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NO DRIVERS NEEDED

Preparing for the road ahead with autonomous vehicles

TAREK SELIM ’92, ’95
PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS AND STRATEGY
DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMICS

Preparing for the road ahead with autonomous vehicles

The Inspiration

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has already begun. Technology and digitization are changing our daily lives — overturning assumptions, creating new platforms and products, establishing a new normal. One of the biggest changes we’ll see is in transportation. We’re doing research with the World Economic Forum — I’m a member of their Global Agenda Council on the Fourth Industrial Revolution — specifically on the future of autonomous vehicles, more commonly known as self-driving cars. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution, autonomous vehicles and self-driving cars will be the norm — not necessarily on a full scale, but on a much larger scale than most people perceive. On a related track, we’re also looking at the development of smart cities.

The Process

This is a multidisciplinary project, so I have research assistance from students in computer science, economics and business. My specialty is economics, but I also have a background in business and engineering — I was a visiting professor at the MIT Industrial Performance Center. While at MIT, I was co-researching industrial innovation for emerging markets, so when the World Economic Forum offered me the possibility of researching the future of the global autonomous vehicle industry, I was immediately interested. Together, we’re mapping a number of variables: wireless and laser technology, 3D sensor measurements of nearby cars and pedestrians, semi-auto-braking with the concrete possibility of complete driverless auto-parking, GPS city infrastructure requirements, risk factors of autonomous driving collision, customer valuation of new technology, market behavior and social resistance to change, new requirements for the car insurance industry, and government regulatory provisions for safety and accountability.

The IMPACT

The idea is to explore the commercial and regulatory frameworks needed to support self-driving cars. High-tech features are mapped with socioeconomic requirements, industry standards and smart city planning. How can the auto industry incorporate new technologies? How can cities adapt to a new driving paradigm? What social norms need to change? We’re working at the edge of what’s possible. Our research should help engineers, city planners and regular citizens get a clear view of what’s ahead. For example, what will be the new normal in three to five years? Will all new cars be able to completely auto-park by then? That’s the minimum threshold expected.

The Next Steps

Looking at the big picture: In the next decade, fully driverless cars may not be commercially available, but a close hit is highly possible. Then there’s the question of whether they can be socially accepted on a global scale. As for my research team, we’ll produce an article for publication, a report for the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and possibly a related case study.

For Egypt, traffic and commuting are major issues here. So there’s a real sense of urgency — and hope — around this project and its wide impact.

The Future

Three ideas are pushing this research forward: technology, innovation and smart cities. Those ideas are also pushing Egypt forward. If you want to see the future, AUC is a good place to be.

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