The Promise of Self Driving Cars

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Self driving cars are coming, and along with them some huge wins for humanity. This article outlines how driverless technology is poised to give us more time, safety, autonomy, and efficiency.

Time

I once heard someone say, “time is a person’s most precious resource.” Self driving cars are poised to give us a whole lot of it. Imagine a commute where you can work, watch Netflix, get dressed, or dress down.

The biggest gift driverless cars will give us is time. Time back to relax, work, or to communicate.

Road Trips Are About to Get a Whole Lot Better

Imagine how much ground you can cover in 8-14 hours of continuous driving. For me, based in Portland, OR, that’s a circle covering, Vancouver Canada, Whistler, San Francisco, Reno, Lake Tahoe, and about 8 national parks including Cascades, Redwoods, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Glacier.

With a self driving car I could get off work on Friday, eat a leisurely dinner at home, hop in my driverless car, use it to hangout, sleep, and wake up the next morning for dim sum in San Francisco.

All of a sudden, without the need to drive, I can go to amazing places on weekends – without the need for a flight. Banff and Zion are now tantalizingly close.

Safety

This is huge. With near instantaneous reactions, driverless cars should eliminate most if not all human caused accidents. Though cars are getting safer, people continue to drive distracted, and they continue to drive drunk. “Every day, 29 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver.1 This is one death every 50 minutes.1 The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $44 billion.” – CDC.gov

Distracted driving killed over 3,400 people in 2016, and injured over 390,000. (Source: nhtsa.com)

If these deaths and injuries are eliminated, countless families will be spared tragedy.

It also might not be just reaction times making self driving cars safe. They will likely be able to share information, making them even safer. For example they could report to each other areas with hazards such as frequent deer crossings, or that an area is known for erratic human behavior or icy stretches of road.

Efficiency

Your car, regardless of if it’s self driving or not is fighting a battle of wind resistance. With their lightning fast reflexes, Self driving cars could conceivably form bumper to bumper motorcades, dramatically reducing the drag and upping your MPG or electric vehicle (EV) range.

Here’s an example of this in play, in a don’t try it yourself segment on Mythbusters about hypermiling: https://www.autoblog.com/2007/10/28/mythbusters-drafting-10-feet-behind-a-big-rig-will-improve-mile/

A downside to less wind resistance is that it could impact your engine’s cooling. To avoid this, switch to an EV.

Cars Won’t Be Cars

They will likely be more like a pod or a small RV. Current cars are designed with a driver in mind, and in keeping passengers seated and safe.

With the added safety of self driving cars, they will likely evolve to be more like your current living room; featuring things like a comfy couch, nice TV, access to amenities like a bathroom, a fridge, and super fast wifi.

Parking / Hypermobility

Get a ride to work, then send your car home in order to avoid the need for parking. Hey, it’s not ideal, but send the car to pick up the kids from school or soccer practice in a pinch.

The elderly or disabled could now get rides without having to arrange special transportation.

A pitfall Elon Musk, once mentioned, is that these actions may keep more cars on the road. Think of the scenario where you send your car home to park, that’s two times per day the car is on the road without you.

The flip side of this, is that perhaps other forms of transportation will become micro. Once delivery is both driverless and electric powered, the need for heavy trucks can be reduced. Perhaps someone like Amazon will build a modular delivery vehicle that can change sized based on the load size. It could perhaps send segments “home” as they empty, leaving only the minimally necessary transportation vehicle for the final delivery.

Maybe too car ownership will go down, in favor of crowd sharing. Alphabet’s Waymo seems poised to do just this.

Self driving cars are poised to give everyone a heck of a lot more time. They’ll be fantastic for road trips, incredibly safe and efficient. Though there are some downsides such as additional cars on the road and regulatory hurdles to overcome, self driving cars are poised to transform human mobility.

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