Uber and out: is there a future for driving?

Saturday 17 October, 16.00 until 17.15, Frobisher 4-6, Barbican The New Industrial Revolution?

In recent years, the autonomous driverless car has gone from technological pipe-dream to very real prospect. Google has already started developing prototypes, with hopes to make them widely available by 2020, while LUTZ Pathfinder ‘driverless pods’ are already being tested in Milton Keynes. Some in the car industry question how much demand there will be among consumers for such vehicles, but indications are that Generation Y – those born after 1980 – will not miss the feeling of being in control. Even in the famously car-loving US, a quarter of 18-to 34-year-olds do not even have a driver’s licence and car ownership rates are plummeting. Across the West, public transportation and cycling is soaring compared to car use. Rather than killing driving, it is argued, driverless cars may be the only way to get future generations into cars at all.

The rise of autonomous vehicles raises broader questions about driving in the twenty-first century. For the twentieth century, the car was the ultimate symbol of freedom: from the romanticism of the Beat Generation to Route 66, having control over one’s own mobility remains a powerful cultural hallmark of independence and adulthood. Even the decidedly unglamorous ‘bubble cars’ of 1960s Britain were valued for providing an intimate space away from the strictures of the home, even if they offered no more horsepower than a scooter. For some, today’s smart car seems the antithesis to that yearning for independence and freedom, but others can counter that, despite the global popularity of Top Gear, automated vehicles will be a liberation from the tedium of mostly congested driving. It is also argued that car manufacturers need fundamentally to rethink the car interior as a space for play or relaxation rather than functionality.

Does the rise of the driverless vehicle represent an existential challenge for the future automobile, or will it simply provide another choice on top of automatic versus manual? Given similar levels of excitement around Tesla’s electric cars and Toyota’s hydrogen power, are consumers more interested in cheaper and more efficient travel rather than a radical transformation of their driving experience? Could 2020 mark the end of the car as we know it, or will drivers continue to grab hold of the steering wheel?

Listen to the debate

Nicole Agba
Autocar Next Generation Award 2014 Winner

Susan Grant-Muller
professor of technologies and informatics, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds

Chris Moody
chief business development officer, Transport Systems Catapult

Dr Paul Reeves
engineering software designer, SolidWorks R&D (part of Dassault Systèmes); convener, manufacturing work group for Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

Jason Walsh
journalist; foreign correspondent, CS Monitor

Austin Williams
associate professor in architecture, XJTLU University, Suzhou, China; director, Future Cities Project; convenor, Bookshop Barnies; founding member of New Narratives

Produced by
Dr Paul Reeves engineering software designer, SolidWorks R&D (part of Dassault Systèmes); convener, manufacturing work group for Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation
Recommended readings
The Future Of Driving, In One Provocative Chart

In the future, only rich people will own cars and only robots will drive them.

Alexander C. Kaufman, Huffington Post, 4 August 2015

Why autonomous and self-driving cars are not the same

Cars are set to change more in the next couple of decades than in the 130 years since Karl Benz fitted a small four-stroke engine to a large tricycle.

Economist, 1 July 2015

Will your self-driving car be programmed to kill you if it means saving more strangers?

The computer brains inside autonomous vehicles will be fast enough to make life-or-death decisions. But should they? A bioethicist weighs in on a thorny problem of the dawning robot age.

Matt Windsor, ScienceDaily, 15 June 2015

Google Will Tell You When its Driverless Cars Crash

Anyone will be able to download monthly reports about where the cars are and what they’re doing, thanks to a new transparency initiative from Google.

Alissa Walker, Gizmodo, 6 June 2015

The cars we'll be driving in the world of 2050

What will the cars of 2050 look like? What will power them? Will they even have a steering wheel? Sven Beiker peers under the bonnet of tomorrow’s autos.

Sven Beiker, BBC, 8 November 2013

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