Autonomous vehicles and the rise of disruption
The mobility industry is being disrupted through digitisation. “In the future cars will be connected, autonomous, shared and electric,” according to Carlo van de Weijer, mobility and automotive faculty member at Singularity University. Currently, 72% of car companies’ research and development budgets are being allocated to these four mains areas, he continues.
South African export Elon Musk’s projections for the Hyperloop and SpaceX mega-rockets that will orbit the Earth allowing for long-distance travel to and from any destination in under an hour will certainly ease mobility in terms of time – and cost, with widescale adoption.
While we may be unable to solve the causes of intra-city traffic congestions in the very near future, autonomous driving cars will allow us to make more productive use of our time during the commute, hence making it more economically beneficial. This will, in turn, disrupt property prices, as people will not mind living further away from work and city centres, if they are able to use their commute time more effectively.
Artificial intelligence, algorithms and a connected network of continuously updated big data will allow autonomous cars to predict and avoid potential accidents through distance control and automatic breaking, and may seamlessly divert along alternative routes to avoid traffic congestion. “Our vision is that by 2020, nobody should be seriously injured or killed in or by a new Volvo car,” says Hakan Samuelsson, CEO of Volvo Cars. And that is true of almost all car manufacturers these days. By eliminating human error from the equation – which accounts for around 90% of car accidents, according to van de Weijer – insurance companies will be somewhat disrupted too.
South Africa will see its first public autonomous vehicle trials during transport month in October 2018. The government-approved trials – that will be conducted by the Mobility Centre for Africa – will see the Z10 by EasyMile and the ARMA vehicle by Navya transport passengers in three high-density locations to determine public perception, viability, and deployment capability across the country.
Autonomous vehicles will give rise to more demand-driven services. It’s going to be cheaper and much more convenient to hail a transport service using an app than it will be to own a car. Mobility will evolve into becoming mobility-as-a-service (MaaS), says Francois-Joseph VanAudenhove of Arthur D Little. The costs involved with their maintenance, upkeep, storage and insurance will undoubtedly be disrupted too. While we’re already seeing this through on-demand transportation services, such as Uber, Taxify, Lyft, among others, the future of mobility will focus more on ride-sharing services that will have flexible routes and be demand-driven.
This is already happening in Dubai with Next Future Transportation in the form of autonomous, modular, electric pods that connect and break away from one another along travelling routes. Though compact, one pod – the length of a Smart car – can accommodate up to six people. “We start from the idea that self-driving does not just mean getting rid of the driver but collaborative vehicles capable of consolidation and redistribution of passengers and cargo, to cut waiting time, traffic, consumption and on the other hand to create a platform of rooms on wheels capable of delivering services of any kind in motion, on demand,” says Tommaso Gecchelin, founder and inventor of Next.
UberPOOL matches commuters that are heading in the same direction so as to allow them to share the ride and costs – and in some instances may be cheaper than public transportation. Similarly, South African-developed app Ugomyway connects drivers and passengers regularly travelling in the same direction to carpool. Many of the country’s leading legal firms, professional and financial services, and retail operators have signed up to encourage employees to make use of the service.
We’re also going to see the Uberfication of logistics and empty spaces in cars and trucks. One South African example is Empty Trips, which is an on-demand, online freight exchange platform that makes use of machine learning and smart matching algorithms to create a marketplace where shippers and transport carriers can connect, bid for cargo, find transport to move their cargo, store and insure it. Through the power of the crowd, they fill empty spaces smartly, ensure faster logistics, better economics and all with a lower carbon footprint than regular freight transportation.
Africa has some of the most densely populated and mobility-challenged cities in the world. With an estimated population of around 21 million, Lagos is Africa's largest and fastest-growing city, according to the United Nations. There are 2 million legally registered cars with 100 000 new cars coming onto the roads each year and the vehicle road density (vehicles/km) is 227 compared to the national average of 11. Minimal urban planning – 70% of settlements are informal and lack adequate addresses – coupled with poor infrastructure means that deliveries take around four days and Lagosians spend an average of four hours in traffic each day.
Nigerian tech entrepreneurs Adetayo Bamiduro and Chinedu Azodoh developed Metro Africa Express (MAX) – an on-demand delivery service that provides next-day, same-day, and three-hour deliveries by dispatching trained motorcycle riders from its network using Google's mapping technologies through the MAXGo smartphone app or website. It services micro-retailers and ecommerce businesses with their last-mile deliveries and pairs individuals with vetted, licensed drivers on well-maintained 200cc motorcycles. Riders are billed per kilometre and the motorcycles create less congestion than a car-share service would.
“Our technology allows us to create software geotags for customers, so each time we deliver, we capture the latitude and longitude, and add it to our database. We also add English address descriptions as well as a corresponding photograph. In this way we create intelligent mapping using Google Maps, with every delivery we make,” says Bamiduro, while speaking at last year’s SingularityU South Africa Summit.
Soon enough on-the-ground delivery services are going to be disrupted as the competition takes to the sky, with the hastening of the global race for the commercial delivery of small packages. California-based logistics company Zipline opened the world’s first drone port in Rwanda in October 2016. “Africa is ahead of many other countries because of the absence of roads,” says van de Weijer. It’s due to the lack of infrastructure that the continent has had to adopt alternative solutions and has managed to leapfrog many developed countries.
Zipline is aiding Rwanda’s health sector by using drones to deliver small packages up to 1.8kg – such as blood, vaccines and anti-venom – within 30 minutes of dispatch, come rain or shine and during the day or night. Deliveries can be ordered by SMS and Zipline undertakes an average of 500 flights each day at speeds of 100km/h and within an 80km radius.
Zipline is opening a second distribution centre in Rwanda later this year and is also partnering with the Tanzanian government to open four distribution centres that will use over 100 drones capable of 2 000 daily flights. It’s set to be the world’s largest drone delivery system – and it’s all happening in Africa.
Mic Mann is a futurist, speaker and strategist on exponential technologies. In 2017 he co-organised the inaugural SingularityU South Africa Summit. He runs the Johannesburg Singularity Global Impact Challenge and the SU JHB chapter. As co-founder of Mann Made, an award-winning agency, he works with start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. Mic’s passionate about entrepreneurship, has 16 years of experience in the media and marketing industries, and is involved in the start-up and maker communities. Stalk Mic on Twitter: @micmannsa.