It’s not safety, liability, and availability that will be top of American’s minds when they consider adopting self-driving cars, it’s freedom.
It may sound cliche, but it’s why Americans are obsessed with the current one person one vehicle status quo. It’s why Americans are loathe to take buses and trains. They will make exceptions of course when that mode of transport is more efficient (try going from Wall Street to Yonkers at rush hour). They also make exceptions for things like novelty, for moral or environmental reasons and lastly, if there’s no other choice.
Americans love their cars because they love that in any moment they can hop in and go.
From LA to Las Vegas or Salt Lake to Astoria. The entire continent of North America is available to them if they can spare the gas money and time.
They like that they can pull over any time for any reason. They like that they can speed or go up on curb to go around someone. They like that they can not drive or drive all the time. With one’s own car many options are on the table.
Self driving cars are about to deliver profound convenience to the world (if done right), unfortunately the big minds in driverless are more concerned with safety, insurance liability, and other legal issues. A question that still needs to be answered is: will driverless make insurance more expensive or less?
— LidarMonkey (@LidarMonkey) June 12, 2018
These are profoundly important considerations that need answers, but they won’t define the user experience in self driving cars.
The hurdle that must be overcome and demonstrably so, is the question of freedom.
Electric cars were brought mainstream by Tesla, through freedom. In Tesla cars, freedom is unrivaled range that doesn’t sacrifice comfort. It’s a promise of so-called “super charging” stations that can get people up and down the west coast without fear of losing juice on a rural stretch of Interstate 5.
Just thinking about being stuck in a lower range electric vehicle like a Nissan Leaf in one of LA’s epic traffic jams like Carmegeddon gives one a tinge of anxiety. Though according to Google, a 2018 Leaf can go 151 miles, it would still require careful planning to go from LA to San Diego in gridlock traffic, let alone, LA to San Francisco or Las Vegas.
A gut reaction on the first step self driving companies like Waymo will take, is to explore a rideshare model (this isn’t public yet, but it’s what I anticipate they’ll do). Deploying self driving cars in the rideshare space makes a ton of sense, because it eliminates the downsides and controversies of human drivers. Both Lyft and Uber have publicly announced plans to add autonomous vehicles to their fleets.
Of course, Waymo probably won’t be rideshare only, they may also license their tech to big manufacters like Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. In fact, Waymo was recently in Italy “demonstrating” with FCA:
Thanks to our friends @fcagroup for inviting us to demonstrate our self-driving technology in Balocco, Italy. With no one in the driver seat, we gave more than 70 rides showing how our vehicles react to pedestrians, obstacles, other vehicles, cyclists, and even large birds! pic.twitter.com/prL0aYQ9J2
— Waymo (@Waymo) June 11, 2018
Rideshares, though an important mode of transport, won’t satiate American’s appetite for profound freedom or at least the reassurance that it’s an option. Americans like having a car in their garages at their beck and call. They like knowing they can leave their in-laws at anytime without waiting for a rideshare and their variability of their pricing. A car in one’s possession is a known commodity with relatively stable operating costs. Call a ride share at a peak time or over a holiday, and you’ll be stuck with a hefty bill.
So, what model of self driving tech will be deployed? For now it will be iterative. Adaptive cruise control with steering assistance like Tesla’s Autopilot are in the lead. Big manufacturers have their own plans and many have adaptive cruise, but none are with Tesla on the steering front, they also don’t offer free upgrades to vehicles that have already been sold as Tesla does. Until they do, Tesla will keep gobbling up market share.
Cadillac to offer Supercruise on all models.
GM to offer it across all brands by 2020.
— Alex Roy (@AlexRoy144) June 6, 2018
Similar to how Tesla is ahead of other manufacturers on generation one adaptive cruise and steering control with their feature, Autopilot, Waymo is leagues ahead on driverless cars as a service. They launched an actual beta program in Phoenix in 2017. As of late Feburaary they’ve driven (or not driven depending how one looks at it) over 5,000,000 miles on public roads.
— Waymo (@Waymo) June 13, 2018
They recently announced a partnership with Jaguar to outfit a fleet of Jag SUVs with their self driving kit.
No company has deployed a true self driving car that consumers can buy and own. Similar to the launch of the iPhone, the first company to get this right with it’s inherent legal challenges, and Americans demand for a sense of freedom and autonomy with vehicles ownership will reap massive rewards.