Young people value access over ownership

The smartphone generation will be perfectly happy not dealing with the expense and hassle of car ownership — why would they when they can order up an autonomous Zipcar with a tap on their iPhone X?

Zitat aus: http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2012/10/self-driving-cars/

Self-Driving Cars

Google Self-Driving Car (photo by Flickr user MarkDoliner, CC Licensed)

Google Self-Driving Car (photo by Flickr user MarkDoliner, CC Licensed)

 

Over the past few years, there has been steady progress in the development of self-driving automobiles, and it’s pretty clear that we’re finally on the cusp of this technology going mainstream. As far as I’m concerned, driving is a waste of time, energy, and human life, so I, for one, welcome our autonomous vehicular overlords.

Signs of Change

The assertion that self-driving cars are on the verge of becoming a practical reality may seem a little bold, but the signs are clearly there. For example, California recently legalized autonomous vehicles, making them now legal in three states (Nevada and Florida are the other two). In fact, in relation to this, Bernard Lu, an attorney for the California Department of Motor Vehicles even went so far as to state that “The technology is ahead of the law in many areas” — and that was back in 2010.

And it’s not just some random GeekDad blogger that considers self-driving vehicles to be a near-term probability. GM predicts partially autonomous vehicles by 2015 and fully autonomous vehicles by 2020. Looking even further ahead, the IEEE predicts that 75% of vehices will be fully autonomous by 2040.

Simply put, the technology required to make self-driving cars a reality already exists right now. It’s currently expensive, but the cost will drop as economies of scale kick in.

The Tech Behind It

So what is the tech that makes autonomous vehicles possible? Well, the poster child for self-driving cars is definitely Google’s ongoing Driverless Car project. At last tally, the Google fleet has driven accident-free for over 300,000 miles (480,000 km), making it clear that the concept is completely viable. Each Google Driverless car is equipped with GPS, radar, video cameras, lidar (laser radar), and a lot of real-time computing power. Basic navigation relies on maps and GPS, with live sensor input to react to real-time changes. The entire setup costs about $150,000, which is obviously well beyond the reach of 99% of drivers, but, as mentioned above, this cost will scale down readily.

Another emerging technology that figures prominently in the future of autonomous vehicles is the concept of vehicular communication systems. Obviously vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication will make it possible to dynamically route traffic in such a way as to maximize flow and minimize travel times. Say good-bye to traffic jams and road rage, kids.

Why it Will Be Great

In addition to no more traffic jams, self-driving cars promise many other benefits:

  • Fewer traffic collisions (computers are better than humans at focused, repetitive tasks such as driving)
  • Increased roadway capacity and reduced traffic congestion (V2V and V2I make dynamic traffic routing possible)
  • Relief of vehicle occupants from driving chores (you can sleep, watch a movie, read a book, knit a pair of socks, etc. instead of wasting time behind the wheel)
  • Everyone can enjoy the benefits of travel regardless of their physical abilities, age, or other current restrictions (and, yes, that means no more drunk drivers and innocent victims)
  • You’ll never need to worry about finding a parking spot close to your destination (the car will drop you off, then go park itself until you signal it back again)
  • Improved energy efficiency due to minimization of start/stop driving, and elimination of the weight of the unnecessary driver in some circumstances
  • Car-sharing services like Zipcar will be much more practical
  • Reduced need for traffic police, red light cameras, and other safety enforcement measures
  • Cargo transport and delivery vehicles will not need a driver at all

All of the above and more will make the society of the future a very different place than what we’re used to now. That kind of change is likely going to take some adjustment for us older folks, but what about the upcoming generations that will grow up with this? Well, we’re already seeing some signs of a change in attitude there.

The Millennials

Interestingly, the Millennials (people born between 1980 and 2000, approximately) have very different attitudes toward driving than us older folks. In particular, the Millennials are far less interested in drivingthan their parents and grand-parents. There are, of course, plenty of reasons for this attitude, including rising gas costs, an anemic economy, depressed wages, and increasing re-urbanization – none of which is likely to change much in the near future. All of these factors lead to a demographic that is open to the reinvention of vehicular transportation. As Sheryl Connelly, head of global consumer trends at Ford, said, “Young people value access over ownership.

The smartphone generation will be perfectly happy not dealing with the expense and hassle of car ownership — why would they when they can order up an autonomous Zipcar with a tap on their iPhone X?

Obstacles

Of course, there are going to be some bumps in the road on the way to our self-driving future. First up is the usual human resistance to change, though 50% of people surveyed today said they would be comfortable riding in a driverless car. That degree of acceptance suggests a rapid uptake once the technology becomes reasonable in price.

Another guaranteed problem is concern about safety. As mentioned before, autonomous vehicles will be far more reliable than human drivers; however, there will inevitably be an accident involving a self-driving car, and the event will be sensationalized by the media. In the end though, the desire to decrease the number of traffic-related fatalities in the world will drive adoption (just for reference, over 30,000 people die each year in vehicle-related deaths in the US alone).

From the GeekDad perspective, the most worrisome thing about autonomous vehicles that I can think of is the possibility of vulnerabilities in the software. We have serious issues with exploits in current operating systems and applications — how much riskier will it be when the compromised computer is rolling along at 60mph? Clearly these systems are going to require a level of security that will embarrass today’s military-grade gear.

Future Consequences

So what are the implications of large-scale adoption of self-driving vehicles? An obvious thought is the corresponding redesign of the road system. Just as we now have commuter lanes, there will undoubtedly be dedicated lanes for driverless vehicles. In fact, eventually the majority of lanes will be reserved for autonomous vehicles, with a few “slow” lanes left over for manually-operated cars and horse-drawn buggies. And if we look even further ahead, eventually it will be illegal to drive a car on public roads.

Another anticipated change relates to the fact that driverless cars need not even be “cars.” Vehicles of the future won’t necessarily just transport humans, so there will likely be a wide spectrum of designs, from large cargo transports to small pizza delivery mini-mobiles. Of course, the technology behind self-driving cars will transfer easily to trains, streetcars, subways, ships, and possibly even aircraft (though that last one makes me a little nervous).

As with any other labor-saving advance in technology, an inevitable consequence of autonomous vehicles will be the elimination of a lot of jobs. Yes, there will be new jobs created to build and service these vehicles, but I’m pretty sure that far more jobs will be eliminated than created. In theory, this should mean that the overall efficiency of the system is increased, and humans will have increased time available to do more valuable work; in practice though, the transition involves a lot of disruption.

Conclusion…

The signs are clear: autonomous vehicles are coming. The technology is already real, and it’s just a matter of scaling down the cost. Once that happens, there will be rapid adoption of driverless automobiles that will result in a complete redefinition of travel. Yes, there are some negatives to this impending transition, but overall, the shift to self-driving vehicles will be a net-positive for society.

And If you’re interested in autonomous vehicles, be sure to check out Brad Templeton’s Robocar page.

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