As driverless technology edges ever closer to reality, a number of interesting studies have emerged to explore some of the costs and benefits of the transition to a driverless world.
For instance, earlier this year a team from Leeds University that examined the environmental aspects of driverless technology.
One of the key benefits of driverless technology is the greater energy efficiency proposed by the improved traffic flow possible. The authors suggest, however, that when we can do so much more whilst on the move, it will encourage us to use our cars much more than we currently do.
“There is no doubt that vehicle automation offers several efficiency benefits, but if you can work, relax and even hold a meeting in your car that changes how you use it,” the authors say.
Will We Be More Productive?
A second study, from researchers at the University of Michigan, has examined this productivity angle in more detail. Just as with the Leeds study, the outlook may not be as straightforward as we imagine.
“Currently, in the U.S., the average occupant of a light-duty vehicle spends about an hour a day traveling—time that could potentially be put to more productive use,” the authors say. “Indeed, increased productivity is one of the expected benefits of self-driving vehicles.”
The report suggests that for many of us, however, this productivity gain may be illusory. Indeed, the report suggests for roughly one in three of us, we’d be so scared about having the car drive itself we wouldn’t let our eyes leave the road. A further 23% revealed that they wouldn’t want to set foot in them in the first place.
It went on to suggest that the time saving may be minimal, as the average journey is 19 minutes, thus leaving minimal time to be really absorbed in a task. Respondents revealed however that their most likely task would be reading or communicating with friends and family.
I wouldn’t say it’s a conclusive finding that our productivity expectations are unlikely to be met, but it does nonetheless remind us not to take it for granted.