Brexit and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump's rise to power should be wake up calls to proponents of autonomous driving, said a top researcher from a London-based think tank that has analyzed the potential effects of self-driving cars on the European economy.
"If I was a politician looking at the recent election results in the U.S. and UK, it would be clear that it is very important to reach out to the people who feel left behind by globalization," Matthew Laza, director of Policy Network, told the Nissan Futures conference in Barcelona last week.
Laza said that one of the biggest threats to autonomous driving is a so-called "digital divide" between cities and rural areas. If the people in rural areas feel like that are not a part of the shift to self-driving cars and are not made aware of the benefits of the technology they are likely to reject it. Laza said a similar divide contributed to rural-based British voters rejecting EU membership and U.S. voters from less populated areas picking Trump, whose has been a harsh critic of globalization.
Another big concern about autonomous driving technology is whether the technology can handle all the tasks that are currently done by humans. Surprisingly, lawmakers who are creating regulations for autonomous cars are not worried about safety, said another panel member at the event called, Artificial Intelligence: Robots on the Road.
"Policymakers trust the manufacturers to provide the best possible autonomous driving solutions because the media attention is so intense that any of their failures will result in a backlash on the reputation of the company," said Florian Ranft, who is a researcher for Policy Network.
Nissan Europe's top attorney agreed. "We only want to bring technology to market that is 100 percent safe," said Friederike Kienitz, who is Nissan Europe's vice president for legal, external and government affairs. "If we have a safety issue we will lose market share."
17 trillion euros
During the event Policy Network released a report, which was commissioned by Nissan, stating that autonomous vehicles would contribute 17 trillion euros to the European economy by 2050.
This figured was based on economic analysis showing that autonomous vehicles will start adding 0.15 percent to Europe's annual growth rate in the decades to come. As a result, the EU's gross domestic product would, cumulatively, be 5.3 percent higher in 2050 than now. This is because of the prediction that there will be fewer accidents, less road congestion, reduced fuel consumption and fewer emissions (many autonomous cars are expected to be battery electric) and a better overall use of the transportation infrastructure.
The panel conceded that some jobs would be lost because of the move to autonomous vehicles, especially among the taxi, truck and bus drivers that make up 5 percent of the EU's labor force.
Laza said that now is the time for politicians to start preparing for this shift, so that programs are put in place to help people transition to new jobs long before there is a crisis.