Self-driving rentals take a step closer

As Google’s self-drive car trials taking customers to the supermarket, we ask what’s the potential for self-drive car and van rentals?

Self Driving Car

As is so often with the case with stories about self-drive (and ‘sort of’ self-drive) technology, it’s less a case of what the technology will be capable of, and more a matter of what the law will allow.

There is a time coming when cars will be able to get from A to B without human interaction. That may not happen in the next year or two, but all the things that are currently capable of confusing automated systems (eg unexpected things in the road, diversions, defaced or altered road signs) will have workarounds in place in the next few years.

By then, the car or van will be truly autonomous. The question then becomes, who can use it?

Driver assisted or driver replaced?

At present, cars with fledgling self-drive systems are required to have a driver in the driving seat, and they must have their hands on the wheel and be ready to take control in an instant.

For anyone renting a car or van, the practical effect of the self-drive capability is limited. You may be able to put the system to the test on the motorway, but you’ll effectively remain the driver.

But what happens when self-drive really is self-drive? At that point, you might assume that legislation may also change. You may not need a full licence to drive a car or van. You may not need a licence at all. You may not need to keep your hands on the wheel and it’s even possible you may not need the vehicle to be occupied by a human.

Impact on the car rental market

That could change the car and van rental market. Imagine being able to carry out deliveries without needing a qualified driver – or a driver at all? Imagine being able to ferry goods/products/supplies between businesses without the risk or cost of needing anyone to physically do the ferrying? Imagine something as simple as a university pickup, where the van rental calls at the halls of residence to pick up student and belongings and bring them home. Or the away weekend where no one needs to be the minibus’ designated driver.

This week, Google’s Waymo self drive system started trials in Phoenix Arizona. Limited to around 400 early adopters, the system will enable them to be picked up and dropped off at the local Walmart store.

It’s relatively small scale stuff at present, but this really is a glimpse of the future – and it could transform the way we drive and rent cars and vans.

In the meantime, if you’re looking to hire a car or van (one that you’ll still have to drive yourself), please get in touch.