The Future of Cars: Autonomous Vehicles
Autonomous vehicles (self-driving or driverless cars) are not just science fiction. They are already here and rapidly advancing. These technologies will significantly impact in the coming years, perhaps as much as the Internet, smartphones, and digital commerce. The driverless car market is expected to grow from its current size of about 3 billion dollars to around fifty billion by 2026. These autonomous vehicles use artificial intelligence, sensors, and other technologies so that a car can drive itself without any human assistance. The most common type of autonomous technology right now is assisted driving — think Tesla’s Autopilot feature — which enables automatic steering and acceleration but requires the driver to remain alert and ready to take control in an emergency. Fully autonomous vehicles do not require any human intervention. Why should we care about autonomous cars? Most people remember a time when computers were large mainframes used only by specialized engineers and scientists. Computers have become smaller, cheaper, and more powerful in the last few decades by orders of magnitude. We use them for almost all aspects of our daily lives, from work to recreation. The same is likely to happen with autonomous vehicles. We won’t just see them as futuristic cars for nerds. They will become so widespread that most people will use them at some point. You may be surprised to see autonomous vehicles used as delivery trucks, taxis, buses, and even in single-person ride services like Uber or Lyft. Benefits of Autonomous Vehicles: A Safer Future Safety is the most important benefit of autonomous vehicles. A fully autonomous vehicle can’t get drunk, be distracted by a phone call, or fall asleep at the wheel. A car doesn’t get tired, so autonomous vehicles can drive around the clock. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that fully autonomous vehicles could reduce the annual number of motor vehicle deaths by about 80%, saving 30,000 lives each year on average. Autonomous vehicles are also expected to reduce the cost of auto insurance by about 20%, saving an average of $150 per driver each year. In addition, the lower accident frequency means that there will be less need for expensive auto repair shops and fewer injury lawyers. These savings will trickle down to consumers through lower insurance premiums and cheaper car repairs. More Mobility and Choice for Everyone Autonomous vehicles will enable those without reliable transportation to be more productive at work and stay socially connected. Those with limited mobility or who are otherwise unable to drive will have far more freedom to get around without depending on others. For example, people in wheelchairs or with severe disabilities that prevent them from operating a car will have almost unlimited mobility and self-reliance. Parents will have the ability to safely drive their children to school, sports, or after-school activities. Autonomous vehicles will also allow senior citizens to maintain their independence, remain in their homes, and receive medical care. In the future, autonomous vehicles may also be used to provide rides for people who need help with transportation, such as people with disabilities, seniors, or people who are intoxicated. Autonomous vehicles can also be used more efficiently, allowing passengers to share rides and go to more places. Improved Environment and Climate Changes As we’ve already discussed, autonomous vehicles will reduce deaths and injuries, resulting in fewer people needing to visit emergency rooms or visit doctors for treatment. As a result, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers will have more time to treat other patients. Fewer injured people mean lower costs for health care and smaller insurance payouts. Autonomous vehicles will also lead to a reduction in vehicle emissions, especially in heavily populated areas. This is particularly important in climate change since transportation accounts for about one-quarter of all U.S. greenhouse emissions. Autonomous vehicles can be powered by electricity or hydrogen, producing no emissions. Autonomous Vehicles as a Service (aka Car-as-a-Service) Autonomous vehicles will be increasingly used as a service, similar to ridesharing services like Lyft or Uber, rather than owning your vehicle. That will mean you don’t have to worry about maintenance, repairs, parking, or paying for insurance. You may also be able to pay a service fee to use an autonomous vehicle to take you to the airport or your hotel when you travel. This will be safer, cheaper, and more convenient than taxis or ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber. In some cases, autonomous vehicles can pick you up without you having to call ahead or walk outside. Downsides of Autonomous Vehicles: Loss of Driving Jobs and Change in Society The promise of autonomous vehicles will come with a cost. As autonomous vehicles take over the task of driving, we’ll no longer need as many drivers – especially commercial drivers like long-haul truckers. There will also be fewer jobs in car repair shops and vehicle insurance. Autonomous vehicles will also impact how we interact with each other. Many people enjoy driving, meeting new people, and sharing experiences with others. In addition, autonomous vehicles may reduce the need for carpooling and public transportation. The loss of driving jobs and reduced need for public transportation could create challenges for people who currently rely on those jobs or services. Even with all of these advantages, autonomous vehicles will take a long time to replace human drivers completely and significantly impact society: 1 - Autonomous vehicle technology will have to advance and be proven to be safe. 2 - Laws and regulations will need to be changed to permit autonomous vehicles on the road. 3 - Technology and infrastructure will be required to enable autonomous vehicles to communicate with one another and with the surrounding environment. Conclusion Autonomous vehicles will impact our lives, perhaps as much as the Internet, smartphones, and digital commerce. They are already here and rapidly advancing. For example, the driverless car market is expected to grow from its current size of $3 billion to $50 billion by 2026. Autonomous vehicles will make our society safer and more sustainable, giving more people more mobility and independence. While autonomous vehicles will certainly disrupt how we approach driving, they could also force positive change.