Picture the scene: Driving along a busy highway you overtake a platoon of closely spaced trucks travelling at speed in single file. As you pass the last truck in the convoy you notice the driver is not holding the steering wheel – neither is the next nor the next. More surprising still: the first truck in the convoy has no driver at all. Congratulations: you have had your first brush with the future of road travel.
This might sound like a far-fetched plot from science fiction but it’s a scenario that’s happening right now around the world as regulators and OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) begin to get to grips with the potential offered by autonomy in vehicles. Starting in 2011, lorry platooning – the concept of autonomous trucks travelling together with the lead vehicle commanding a snaking train of ‘drone’ vehicles – has been successfully trialled in Germany, the US, Sweden and Japan. Further trials are expected in the UK under the auspices of the European Commission-funded Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) project this year.
The mobility ecosystem
But autonomous lorries are just one small component of the wider move towards smart mobility, according to George Saffaye, global investment strategist for BNY Mellon’s Mobility Innovation strategy. Indeed, he says, it’s a trend that encompasses a whole ecosystem of companies – everything from OEMs to technology companies to the service sector – all working towards a broad set of unified goals. “In our view it’s a theme that’s crucial for investors who want exposure to soon-to be ubiquitous technologies.”
Here, Saffaye highlights ride sharing as one important area of development – one which could help make huge strides towards addressing rising pollution and congestion in the world’s cities. According to a study by the Michigan Institute of Technology (MIT), the annual cost of congestion comes in at US$160bn, which includes seven billion hours of time lost to sitting in traffic and an extra three billion gallons of fuel burned. One way of addressing this congestion is through ride sharing and MIT believes carpooling through companies such as Uber and Lyft could reduce the number of vehicles on the road by a factor of three without impacting travel time. Layer in autonomous vehicles and that efficiency could improve further.2 One study suggests around a third of current car journeys in London would be rendered unnecessary by the introduction of autonomous ride-sharing services.3
Another important area involves connected vehicles. Here, says Saffaye, even current levels of technology allow cars that are connected not just to the internet and to GPS but also to pedestrians, to other vehicles and to infrastructure. “Think the Internet of Things but on wheels,” he says. “Imagine your car being aware of approaching emergency vehicles before you hear the sirens or knowing where to park or anticipating traffic light changes way ahead of reaching an intersection. Imagine automatically avoiding jaywalkers by sensing the proximity of their smartphone or of automatically rerouting to avoid congestion. None of this is fanciful. The technology exists today – it’s just a question of wider adoption.”
This is not to say that the arena of self-driving cars has been free from setbacks: it hasn’t. Both Tesla and Uber’s self-driving systems, for example, have been under intense scrutiny after fatal accidents. For Saffaye, though, the wider picture is one of increasingly connected, increasingly road-aware vehicles that over the long term should be able to make a game-changing contribution to road safety. He notes that of the over 35,000 US road fatalities in 2015 more than 90% were attributed to human error. “Arguably, many of these accidents could be avoided in the future thanks to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), safety features and the benefits of machine learning in autopilot systems,” he says. “In vehicles with the highest levels of autonomy you’re looking at more than 28 separate sensors encompassing Lidar4, exterior and interior camera sensors, short- and long-range sensors and autonomous driving domain controllers.”
ADAS sensor count increases with each level of autonomy
1 Investment Managers are appointed by BNY Mellon Investment Management EMEA Limited (BNYMIM EMEA), BNY Mellon Fund Management (Luxembourg) S.A. (BNY MFML) or affiliated fund operating companies to undertake portfolio management activities in relation to contracts for products and services entered into by clients with BNYMIM EMEA, BNY MFML or the BNY Mellon funds.
3 MIT News: ‘How ride-sharing can improve traffic, save money, and help the environment’, 4 January 2017.
4 Transport Research Foundation: ‘One in three car journeys could be replaced by Autonomous Vehicles by 2025’ 12 October 2017.
5 Lidar technology uses pulsed laser light to measure distances and to create 3-D representations of targets.
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Mellon was formed on 31 January 2018, through the merger of The Boston Company and Standish into Mellon Capital. Effective 2 January 2019, the combined firm was renamed Mellon Investments Corporation.