“Siri”, you say, “Request Uber to go to the grocery store.” Seconds before, a sleek, black, electric Uber vehicle dropped off a nearby neighbor and quickly and silently pulls into your driveway and the doors pop open. You slide into the vehicle and say “Take me to the nearest grocery store.” The vehicle confirms your request. It has taken you a while to become acclimated to allowing an autonomous car to drive you around. However, you did the math and calculated how much vehicle ownership costs between a car payment, maintenance, gas, insurance, and taxes. You compared the sum of those costs to summoning autonomous taxis for every ride. The costs of using automated taxis came out to be much lower than owning your own vehicle! And because you switched to automated taxis, you didn’t have to invest in your own personal autonomous vehicle. You are able to use your phone, read the news, or play a game while in route. You have freed up new blocks of time to be productive and you’re spending less money on transportation, and less time in traffic. At first, you used autonomous taxis to replace just one of the family vehicles, but after using them for a couple of months, you got rid of the second car, too. You freed up over a thousand dollars per year in insurance costs alone.
Fast forward five years. The roads are now filled with autonomous taxis in combination with human drivers. Every day the percentage of autonomous vehicles increase. Almost magically, accident rates rapidly decline and state governments are debating whether to place higher taxes on manual vehicles since they are the ones that cause all of the accidents. Some politicians are arguing to outlaw manual vehicles and they claim that nobody will be harmed financially by outlawing them, since people can get rid of their manual car and save money with autonomous taxis anyway.
Fast forward five years. Manual cars are relegated to museums and racetracks where people can experience what it feels like to “drive a vehicle”. All vehicles on the road talk to each other and criss-cross at intersections at high speed without incident and merge on highways so close that they resemble a train. Most vehicles are owned by corporate fleets operating autonomous taxis as opposed to being personally owned, and passengers pay less for transportation by using the taxis. Parking in metropolitan areas become a non-issue and many parking garages are demolished and repurposed into multi-use residential and commercial.
This may sound like fantasy, but this is all coming in the very near future. According to an AP article by Justin Pritchard and Tom Krisher today, Uber is launching a pilot program using driverless vehicles in Pittsburg over the next several weeks. We’re not 100% there yet; the driverless vehicle will be accompanied by a backup driver. However, it’s proof that the basic technology is proven and that we have more legal issues to figure out at this point than technology issues. Pritchard and Krisher report that industry innovators could start selling self-driving vehicles to the masses in as little as three to five years. And regarding autonomous taxis, the article quotes Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber, “When there’s no dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle. So the magic there is, you basically bring the cost below the cost of ownership, and then ownership goes away.”
The implications are significant and transformative. Get ready for the future. It’s coming fast and without a driver.
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