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Where next?

Accelerating the debate on autonomous vehicles

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It is time to shift up a gear and accelerate the debate on the impact of driverless vehicles on our roads.

To date, much of the debate has focused on technology issues. What is less clear, and has received less attention, is how quickly different user groups will adopt autonomous technologies, and how the range of social, regulatory and other non-technical obstacles to the widespread rollout of driverless cars will be overcome.

Our latest paper examines these obstacles by exploring a number of different future scenarios for the development of autonomous vehicles.

Future Worlds Autonomous Vehicles

Exploring the future of autonomous vehicles

Traditionally, technologists have sought to map out a singular view of the future, seeking to predict how the world will be in 20 years’ time. In our experience we have found it more useful to look at a range of options, or FutureWorlds®, based on a number of varying dimensions.

Our approach avoids a specific prediction of the future (which will inevitably be ‘wrong’) and provides an effective way to consider the course the future adoption of a technology will take. From our analysis, four potential scenarios emerge for the future adoption of autonomous vehicles.

Future Worlds Autonomous Vehicles
garden city world

Garden city world

This world sees the most dramatic change with driverless cars gaining rapid acceptance as they offer safe and efficient ways of reducing congestion. The key social change in this world is that personal car ownership becomes a niche activity because it is cheaper and faster simply to summon up a vehicle on your smartphone. This does, however, raise potential privacy concerns as some form of central authority will know all the details of your journey.


  • Rapid, widespread adoption
  • Full driverless vehicles
  • High public confidence and trust
  • Car ownership becomes a niche activity


  • Cost of car ownership increases
  • Generational and rural/urban divisions emerge
  • Loss of control over chosen route for vehicles
  • Potential privacy concerns
mass transit world

Mass transit world

In this world, driverless cars develop slowly. There is public distrust of their safety and segregated lanes are still required for automated vehicles. The main developments are seen in bus transport, the road haulage sector, and in point-to-point journeys in urban areas. Private cars remain in use and are more highly automated, but drivers remain in control.


  • Slow adoption
  • Drivers remain in control of vehicles
  • Public distrust
  • Car ownership remains high


  • Full benefits of autonomy not realised
  • Segregation of pilot autonomous vehicles
  • Initiatives required to overcome public resistance
  • Pace of development varies by geographic location
Automata world

Automata world

In this world, we envisage that autonomous vehicles have rapidly become pervasive and acceptable. Supportive legislation and evidence that the vehicles are safe have allowed truly driverless vehicles to be developed and, importantly, used. Privately owned vehicles are still popular, but people make more efficient use of their cars and there have been major increases in mobility for older people and people with disabilities.


  • Rapid, widespread adoption
  • Full driverless vehicles
  • High public confidence and trust
  • Car ownership remains popular


  • Increased mobility for all
  • Complex legal and insurance liabilities
  • Significant investment in technical infrastructure
enthusiast world

Enthusiast world

In this world, autonomous vehicles start strongly but a combination of high profile safety failings, and a lack of supportive legislation, effectively stops development. The public remain unpersuaded of the case and most people still prefer to drive their own cars because it has not been possible to remove the legal responsibility from the driver.


  • Low adoption
  • High private car ownership remains
  • High public distrust


  • Legislation seen as a barrier to innovation
  • Initiatives required to stimulate adoption

Observations common to all scenarios

Whilst each of our four FutureWorlds have their differences, there are a number of observations that are common to all of the worlds:

  1. Getting the technology right is important
    First and foremost, ensuring that the technology components of autonomous vehicles work together safely and reliably no matter what the road, weather or traffic conditions is an obvious barrier to widespread introduction. Beyond this however, ensuring that vehicles have appropriately robust cybersecurity protection will no doubt become an increasingly important safety consideration.
  2. Technology is not the only consideration
    While achieving autonomy will be driven by the speed of technology development, the introduction of driverless vehicles will still be contingent on a number of other factors: ensuring public confidence and trust in driverless technology; shaping the regulatory framework required to permit the widespread introduction of autonomous vehicles; and securing economic and commercial viability for individuals and organisations.
  3. Business models will need to change
    The widespread introduction of autonomous vehicles will pose real challenges to the economics and established model of car ownership. In turn, this could lead to the expansion of radically new business models.

Key questions for the transport industry

  • How will insurance and legal liabilities need to change for driverless vehicles?
  • What requirements will be placed on vehicle manufacturers and/or owners to ensure adequate protection from cyber threats?
  • How will public acceptance of autonomous vehicles be informed and shaped? Whose responsibility will this be?
  • How will public confidence in driverless technology impact the design of transport infrastructure?
  • What changes to policy and regulation will be required?
Autonomous vehicles

Register your interest

To take part in future face-to-face discussions and industry events, please complete your details and register to receive our report.

The full report outlines the characteristics and implications of our four FutureWorlds scenarios. We do not claim that these are the only four scenarios, but they provide a structure around which to consider the uncertain paths to wider adoption of autonomous vehicles.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss further.

Download report

Contact us

To find out more, please contact us using the links below.

Charlie Henderson Portrait 146 x 101

Charlie Henderson
PA transport expert

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