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article imageSelf-driving cars advance — but will they be affordable?

By Tim Sandle     Jan 31, 2019 in Technology
Self-driving car technology continues to advance, especially in terms of the technology that provides the data to the car about its environment. But are these technologies too costly, making autonomous vehicles too expensive for the typical consumer?
This is the question posed in an essay published in the Harvard Business Review. This centers on the control systems underlying autonomous vehicles, such as sensors, radar, and communication devices, being significantly more expensive than the technologies underpinning conventional vehicles.
This raises the question of the affordability of self-driving vehicles. Although there are many advantages implicit in self-driving cars, of which safety is the primary one, the pricing of this near-future technology could be outside the reach of vast sections of society. There is also an irony with this. Older vehicles are more likely to have crashes; the people driving older vehicles are, for the most part, people on low incomes; people on low incomes will not be able to afford safer self-driving car technology when this becomes mainstream. This is evidenced in a research paper titled "An exploratory study of the relationship between socioeconomic status and motor vehicle safety features."
Related to this is a discussion document published by the RAND Corporation. This document follows a similar theme. Arguing that evidence already shows that self-driving cars are, on the whole, safer than human-driven cars, what is the point in waiting any longer to licence self-driving car technology and to take in mainstream. The article contends that waiting for a few small incremental developments in the safety features of self-driving car technology is placing more lives at risk through the delays compared with a few minor incidents that may occur with underdeveloped self-driving technology.
An alternative argument is that if people on low incomes cannot afford to buy cars they could hire them or use robotaxis. However, the Harvard Business Review analysis indicates that this alternative would still be unaffordable. This is based on cost predictions relating to the San Francisco area of the U.S.
The solution, the article contends, is for government subsidies (a type of Keynesian market correction) in order to ensure that all citizens have access to the safer and more advanced technology that self-driving vehicles promise.
More about autonomous cars, selfdriving car, Cars, Transport
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