It is a cloudy August morning in Mumbai; I am intrigued and excited to attend the India IoT Summit 2017. I grab my smart phone and book an Uber cab; the app immediately finds and books one in the vicinity. As I settle in the cab, I marvel at how wonderful the sensor is—a GPS tracker that can match my location with available cabs in the vicinity and provide the right option.

After a 45-minute drive, I reach my destination for a charged-up panel discussion on autonomous vehicles—IoT-connected smart vehicles.

The panel discussion started with “Think how one sensor—the GPS tracker—could change the taxi industry; now imagine what would happen if we added five–six–or seven sensors to the car—how would that change the auto industry?  Would it make the car intelligent enough to drive—an autonomous vehicle?”

So what is an autonomous vehicle?

An autonomous vehicle (also known as a driverless car, a self-driving car, a robotic car, or an Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV)), is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human intervention.

 Levels of vehicle autonomy:

SAE International—an autonomous standardization body developed a standard/levels of autonomy for vehicles.

There are six levels of autonomy starting from none to fully autonomous:

Level Zero: No Automation: You drive it. Acceleration, braking, and steering are all controlled by a human driver at all times.

Level One: Driver Assistance: Hands on the wheel. In certain driving modes, the car can either take control of the steering wheel or the pedals, e.g. adaptive cruise control and park assist.

Level Two: Partial Automation: Hands off the wheel, eyes on the road. A level-two vehicle has certain modes in which the car can take over both the pedals and the wheel, but the driver must maintain ultimate control over the vehicle.

Level Three: Conditional Automation: Hands off the wheel, eyes off the road—sometimes. In a level-3 vehicle, the car has certain modes that will fully take over driving responsibilities under certain conditions, but the driver is expected to regain control when requested.

Level Four: High Automation: Hands off, eyes off, mind off—sometimes. A level-four vehicle can be driven by a human, but it doesn’t have to be. It can drive itself full-time under the right circumstances, and if it encounters something it can’t handle, it can request human assistance.

Level Five: Full Automation: Steering wheel is optional. The front seats can face backwards to make this a social space, because the car neither needs nor wants your help. Full-time automation of all driving tasks on any road, under any conditions, whether there’s a human on board or not.

How autonomous vehicles will change our lives:

Improved Safety: Studies show that at least 1.9 million people die in road accidents each year and 99% of these accidents are due to human error. With autonomous vehicles in action and communicating with each other, this number can be drastically reduced. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication enables a car to  pace itself to neighboring cars, lane-keep assist to keep the car centered between clearly marked pavement lines, and detect blind spots.

Improved productivity: It is said that people in the US spend at an average of 35 hours/week stuck in traffic. With a computer behind the wheel, traffic movement could become more efficient and this time educed, or, at the very least, more productively spent by the passenger, including taking a nap.

Increased fuel savings: As traffic becomes efficient travel time and fuel consumption decrease, resulting in fuel savings.

Increased mobility: Autonomous vehicles would offer increased mobility to the elderly or the vision-impaired.

Emerging business models: Car sales would still be there for people who have an emotional connection to driving; Cars would probably be sold by the mile and not by vehicle make. Financing models would also change.  Monetization of your car data could be a way to finance your car in the coming years. Connected automobile and telematics insurance would prevail, with data going in and out of cars. Insurance premiums may go to the car manufacturer instead of the owner as any fatalities would indicate a defect or a flaw in the OEM rather than human error.

Increased high-end jobs: Jobs will move towards the higher-end of the spectrum, which means our education system will need to churn out skilled resources at a faster rate, leading to additional jobs in education.

Real estate development: Autonomous vehicles would reduce car ownership, resulting in fewer parking spaces. Real estate developers may set up agreements with autonomous bus and transportation agencies like Uber to provide tenants with transportation access in exchange for urban space. More space would help turn the vision of a walkable city into reality.

As I ride back home in my Uber cab at the end of the day, I imagine the scene in the years to come, with autonomous vehicles on the road: perhaps I would be the only human in my autonomous cab, and maybe my cab would communicate with other cabs about road or weather conditions in order to proactively choose the shortest and most efficient route to my destination.

It is all about making mobility, safer, cheaper, more readily available, and more convenient.