For anyone who’s been paying attention to the latest sampling of TV ads from auto manufacturers, there can be little doubt that cars are getting smarter. From stay-in-the-lane technology to spyware for nervous parents of teen drivers, there’s something road-worthy for just about every application. The march of automotive progress also makes it clear that the ultimate driving machine will soon be the ultimate self-driving machine – and it seems to be just around the next curve.

That means autonomous vehicles are reality today and not far from being practical, commonplace technology available to everyone tomorrow. But while this Jetson-like driving experience is feasible and even likely, what will it look like in everyday life? One study from researchers at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan predicts self-driving transportation seems destined to join forces with another paradigm shift, the sharing economy.

According to the research, “shared mobility business models that focus on integrated and digitally connected ecosystems that offer unified multi-modal mobility services and personalized user experiences will find high adoption all over the world.” In other words, ride hailing and sharing of self-driving vehicles in any transportation mode for whatever transportation need, all over the planet.

Ground Transportation
"Globally, companies are planning to commercialize autonomous shuttles between 2020 and 2022, backed by favorable government initiatives in North America, the UK, China, Japan, and Dubai," according to Abhishek Iyer, mobility research analyst at Frost & Sullivan. "There will be an increase in the number of partnerships and rollouts of new technologies such as autonomous shuttles, blockchain and artificial intelligence, which will enhance user experience and operation."

The study entitled Global Shared and Autonomous Mobility Industry Outlook, 2019 analyzes evolving business models in the shared mobility space, including carsharing, P2P carsharing, corporate carsharing, e-hailing and bike sharing. The study found that the ridesharing market in North America alone is expected to grow by 33 percent in 2019, and in Europe will generate market revenues of more than $4 million.

The report also looks into what’s becoming known as mobility-as-a-service, or MaaS. In the MaaS model, the idea of traditional vehicle ownership is giving way to a view of transportation services as commodities to be consumed, using both public and private modes. The first practical MaaS application was fielded in Helsinki in 2017. The model is made possible only thanks to trip planning and payment technologies that allow users to access a single gateway through which to both manage the transportation and pay for it.

Send In the Game-ChangersNow with autonomous vehicles driving themselves onto the stage, mobility takes on new dimensions. Already city governments in industrialized countries are building infrastructure to test autonomous shuttles and doing pilot programs to evaluate the user experience. “Approximately 10 to 15 cities can be expected to conduct autonomous shuttle trials on public roads in 2019," Iyer notes.

In addition, Iyer says, opportunities are already flourishing for new business models like vehicle subscription services and demand responsive transit, while ride-hailing and carsharing are looking for way to monetize the data they harvest. “This will also allow them to leverage their investments and partnerships to develop autonomous and emission-free vehicle technologies,” Iyer explains.

"Cross-industry collaborations for connected technologies, integrated payment capabilities, shared mobility insurance and financial services will also prove to be critical for future success," he adds.

However the notion of getting user buy-in may be trickier than proponents imagine.  A recent study in Canada reveals more than half (55 percent) of respondents believe autonomous vehicles have benefits, but nearly two-thirds (61 percent) expressed concerns about the practical uses of the technology, especially around the question of liability in the event of an accident. Other concerns range from vehicle hacking (59 percent) to the potential for third-party access to driver-generated data (53 percent).

According to the poll of more than 2,000 drivers by the Canadian Automobile Association, the results point to a need for more consumer education. "New vehicles today contain some form of connected or automated vehicle technology, whether that's Bluetooth connectivity, lane assist or another feature," says Jeff Walker, chief strategy officer at CAA National. "These are the building blocks that will lead to fully autonomous vehicles one day, yet the vast majority of Canadians are not familiar with the technology – and that leads naturally to them having concerns."

In the long run, Walker says autonomous vehicles should be a boon for road safety and mobility. "The transition to autonomous vehicles will likely happen gradually," Walker says. "In the long run, AVs will save lives since collisions will be much fewer and far between."

Given that fatalities in automobile crashes in the US alone totaled more than 37,000 in 2017, that should be good news for all of us who share the road.