is written with this in mind. There’s a big opportunity for innovators to come up with solutions which ease the interaction between cyclists, pedestrians and CAVs and increase the trust between these three protagonists.

What are people doing when they’re being moved around?

The absence of a driver means that vehicles are free to become spaces which essentially extend aspects of the home and/or workplace. Mobility-as-a- Service (MaaS) is an acronym we’re likely to see more of during the proliferation of CAVs, as car (and other vehicle) ownership decreases — likely replaced by the ability to ‘summon’ a rental vehicle to your location at will.

However, in a system which requires multiple users per vehicle, a challenge presents itself in ensuring that the desires of all users can be fulfilled by the same vehicle and that their privacy, safety and comfort is maintained. Such a multi-faceted problem is rife with opportunity for innovators who could provide parts of the solution — possibly through easily modifiable interiors and suitable data security products.

Who can be moved around?

One of the expected triumphs of the CAV roll-out is that those who have traditionally been restricted in their movements, perhaps by age or health problems, will find it easier to travel. Inclusivity and accessibility must actively feed into policy-making around CAVs to help make this a successful reality.

This requires technology alongside regulation to guarantee investment into solutions which make CAVs universally usable. This may range from the simple, such as the ability to easily adjust vehicle ergonomics, to the more complex, such as ensuring that the hard of hearing are alerted to potential problems while driving.

How does the movement of people impact on the wider landscape?

CAVs are expected to have a positive effect on the environment by running on electricity rather than petrol or diesel. In addition, there are likely to be a flurry of further social benefits, including a reduction in the number of vehicles on the road. This will be sparked by a new ownership model, as cars move away from being an item of personal property to a mobility service, used by multiple individuals each day.

Naturally, this will require fewer parking spaces and refuelling stations, presenting an opportunity to repurpose the spaces these currently occupy, especially in busy inner-city areas.

Alongside this, vehicles will interact with certain infrastructure in more ways than they do now. This opens up opportunities not just for the development of physical infrastructure but also for the development of interacting systems. These may connect surrounding buildings and vehicle architectures to deliver specific content in the form of focussed advertising or access control credentials (to enable vehicles to access buildings to deliver an individual to where they need to be).

Moving forward

There’s plenty of scope for innovation to assist with the interaction between society and CAVs. Solutions are needed to ease the social, economic and environmental impact of the roll-out of these vehicles, presenting opportunities for organisations looking to stay relevant in a society set to change dramatically.