Bold Prediction: Consumers Will Become Comfortable with Fully Driverless Cars and Get More Access to AV Rides

In 2019 we will see the first driver-free autonomous vehicles (“AV”) open to the general public without a human operator in the car. In 2018, the autonomous vehicle industry experienced some major advances, while also working through some serious challenges. As the media, investors, and auto companies opine about timeline for AVs, very few consumers have yet to experience them first hand. The commercialization of driverless vehicles, even if only available in a few dedicated locations this year, will help massively increase adoption for years to come.

Currently, there is no AV company that transports the public without a human ‘safety driver.’ The term ‘safety driver’ is even becoming a misnomer. At May Mobility, a Maven portfolio company, they refer to human operators as Fleet Attendants because they are an important part of the community education and engagement team. Hopping on a fully autonomous vehicle is a thrilling new experience, and the attendants at May Mobility are helping prepare folks for that future by welcoming them aboard.

May Mobility has just launched in Columbus Ohio the first AV operations in the nation where tourists can board a May AV Shuttle (with a safety driver on board) for free.

Google’s Waymo announced their human operators in their Arizona trials can operate from the back seat. Others are delivering packages sans safety driver, but they aren’t carrying human cargo. Meanwhile, GM’s Cruise AV division has been testing AV taxi services with their employees in San Francisco, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear some exciting announcements from Cruise later this year about opening up those trials more publicly.

How close are we to a driverless AV without a safety driver? I’ve seen the evolution of the AV technology since taking my first ride in a Cruise AV in 2014. The industry has come a long way and we’re much closer than people think. From a technology perspective the human’s role piloting the car is steadily shrinking — particularly when following dedicated routes and driving under 25 mile per hour.

In a very significant announcement last year that has largely gone under the radar, the government has paved the way for these exciting trials by May, Waymo, Cruise and others to be fully-driverless. In February 2018, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles eliminated the requirement for autonomous vehicles to have a person in the driver’s seat. There are also several exciting startups, like Maven’s Passenger AI, that are helping make it possible to remove safety drivers from the vehicles and still have human intervention when needed.

As consumers get their first taste of AV, they’ll become more and more comfortable with the concept and no longer require a safety driver for their own peace of mind. It reminds me of how we used to require an elevator operator to be in every elevator. As the public became more comfortable with the notion that the elevators were going to operate just fine, an elevator safety operator became obsolete. I’m bullish this year that AV technology and consumers are ready for the full autonomous experience. It’s a total trip, enjoy the ride!

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