Self-driving cars

I wrote a whole blog about flying cars: why I think we’ll have them, how it won’t happen in our lifetime and how it’ll dramatically change the world as we’ll know it. But flying cars will be the second of two major transformations in personal transportation, so it makes sense to start with the first: self-driving cars.

It’s not news that self-driving cars are coming. But to me, the fun part is imagining how they will affect our daily lives. So let’s have some fun and explore what a future with self-driving cars might look like.

The easy stuff

In the near future (5-10 years), you will be able to take your hands off the wheel and let the car drive itself in limited capacities. It’ll be weird at first, but you’ll still be able to (and sometimes have to) override the car and drive it yourself. Technologically, this step is close. But it’s going to take awhile for governments to figure out the regulations and legalities. But these conversations have already started, and it won’t be long.

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This will not change life dramatically. It’ll be cool to sit in the driver’s seat and not drive. But you’ll still need to pay attention to the road. It’s not like you can take a nap or read a book (ok, watch YouTube). But this will give us a great starting point to iron out the kinks in the technology and start to trust our self-driving cars.

Statistics will show that these early self-driving cars are dramatically safer than their human-controlled counterparts. Fatalities will largely be the fault of human drivers. Governments and insurance companies will be compelled to limit human input while driving.

And somewhere, in a large city, probably in California, an adventurous company will be granted permission to employ a fleet of driver-less taxis. And this will be the start of everything exciting.

Removing the humans

After human-assisted, self-driving cars have become commonplace, the next major advancement will be to remove the human from the equation entirely. Major cities will transition primarily to driver-less taxis (think Uber, but better for introverts). You can call them on your app or wave them down on the road.

Once this has played out in major cities, fleets of driver-less cars will start appearing in cities around the world. There will be several companies competing for your ride, and the marketplace will be saturated with compelling options.

This is when the fun starts.

With the car fully driving itself, we will be free to do whatever during the drive. Our daily commutes will be spent checking social media, responding to email (yes, we will still have email, unfortunately), napping, making out with each other, whatever. The act of transporting ourselves won’t be much of a disruption to our lives. The car will pick us up on time, and it will drop us off at the front door of our destination.

When this lifestyle is available to the masses, the concept of owning your own car is going to seem increasingly old-fashioned. I mean, if there was a consistently clean, reliable, safe car available anywhere and anytime to take you wherever you wanted to go, wouldn’t you be tempted to get rid of your monthly car payments? Insurance payments? The cost and hassle of maintenance? Buying gas (or electricity)?

People are going to stop owning cars.

No more truck nuts

The most radical transformation of our lives as it relates to self-driving cars will be that we won’t own our driver-less cars. We will instead rely on an on-demand fleet of cars, vans and busses that take us to and from our destination on a whim.

This is going to almost kill off car culture as we know it. I say “almost” because there will always be classic cars. There will be holdouts who don’t want robots driving them around. They will be vocal, proud and stubborn. But eventually, self-driving humans will be a thing of the past.

This will change the entire automobile industry, from design to advertising to sales tactics. They won’t be selling cars to us, and we largely won’t care what logo is on our self-driving car. We’ll develop brand loyalty with ride services, not manufacturers.

Taking car ownership out of the loop is going to lead to some other interesting changes. Parking, for example. Parking lots are going to shrink. Many will just go away. City streets will be less cluttered with parked cars. We will have more densely populated cities and potentially more green space.

Public transportation will be transformed as well. Those who don’t want to pay for their own private ride will have the option to share a small vehicle with a few other people who are going in the same general direction. Or you can take a driver-less bus.

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I can’t decide if it still makes sense to have a subway system. On one hand, the subway gets a ton of people OFF of the roads. On the other hand, rudimentary AI and a robust fleet of multi-purpose, driver-less vehicles might be able to more efficiently get people where they’re going. Either way, the differences between public and private transportation will be greatly minimized.

Those of us living outside of large cities will not be immune to dramatic changes in our lives. We will also enjoy the benefits of automated food deliveries, quieter streets, a more productive commute around town. And big changes are coming to our houses.

Your new two-car game room

Once we move away from vehicle ownership, we’re going to have some fun figuring out what to do with our garages. There will be people who make their living renovating other people’s garages. You’ll see a gluttony of social media posts showcasing idealistic garage transformations by annoying hipsters (they’re not going away either, sorry).

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Or maybe you’ll just have a larger place to store all your crap.

In any case, new houses won’t have garages. They will be built more closely together, helping to solve for our expanding population.

But our lives at home will be transformed in other ways. Artificial intelligence will greatly benefit from its trial on our roads and will work its way into our daily lives. Our speech recognition capabilities will be much more robust. Our networks will be faster and more reliable. Electricity will be easier to generate and used more efficiently. Our dishwashers will - oh wait, sorry. You’ll still be doing this by hand.

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

All of these advancements will be awesome, but we won’t be content. Cities will keep expanding, we’ll keep trying to shorten the time between A and B and our advancements in energy and technology will provide some exciting options. But we’ll talk about those in another blog.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy our horses and buggies.

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