Two years ago, MIT launched the Task Force on the Work of the Future, an "institute-wide" effort to study the evolution of jobs during what the college characterizes as an "age of innovation." The faculty and student research team of more than 20 members, as well as an external advisory board, published its latest brief today, focusing on the development of autonomous vehicles. It suggests fully driverless systems will take at least a decade to deploy over large areas and that expansion will happen region-by-region in specific transportation categories, resulting in variations in availability across the country. Truly autonomous vehicles require complex sensors and computers whose production volume is lower compared with even advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). And teleoperation, in which humans monitor autonomous vehicles for safety, is likely to be a "non-negligible" cost in light of research raising concerns about business models.
There is a critically important dialogue going on across the extended global automotive industry about the future evolution of transportation and mobility. This debate is driven by the convergence of a series of industry-changing forces and mega-trends (see figure 1). Innovative technologies are changing how companies develop and build vehicles. Electric and fuel-cell powertrains tend to offer greater propulsion for lower energy investment at lower emission levels.1 New, lightweight materials enable automakers to reduce vehicle weight without sacrificing passenger safety.2 Further breakthroughs are advancing the introduction of autonomous vehicles; increasingly, daily news reports suggest that driverless cars will soon become a commercial reality.3 We have already seen rapid advances in the "connected car"--innovations that integrate communications technologies and the Internet of Things to provide valuable services to drivers.4
To imagine the future of work, you have to also imagine how people get to work. If we had believed the prognostications of Elon Musk and others, by 2018 we would be calmly commuting in driverless cars, reading or sleeping in the back seat as robotic chauffeurs smoothly whisked us along highways and city streets. That rapid change did not happen, which is probably a good thing -- for had we experienced that sudden disruption of automation, millions of taxi drivers, delivery drivers, truck drivers, and bus drivers might have been thrown out of work. Nonetheless, visions of a driverless future did spur billions of dollars of investment. The core technologies like AI-enabled navigation, perception, and path-planning are rapidly developing, and increasingly automated of vehicles will certainly be part of our future, emerging in parallel with electrification and digital connectivity.
The entire way people and goods travel from point A to point B is changing, driven by a series of converging technological and social trends: the rapid growth of carsharing and ridesharing; the increasing viability of electric and alternative powertrains; new, lightweight materials; and the growth of connected and, ultimately, autonomous vehicles. The result is the emergence of a new ecosystem of mobility that could offer faster, cheaper, cleaner, safer, more efficient, and more customized travel. While uncertainty abounds, in particular about the speed of the transition, a fundamental shift is driving a move away from personally owned, driver-driven vehicles and toward a future mobility system centered around (but not exclusively composed of) driverless vehicles and shared mobility. The shift will likely affect far more than automakers--industries from insurance and health care to energy and media should reconsider how they create value in this emerging environment. We believe a series of technological and social forces, including the emergence of connected, electric, and autonomous vehicles and shifting attitudes toward mobility, are likely to profoundly change the way people and goods move about.