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Why Autonomous Driving Means More Than Just Taking Your Hands Off the Wheel

November 7, 2019, 1:48 PM UTC

Autonomy will be key to sustainable transportation, and it’s not just about self-driving cars.

In the last several years, startups from around the world have begun to offer billions of people new options to transport goods and move around their cities, giving them more control over how they get around and how they use their time while doing so.

At the Fortune Global Tech Forum conference on Thursday, the co-founder of one of those startups—Amit Singh, CEO of Shuttl—described how his subscription-based, shuttle bus firm is offering millions in India a sustainable commuting alternative in cities struggling with heavy traffic and stressed public transit systems.

“How do we give people their time back?” Singh asked rhetorically: “Most of the users who are shifting to shuttles were either using their own vehicles… or [come] from public transport where they would be [commuting] with multiple changeovers,” he said. “But when you get a seat [on Shuttl], you get that time back.”

Lime, a San Francisco-based micro mobility company that specializes in electric scooters, hopes to fill a similar gap in how people get around cities. Lime’s chief technology officer Li Fan said that being a “global company, but super local” will help them add scooters to cities in the most useful and convenient ways possible.

For Julian Ma, Founder and CEO of Inceptio Technology, the concept of autonomy is very literal, as his company is at the forefront of autonomous trucking in the Chinese market. Ma said that he expects driverless trucks to be commercially viable in China within the next three years, though he is quick to emphasize that these trucks will still include human drivers to operate the vehicles in case of any emergencies.

“[For] 99% of the time, and more than 99% of the mileage, the trucks will run by themselves,” Ma said. “But in the meantime there will still be a safety driver there to standby for any sort of extraordinary situation. That sounds a little bit dumb, but in reality it has a huge benefit.”

Such benefits center around making roads in China much safer, as the fatality rate for Chinese truckers remains one of the highest in the world.

“I am very confident that the increasing level of autonomy for vehicles, either full autonomy or partial autonomy, will definitely improve safety,” Ma said.

But for Ma, the upside of autonomous vehicles goes beyond safety, to the emotional tension of transportation today.

“As more people have the opportunity to drive vehicles with relatively high levels of automation, Ma says, “we will feel that there is a very big release of stress, as you are allowed to have a certain kind of relief and distraction.”

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