Yesterday Google unveiled its prototype for the anxiously anticipated self-driving car. It became clear that Google wasn’t simply trying to add new technology into existing vehicles, rather it was reimagining the transportation experience from scratch. We are likely five to ten years from having any significant number of these vehicles on the road, but it is still fun to think about the potentially transformative power that these cars could have. Here are some random thoughts:
1) Our spaces can be reimagined, and repurposed. So much space is dedicated towards parking, when cars are no longer sitting idly, all that space can be reinvented into something else. Parks, open public spaces, housing, schools, etc could find new homes in places that weren’t imaginable before.
2) Car ownership could become a relic of the past. If the cost of getting from point A to point B was dramatically decreases in a self-driving car, the prospect of car ownership might become increasingly unappealing. Uber is already leading the charge towards this, especially for people living in cities.
3) Technology is already eating a lot of jobs, it seems to be inevitable for people who drive for a living too. Delivery, taxi, and truck drivers all risk being replaced with the increased adoption of self-driving vehicles. This is another reason that the US, and the rest of the world need to start addressing how to effectively retrain the workforce at scale, for jobs in the new economy.
4) DUI’s, vehicle related deaths, and other moving violations should dramatically decrease. As we remove more human error from the roads, we should hope to see less accidents.
5) New places for advertisements! Now that you don’t need to focus on the road, its likely that you can get a discount on your ride if you interact with some of the ads played in the car.
6) People will have more time. All the hours spent commuting can now be spent reading, working, talking on the phone, or sleeping.
7) Public transportation will also have to adjust. Public transportation should still play a role in helping people move around, especially in cities. What remains to be seen is how buses, and trains will work in a complementary way with self-driving vehicles, rather than risk becoming obsolete.
8) Housing. Will people be willing to live further away from work, and will we see a transition back to the suburbs, if people have the options of an easier, and more productive commute?
9) Roads- will we have smart roads, and new traffic lights, in addition to having all the vehicles communicate with one another? What impact will this have on traffic patterns?
10) Driving yourself- maybe this becomes a hobby, or a skill that people do on closed tracks. I think knowing how to drive a car is a valuable skill, but will likely become deemphasized over time.
A lot of these things are still years away, but I for one am excited to see what the next five to ten years bring to innovation in transportation. There are not many new technologies that have the power to be as transformative as self-driving cars. We live in exciting times!