Your grandkids won’t need to know how to drive
and other possibly crazy predictions about driverless cars.
I spend a lot of time, professionally and personally, thinking about the future; driverless cars, along with their consequences, are one of my favourites to ponder. Here’s a few predictions that may or may not come true …
#1 We won’t call them cars
Back in the 1800s and early 1900s machines we called them horseless carriages. These days they’re cars or automobiles; referring to your beautiful new Tesla Model 3 as a horseless carriage just wouldn’t be the done thing.
Likewise, I believe that eventually we won’t refer to “driverless cars” as driverless cars, or even autonomous cars or self-driving cars. We’ll call them something else — because they won’t be cars, they’ll be something else.
Cars have steering wheels, pedals, hand-operated gears etc — the “cars” of the near future may not have any of those. Instead of a driver and passengers, the cars will have just passengers — who will simply ask the onboard computer to take them wherever they want to go and it will comply. (or maybe “She” or “He” will comply, depending on the car’s computer personality. My kids insist Alexa is a girl and I should stop calling her ‘it’).
What will we call them?
Only time will tell, but I’d suggest it’ll be something we haven’t thought of yet; perhaps the name of the most popular brand of driverless car. Like we say things like “I’ll get an uber to the airport”, or (until recently in Ireland) “I’ll grab a hailo” (taxi), in the future we’ll say something like “I told my waymo to pick me up outside after the movie ends”.
#2 Humans won’t be allowed walk or drive in cities
I previously wrote about this here — how I believe that in time, human drivers (and pedestrians) will be banned from driving or walking on the same roads as autonomous cars, for safety and efficiency reasons.
A ban like this would provide one possible solution for some moral dilemmas like this one:
If there’s no children walking across a road, the computer in the car won’t need to decide whether to hit them or crash the car instead!
Just like we don’t go for a stroll on motorways now, in time we will become accustomed to not walking anywhere autonomous cars drive. This may require more crossings, bridges, underpasses etc but will eventually become the norm.
Only allowing automated cars on the roads will in itself have other consequences, such as:
#3 Quicker journeys
If only driverless cars are allowed drive, their speed could increase, as computers can handle greater speeds than humans can. Concepts such as platooning (many cars travelling very close together) will come into affect, along with removing human-caused traffic delays.
These faster journeys may lead to:
#4 Longer distance commutes
If travel times are quicker — and the journeys themselves are more enjoyable (watching Stranger Things on Netflix instead of driving) — people may not mind longer commutes.
A former colleague of mine, Philip Kinlen, would often suggest that these longer distance commutes could lead to:
#5 More people living further away from cities
If travel is quicker, people may be happier to live further away from cities, as they will still be able to get to work, shopping etc in the same timeframes as they used to with normal cars. This in turn may lead to:
#6 Average mortgages amounts decreasing
If more people buy houses at a lower cost, as they are further away from cities, this may lead to average mortgages amounts decreasing, which may lead to:
#7 Smaller profits for banks!
No, I’m not bashing the future of banks again, just pointing out that driverless cars may have further reaching impacts other than allowing you to take your hands off the steering wheel! Houses further away from cities cost less = small mortgages = smaller profits.
Other commonly discussed financial impacts and questions include:
Car insurance — if you’re not driving, who’s liable? Don’t be surprised if manufacturers eventually cover any insurances costs, as accidents may be caused by their algorithms and not their customers’ driving.
Car finance — will people own cars or just use one from a service? One theory is that people will stop owning cars, and instead pay to use one of many “fleet” cars, provided by vendors such as Waymo, Uber, Ford etc.
I believe that people will still own their own “cars”, except perhaps in cities, as however convenient and cheap fleets of driverless cars-as-a-service may be, having a car waiting outside your house 24 — 7 is still the most convenient. Especially if you have several kids who need different child seats etc. which lead us nicely to …
#8 Your grand-kids won’t need to know how to drive
Currently there is no consumer available autonomous car that allows “drivers” to completely stop paying attention while the car drives itself. I believe this is only a matter of time and when it does happen, we won’t need to know how to drive anymore.
We may need to know how to use a driverless car — how to order one from an app, how to perform an emergency stop (shout “Stop!” most likely!) or how to turn on the onboard TV, but this won’t be “driving”, it’ll be learning how to use a new gadget, albiet a rather large and expensive one.
The relatively near future’s kids may just see “driving” as outdated as riding on a horse seems to us now. People still do ride horses of course, but mainly for pleasure, likewise in the future people will manually drive cars for fun, not need.
#9 This could all take 40 years to come to pass
I say grandkids, but that really depends on how old you are! It could be great-grandkids or great-great grandkids.
I don’t imagine that these major paradigm shifts will occur in the next few years — I see it taking 10, 20 or even 40 years for human drivers to be phased out of the equation. This is similar to cars once phasing out horses as the main mode of personal travel; it didn’t just happen overnight but instead took decades.
And remember of course:
#10 Everything I said could be wrong ;-)
** Update 7/Nov/2017 **. I saw Waymo’s CEO John Krafcik speak at Web Summit today in Lisbon:
He talked about how Waymo are testing fully-automated cars on public roads and that their objective is that people do none of the driving — that the “driver” will be always Waymo, in all situations and scenarios. So maybe that 20–40 year timeframe I mentioned was too pessimistic!
If you have any thoughts or comments let me know, I’d love to hear what people think!