Unless you don’t use the internet, don’t live in California, or haven’t been paying attention to the recent news… you should be aware that self-driving cars are on their way to becoming a reality. I have seen them – they are real.
If you believe in the future reality of self-driving cars, then continue reading on. If you don’t believe in the future possibilities, then I am not sure what to do to convince you other than discuss the very real changes that will roll out with the consumer production of self-driving cars – as well as the fact that you won’t be driving your car as you currently do. I am not going to argue whether self-driving cars will fall into the category of jetpacks and cold fusion because that would be a waste of time.
For starters there are some major transportation disruptions on the way. Let me walk through a couple of examples that you may not have thought about:
1. Roadtrips Become Preferred the Travel Method
A couple of times a year my family of four makes the trek to Omaha, NE from Boulder, CO. Look it up on a map. It is a straight line – seriously a driver could set the cruise control to 84mph, listen to tunes for 8 hours and not make a single turn. It’s a long 8 hour drive with not much action. But, if you compare it to the time it takes to drive to the airport, wait in line, fly 1.5 hours, wait in line, get picked up, and drive to the relative’s house it is only marginally faster to fly – and that is if your flight isn’t delayed. I have a hybrid SUV that gets about 25 mpg, costing my family roughly $70 each way. I am almost certain it costs that much to park at the airport. So, given the very real possibility of self-driving cars, I would rather work all day, put on my PJs, grab a pillow, jump in the self-driving car and sleep through the night and arrive in Omaha the following morning feeling refreshed and ready for the day. Why would I fly for 12x the cost and 1/10th the convenience? Hell, I could even put the kids in the car by themselves and send them off to Grandma’s. Trains should have filled this gap, but the US has made no progress to ease train transportation in the last 50 years. I am pretty sure the likes of Google are going to win the race between 200 mph cross-continental trains versus self-driving cars.
2. No Traffic Signs or Stop Lights
Traffic signs have to go! I am not sure why, maybe because I grew up in a rural area, but I really hate traffic signs. My hometown barely had railroad crossing gates and 1 traffic light. Nowadays there are signs everywhere. I know the government means well, but do we really need a sign that indicates to drive uphill when there is a flash flood? In the days of self-driving cars the traffic signs will become obsolete and can be removed from our roadways. The drivers of the future (cars) will know what the speed limit is, and intuitively know how to navigate to any location taking the quickest route. Also, those stop lights that cost taxpayers $50,000 a pop – they can go also. We won’t need stop signs or stop lights. The cars will be able to negotiate simple things, like an intersection, without a very expensive stop light. Don’t believe me? Check out the robots that sort the inventory racks at Amazon every day, 24 hours a day. They navigate Amazon’s warehouse safely with ease and free of traffic congestion, collisions, and, you guessed it, traffic signs! Just imagine how much more advanced these robots will be in 10 to 15 years. Now imagine how that technology will be adapted for self-driving cars and trickle down to the eventual cleanup of our roadways.
3. Super-Efficient Traffic Control
With the departure of traffic signs we can expect better traffic control. Let’s face it, people are not great at making lots of decisions over and over again. Internet Protocols (TCP/IP) have 2 decades of tuning for traffic control with numbers that far exceed what is done on our highways today. The best thing I have seen so far in traffic control is slowing down merging traffic to insure overall traffic flows better. The internet does something similar.
4. No Car Insurance
Why do I need car insurance? My car isn’t going to crash. When I get on a plane, which is packed full of computers, I don’t worry that it is going to crash. I don’t buy plane crash insurance because in general planes don’t crash! Seriously look at the stats – In 2015 there were 2 billion passengers with only a thousand deaths! Half of those deaths were due to people actually trying to crash the planes. It’s safe to say that developers take self-driving cars a little more seriously than the game you love on your cell phone, or the video game that crashes all of the time. But, you aren’t willing to believe that low defect software performs mission critical tasks, just yet. Let’s take a look at Lasik eye surgery. Who do you think controls the laser that performs that most critical part of the surgery? A computer – that’s right. Still not convinced? Okay. How about the software that guides military-aided missiles? Or, traffic control signals? How about the airplanes we fly in that contain autopilot and other self-performing software that have significantly increased the safety of flying? We have been utilizing software that performs mission critical tasks for years, and it has weaved itself seamlessly into our everyday lives.
5. No Traffic Cops
Goodbye to traffic cops. They’re no longer needed. Cars will self-regulate their behavior within constraints.
6. Fewer Roads
Roads are really, really expensive. I think if I had a couple of months I could make the case that roads are so expensive we can’t actually afford the road we have. Either way, if traffic is more efficient we will need fewer roads.
7. More Spacious Car Interiors
Right now, cars are optimized for human drivers. Space, effort and cost are put into a design so humans can drive cars safely. Without a need for a human driver, much of that interior space will be opened up for other drivers.
8. Reduced Safety Features
We’ll be able to take out most of the safety features. It always makes me laugh when the flight attendant goes over the water landing procedure when I am flying from Chicago to Texas – not a lot of water in Texas. We could save a lot of cost, weight and gas if we ripped out those safety features.
9. Driving at Any Age
Gone will be the days of getting a driver’s license when you turn 16. Kindergartners will be taking driverless cars home. Senior citizens of any age can get around with limited assistance. Driverless cars will bring freedom and independence to many. It also has the potential to increase the distance that the mentally ill or confused can travel. These self-driving cars will have safeguards to return riders back to their homes.
10. Less Public Revenue from Ticketing
Not having traffic cops will equate to considerable lost revenue. The town where I grew up made 50% of its revenue from giving speeding tickets on a 1 mile stretch of highway.
11. Better Fuel Efficiency
We’ll see improvements in miles per gallon – humans break and accelerate way too much.
12. Premium for Fast Travel; Discounted Slow Travel
Just like Amazon’s Prime members who get a bonus for choosing slower shipping, fast cars will be able to negotiate with other cars to ‘let’ them pass for a small fee.
13. Commute Matters Less for Taking Jobs
With the mainstream advent of self-driving cars, coworkers with really, really long commutes will become commonplace. A few companies in Silicon Valley have given us a preview of a similar circumstance – what happens when you provide free bus service between work and home. Google employees residing in California travel over 1 hour and 30 minutes each way from work in Mountain View to home in San Francisco on a Google bus. With self-driving cars, drivers may work part of the day on the road. Others may opt to sleep. You can bet self-driving cars will extend what people are willing to tolerate in terms of a commute.
14. In-Car Professional Services
I remember how jealous I was that my train didn’t have a bar car that served alcohol. How about a massage, doctors, etc. Why not? Somebody will invent “in-car” services for those who are pressed for time.
15. Human Inaccessible Parking Garages
Imagine really short ceilings on parking garages. There’s no need to stand up when the cars drop off passengers outside and park themselves. Also the cars will always be parked very close front to back and side to side because there will be no need to open doors. So cities will be able to get denser.
16. No Parking Spaces on College Campuses
In cities, considerable horizontal space is taken up by parking. Over time people won’t feel the need to own a car since they can summon one on demand. This will lead to less car ownership, fewer cars, and less space consumed by cars. Places like college campuses may be converted to have no parking at all.
17. Housing Values Shift
People will live further and further from metropolitan areas, since the drive in to work is less demanding. As a result, prices for real estate will fall in congested cities, and values for property on the outskirts of town will increase.
18. Career Opportunities Change
With self-driving cars, there will be fewer limo drivers, truck drivers and other forms of delivery service workers. There will be additional jobs in the software profession to optimize and improve upon the technologies.