In 1957, Central Power and Light Company (CPLC) released an advertorial that featured the image of a cheerful nuclear family playing a board game while hurling down the highway in a dome-shaped pod. The caption read:
“Electricity May Be The Driver”
One day, the company claimed, travel will be safer and more enjoyable thanks to the power of electric-enabled sensors. Although CPLC imagined these sensors embedded in the highway, their basic vision has come true. In the coming decades, the keys will be handed over to computers
The world’s leading auto makers — and certain technology companies — are racing to get the self driving car to market. Meanwhile, state and federal government are struggling to develop legislation that supports these advancements. Last week, The United States House of Representative sought advise from expert witnesses at Nissan and Stanford University during a hearing on How Autonomous Vehicles Will Shape the Future of Surface Transportation. Meanwhile, Florida, California and Nevada have already begun amending traffic laws to encourage companies to test autonomous vehicles on their roads. Some estimate self driving cars could reach the market by 2020 and saturate the road by 2040.
The technology might be costly to develop, but it won’t be expensive to reproduce. In fact, the increased safety and efficiency will allow automakers to produce vehicles that weigh less, lowering the overall price point. Once the robot car reaches the market, it could quickly take over.
What will a world without driving look like?
When drivers are no longer necessary and safety ceases to be an issue, toddlers could transport themselves to daycare, cars could run errands for you, and nearly everyone will gain some access to personal mobility.
Of course, the driverless future won’t be as hunky-dory as the image suggests. Robot cars could eliminate millions of jobs – including taxi drivers, transit operators, insurance agents, and healthcare providers – and open doors for a new breed of cyber-orchestrated terrorism where hackers attempt to induce mass accidents by jamming the connections between vehicles
Yet, as with so many successfully disruptive technologies, the benefits are immense and the risks appear surmountable. Driverless technology could spare over a million lives and help up to 50 million avoid injury each year by eliminating accidents caused by human-error (Source: World Health Organization).
And that’s just the beginning. For better or worse, here’s what we have to look forward to:
Crime will drop — at least the non-virtual kind
A key component of the driverless formula, Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) technology, exchanges data between moving objects. These cars are equipped with surveillance systems that track road conditions, weather, surrounding vehicles, and other information about their environment. That data is fed to the car’s internal server and shared with the servers of other V2V cars through an inter-vehicle internet.
As the price drops and automation grows ubiquitous, driving off-the-grid will become questionable, if not illegal. If someone attempts to escape the scene of a crime, their non-connected car – and the V2V enabled Wi-Fi system that reveals the whereabouts of all objects on the road– will give them away.
Carbon emissions will be drastically reduced
There’s a debate over whether the adoption of autonomous vehicles will actually curb energy spending: Computer-controlled travel is certainly more efficient and requires less fuel. Yet, driverless technology brings personal mobility to those previously denied – including the young, the elderly, and the disabled – putting many more travelers on the road. Smoother commutes, moreover, could catalyze continued urban sprawl.
Once driverless cars saturate the roads — and the risk of accident is absolved — these carriers won’t need all the heavy armor and that will cut down on fuel expenditures. Leading auto innovators including Nissan, Volvo, and Telsa are also expecting to debut electric models, which could be sustained through solar-powered refueling stations.
Car shares will replace personal ownership and everyone will have access
When drivers are no longer necessary, gas is not needed, and trips are faster and more efficient, taxi rides will become radically affordable. This will fundamentally change transportation.
Trains, buses and subways that make multiple-stops will seem wasteful and unnecessary. Car ownership will be seen as a privilege rather than a necessity. Personal mobility could eventually reach impoverished, physically compromised, and intoxicated people around the world.
Since computer-regulated traffic will take up less room on the road, streets may be restructured to benefit growing foot and cycle traffic. Then again, simple, cheap, automated travel could replace bicycling and walking as the popular mode of transit.
Insurance companies will go out of business
The dramatic drop in auto-related injuries and fatalities will deflate the value of personal insurance. Add that to the decrease in car ownership and private auto-insurance – a $166 billion industry in the United States — will eventually evaporate.
We will live in mobile homes, work in mobile offices, and shop with mobile warehouses
What will people do during their commute if they are not driving? They may read, sleep, work at their computer, watch a movie, cook a meal, or engage in any number of activities they would otherwise do at home.
While car companies compete to build livable interiors, the price of space — which is growing scarcer as population climbs – will sky rocket. In time, the need for an automobile and the need for a dwelling will be met by a single, transportable pod — the “carpartment.”
Likewise, commercial and public service buildings will more effectively meet the needs of their market if they can travel to them. Large distributors, for example, could cut down their supply chain with automated, portable warehouses that deliver goods to consumers via smartphone app.
Traffic congestion, road maintenance delays, and the quest for a parking spot will disappear
Connected vehicles – which immediately adjust to the travel patterns of surrounding cars — will be the end of traffic jams. Because they automatically avoid collision, these cars will travel at faster speeds.
Driverless vehicles, equipped with advanced surveillance systems, will pinpoint road damage. That data will be sent via inter-vehicle Wi-Fi to robotic vehicles that perform road repairs. The increased efficiency will make highway infrastructure cheaper and easier to maintain, ending roadwork-related delays and detours.
Robot cars will take passengers directly to their destination before auto-parking. This will save a huge chunk of time – drivers typically spend up to 40 percent of their commute searching for a parking spot. Since drivers won’t be involved, parking will be moved to urban outskirts freeing up parking lots – which consume 30 percent of the urban landscape – for parks and new development.