Autonomous car is perhaps the most popular issue in the field of transport innovation. However, this concept requires a complex technology integration and hybridization process, with further challenges, posed not only by technology limitations, but a number of crucial issues including demanding transport regulation, the yet unknown human-machine interface challenges, significant economy shifts (employment changes within society, impact on vehicle manufacturers and more). This article discusses the opportunities and challenges towards the coming maturity of this technology, that may radically change the existing mobility systems utilized for transporting humans and cargo, essentially altering the energy flow schemes in our modern world and thus affecting economy and society.
From the technological evolution perspective of autonomous drive, there is a combination of factors to bring the autonomous car to the road. Certainly, mechanical engineering, vehicle design, material science, engine and transmission technologies, as well as GSM communications, combined with GPS service and advanced navigation software capabilities are all mandatory for such a development. At this point, the issue of real-time proximity monitoring and artificial intelligence capabilities are considered to be crucial to make the next step. There are also other important, though somewhat less discussed parts in this puzzle. For instance, the electric vehicle (EV) is likely to be the perfect match for autonomous drive due to the upcoming possibility of electric cars to be able to "charge themselves" via a wireless electric connection, with no need for human intervention. The combined evolution of EV technologies (battery density, vehicle design and EV charging infrastructure) is thus due to quickly mature in parallel with the development of intelligent autonomous drive systems and bring a full-scale disruption to the transportation sector when the need to "fuel-up" vehicles by humans would be practically eliminated. Perhaps the only "traditional" means of transportation to survive this disruption is a two-wheel vehicle which is per definition designed to transport one person, who would also remain the driver due to the need to balance the vehicle through the steering wheel.
The concept of autonomous vehicle is taking headlines as a "cool" innovation, considered by many to be the embodiment of science fiction and to some degree also a way to enhance our utilization of daily time, allowing to "liberate" the driver from the wheel in favor of leisure or work during his voyage. The direct evident effect of the technology would be on traffic itself - a significant number of autonomous cars would radically enhance the efficiency of transportation infrastructure, reducing the number of vehicles on roads and time spent per trip, greatly improving production. The effect of autonomous drive technology can however be much more dramatic in regard to human society and economy. The vehicle insurance companies might be threatened, due to decreased ratio of accidents; the driver profession may become obsolete, bringing millions into the circle of unemployment; the car manufacturing industry would be required to shift and likely reduce production; the range anxiety issue would likely become obsolete, thus bringing the dominance of the EV technology and plunging the oil distillation industry into oblivion; finally, even traffic police could be left out of work. This is of course only a short overview of affected sectors, with a number of "black swan" scenarios possibly arising from such a disruption of energy flow.