I cannot say I particularly enjoy driving. I enjoy the convenience that comes with driving. I like being able to go anywhere I please at a near whim. But the experience could be improved as far as I am concerned. I could find better use of my time than staring at the road. Sometimes, if I have the extra time, I take public transportation because it is not the commute that I dislike, but the bore of it. I love to have the opportunity to read a book or interact with my partner or my kids while I get to my destination. The passengers of the vehicle that I pilot get this. The technology is soon here for me to get this too. And it can be public transportation but with the same privacy I now enjoy. When thinking about self-driving vehicles, these are some of the ideas that delight me.
How about I start with the public transportation aspect. As of right now, if I want a fast way to get to my destination I need to own my vehicle. This means several things. I need to have insurance. I need licenses. One for myself to drive and one for the vehicle to be on the road. I need to have a place to put this vehicle when I am not using it, which happens to be the vast majority of the time that I own it. I need to maintain it; gas, oil changes, and the like.
Contrarily, once self-driving vehicles are widespread, I no longer need to own the vehicle. Transportation will be a front door service and it will be much faster, cheaper, and more versatile than taxi cabs currently are. There will probably be periodic rates for frequent users to benefit from. I need to run to the store because I forgot the milk? A couple of smart phone taps and I will have a vehicle in my driveway within minutes. This comes with exactly the same privacy that I already have with my own vehicle and with the other aspects of owning a vehicle obscured into the cost of the transport and taking no physical effort on my part. Because we do not pay a driver, this will cost less than a cab. The economic implications are definitely something to consider here, but I will wait for another post to get more into that.
Another thing that excites me is the environmental impact. Once the use of public self-driving vehicles is set in we can start making all sorts of cuts in where we currently have waste in exchange for convenience. One example is that it is no longer going to be one vehicle taking you or your party everywhere. Right now I drive a SUV, but I am no where near using all the space and power that requires a SUV every time I drive. Many times it is just me. Cut to the self-driving vehicle service, and I can specify exactly how many seats and storage I will need. Getting groceries? A one seat vehicle with enough storage for a bag or two will do. Going on a date? A two seater with no storage works. Family vacation? Four seats and lots of storage. Taking the dogs along? Special storage options available. A lot less energy wasted. I could go on.
An added energy benefit is the fact that a human is not navigating. Some drivers are certainly more efficient than others, but all of us are have emotions. Those emotions necessarily affect our driving. We misjudge how much time we have we have to make the gap, then in attempt to recover we slam on the gas. We switch back and forth between lanes in a jam on nothing more than a hunch wasting countless energy. Not only can computer give up the emotional aspect of driving, but the can also communicate telepathically. Self-driving vehicles can communicate with other self-driving vehicles in a way humans never can. Need to merge? There is no guesswork, just a seamless merge. Traffic jams on the interstate? Reroute X number of vehicles to a secondary route.
The last benefit I want to address in this post is the additional freedom of the youth of tomorrow. Say your ten year old wants to go to a friend’s house but there is no one to provide the ride. With a self-driving vehicle service, there is.
This may scare some parents. I certainly know more than a few parents who want to keep their kids locked down as much as they can for as long as they can. For these parents, there will probably be ways to secure the service to only be used with particular amounts of permission. There will also be kids who get around this as they always is with technology lockout systems. (Another topic for another post I suppose.) And sure I think that a certain show of responsibility should exist before a kid can set out in a self-driving vehicle alone, but this takes down a lot of barriers to those kids who are deserving of that responsibility. They do not really need to be responsible enough to drive a vehicle in order to benefit from the geographical freedoms associated with it.
How do you feel? Are you excited about the changes to our world that self-driving vehicles might mean? Are you concerned about some of the details that have yet to emerge into our collective consciousness? Let’s discuss it.
Kirk is getting settled into his virtual cubicle of internet journalism. He is looking for ideas on other near future technologies that will change your life. Follow him on twitter @kirkaug