Interview: how autonomous vehicles will impact Africa

Interview: how autonomous vehicles will impact Africa
Riaan Graham, Sales Director at Ruckus sub-Saharan Africa.
Interview: how autonomous vehicles will impact Africa
Riaan Graham, sales director at Ruckus sub-Saharan Africa.

In a recent interview, IT News Africa spoke to Riaan Graham, Sales Director at Ruckus Sub-Saharan Africa, who eloquently unpacked how autonomous vehicles (AV) will impact Africa.

Riaan Graham assumed his role in 2015. He has a strong focus on Broadband Wireless Access technologies as his field of speciality since 1999. He has worked in the telecommunications field in Africa for 17 years with in-depth knowledge of the MNO and telco markets in East, West and Southern Africa. He studied at the Pretoria Technicon where he obtained his qualification in Industrial and Engineering. His passion for the telecommunications industry is evident through his wealth of knowledge and experience, as well as his commitment to driving African solutions that enhance our way of life.

In this interview, Graham spoke of how AV will impact the transport industry, how various industries will react to AV, the importance of connectivity in AV and he touched on the challenges and opportunities within the transportation sector.

How will autonomous vehicles impact the transportation industry in Africa?
Autonomous vehicles will impact the transport industry immensely; this is, of course, dependent on when Africa will change its legislation allowing for these vehicles to be fully operational.

When you carefully look at AV technology, it indicates that in 15-20 years it will lead to businesses and people not seeing the need to own cars. Take for example the taxi industry in California and how AV is changing the industry and people’s views on taxis – they have AV operated taxis where people can call a taxi using an app just as you would an Uber and the car will use your route to drive you to your destination. This is still in a pilot phase but huge potential has been identified. Furthermore, over time, this technology will impact industries such as the courier industry which can potentially lead to the devastation of job losses as business models change and adapt. One can imagine that once AV has been fully adopted in the courier industry, the net result will be improved efficiencies and better customer service.

After seeing the reaction of metered taxi drivers on Uber in South Africa, what will the reaction of the current industry be towards AV?
The reality is once AV becomes accepted as a proven alternative and starts to infiltrate the traditional taxi industry, like any change, there is likely to be some sort of pushback from the tax industry, but unfortunately, this might be a battle they will not be able to win. What needs to happen is accepting the reality and while it will shake up the industry, businesses will have to start thinking differently – looking at ways of adopting new business models that will afford them the opportunity to still compete in the market. Don’t get me wrong, however, the taxi industry services a large market and as such, is likely to be around for some time in its current form.

Does Africa have the infrastructure required to implement AV?
Yes, Africa has the infrastructure required to implement AV – we have good quality roads and road networks that AV’s can use to read road signs and adjust the speed at which the car should be moving. The only major obstacle that is preventing full AV adoption in the larger market is legislation – this prevents the total mass uptake of AV.

Currently, there are only a few manufacturers producing these cars with Tesla being at the forefront. AV is now a reality and will continue to infiltrate the traditional automotive market. Look at recent announcements from VW, BMW, Jaguar and Toyota which have all confirmed that they will have AV vehicles available for the mass market by 2020. As such, maybe this might be the nudge governments in Africa require for legislation to change and accept these cars as viable options in the transport industry on the continent.

What role does Wi-Fi and connectivity play with AV?
It plays a major role as autonomous connectivity is required and great Wi-Fi accessibility and capabilities play a big role in communication between AV’s on the road (this communication will allow them to sense where each car is, for safety reasons and coordination) which also leads to performance improvement. Eventually, the more cars that are connected the better, as they can perform and make better decisions which can also improve safety on the roads.

What are the challenges and opportunities within the transportation sector – as we move towards smart hubs?
Lack of proper infrastructure to support smart hubs and create seamless and high performance is the major challenge in the transport sector as technology becomes more apparent for businesses operating today. However, all these technological advances aid in improving service delivery and efficiencies which also leads to improved productivity and ultimately delivering positively towards the GDP of the country.

Essentially, the industry needs to embrace the changes that come with AV or take a neutral stance where legislation is not changed and we risk falling behind as a continent and not adopting innovations that will grow the continent’s economy. And by missing the window of opportunity, we cannot compete with first world markets.

By Dean Workman
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