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Robotic Taxis: Morgan Stanley’s Vision of the Future

People have been predicting the automotive future for as long as we’ve had roads to drive on, and these crystal-ball visions tend to have one thing in common: drivers.

But according to a report from Morgan Stanley’s Research Division, that assumption might not be valid for much longer.

Fully Autonomous Cars by 2020

The report, entitled “Autonomous Cars: The Future Is Now,” observes that “completely autonomous cars are set to be available before the end of the decade,” but that’s not news in itself. We know from experience that the 2015 Hyundai Genesis, for example, can drive itself on the highway using adaptive cruise control and active lane-keeping assist, so the pieces for full automation are clearly falling into place.

What’s remarkable here is that most analysts have viewed self-driving cars as fringe players in the national fleet, with the bulk of driving continuing to be handled by humans. The futurists at Morgan Stanley, conversely, believe that “mass adoption” is much closer than you might think. In their view, the first phase, privately owned autonomous cars, will soon give way to a second phase in which private-car ownership itself is largely superseded by autonomous public car-sharing services.

So much for the romance of driving a sports car on a winding road.

Robotic Taxis for Human Productivity

In more recent comments, the division’s lead auto analyst, Matt Jonas, painted a dramatic picture of this increasingly driverless future, one in which 24/7 robotic taxis greatly enhance productivity by enabling us to work on our way to and from the office. The taxis would be called via an app, of course, like Uber without the driver. Crucially, the cost could be barely a 10th of traditional taxi prices today.

Since most workers would no longer need to drive, current structures and lots designed to accommodate parked cars could be repurposed to more productive ends. Jonas even suggests that human driving will one day be restricted to certain lanes, with autonomous cars dominating city and eventually intercity traffic.

What it means to you: For many folks, driving a great car is one of life’s simple joys, and we don’t see that changing for a long time. But there’s nothing fun about sitting in traffic during rush hour, so if robotic taxis help us spend that time productively, they really could revolutionize urban transport.

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