6 Ways Self-drive Cars will Change Travel for the Better
One of the many coming revolutions will be in road travel. Specifically, the self-drive car is poised to revolutionize ground transportation. There remain some technical and legal bugs to work out but by the end of the 2020s car travel will be noticably different than it is today.
No one alive in the West today can remember a time without cars. Growing up in rural Canada, we certainly needed them for the fifteen mile journey to the nearest community where my parents worked and I went to school.
Strangely, there has been relatively little change to cars in the decades I’ve been alive. Oh sure, engines and body designs have become more efficient, they have more bells and whistles, and they produce cleaner emmisions. But they drive essentially the same and, to a non-car buff like me, if you compared the van we used when I was a kid to a van today, they wouldn’t look or drive significantly different.
But this decade that’s all about to change.
With the increasing reliability of wireless internet and the massive increase in computer power, not to mention advances in artificial intelligence, the time is right for cars to begin driving themselves. Several companies, including Tesla, Google, Microsoft and Samsung are working on versions of this technology and it has been in the road-testing stage for over a year.
There have been accidents and there are legal and philosophical issues to work out, but these are technicalities that will be overcome in the next few years. After that they’ll be on the market and government-supported insurance incentives will bring them in to common use. Eventually, convenience and cost will make them the only vehicles on the road.
While it hasn’t been greatly discussed yet, the age of self-driving cars will change a lot more than just who’s at the wheel. Here are my top 6 ways that self-driving cars will change personal transportation.
1. Safer Roads
Humans are amazingly capable, but still very inefficient creatures. We’re easily distracted. We get tired. We push ourselves beyond safe limits. We make poor decisions and we have accidents.
Once all cars are self-driving, the inter-car and car-city communications systems will make car travel far safer than human-guided traffic. In fact, currently, the biggest challenge self-driving cars have is anticipating unusual human actions.
In order to control for this, municipal governments would very likely create more strict guidelines around pedestrian crossings and cycling (ideally, creating many more cycling paths with the money saved in dealing with accidents). This will be even more imporant once some of the changes further down this list become reality.
2. More Efficient Travel
Among human inefficiencies is our poor decision-making ability. Part of this comes from incomplete information and part from poor priorities (which includes speeding).
Once the entire traffic grid is converted to self-driving cars, things like traffic accidents and gridlock will largely become things of the past. When each car knows the location of all other cars around it, as well as knowing the traffic conditions of all roads it’s approaching, the complete traffic grid can be optimized.
Goodbye traffic jams and most accidents.
3. Cleaner Air
Self-driving cars wil be almost entirely electric. While they may be hybrids to begin with, advances in technology, government directions, and the nature of the self-drive car itself naturally guide the design to being fully electric.
This means a reduction in both noise and chemical pollution as they produce almost none of either while in operation (in fact, sound generators will likely be installed to help pedestrians be aware of them).
There are still issues with environmentally unfriendly processes surrounding the creation and disposal of their batteries, but increasing use would mean increasing attention to this problem. So it’s reasonable to expect it would be solved within the decade.
4. More Family Togetherness
Now we come to some of my favourite changes that we’ll see taking shape toward the end of the decade.
Car design will remain recognizable in the early years of self-driving cars as we adapt to the idea of not being in control. However, once we accept that the self-drive system is safe and efficient, and we come to strongly dislike the idea of a human taking the wheel, we will gradually adapt away from the current seats-forward design.
This will mean that cars will become specialized for group use as much as they are for cargo use now. One of the first of the new breed will be an entire redesign of ‘family sedans’.
The new family vehicles could have a more central design to their interior with all chairs facing a common space that could act as a play area for kids, or could contain a table for general use (likely as an add-on feature). Windows could double as screens that could receive casted content from mobile devices. Or they could display outside scenery from external cameras on the car.
Family travel will become more comfortable than ever.
5. Mobile Offices
A second new car design will obviously be the mobile office. We’ve seen that, even in the world of video conferencing, people prefer to do business face-to-face if they can. Furthermore, there has been much less interest in the tele-office than expected, again demonstrating that people want to come in to work to interact face-to-face.
All this means the commute will not disappear. It will, however, be transformed by the mobile office.
Imagine a car interior that is specially designed as an office. The commuter can work at their desk, get information on display screens, complete reports, make calls, print documents (or view them in augmented reality) all from their mobile office on their commute to their workplace.
In effect, this will create a hybrid job type.
Currently, there is the commute to the office, which may involve a small amount of work if the commute is long and by train, then there is the period of work at the office, followed by the commute home.
With the mobile office, the commuter can spend their commute working as efficiently as in the building office. In this way, the commute time can be added to the work day. So commuting two hours each way to work could mean a day that is four hours on the road and four hours at the stationary office, instead of 8 hours at the stationary office and four hours travelling.
The quality of life improvements this could lead to cannot be understated.
5. Flying Cars!
Promised since the 1950s, flying cars are now being developed in the same time frame as self-driving cars. Perhaps even faster as some are due to come on the market this year (2020). While flying cars have the ability to change transportation immensely, they face many more challenges than the self-driving cars.
There’s the piloting requirement for an air vehicle, the inherent danger they pose to both people on the ground as well as commercial air traffic, and the space needed to launch and land.
Some of these, such as they landing and launching challenges, are merely technical and may be overcome quite soon. Administration and beurocratic challenges, however, would take much longer…
Unless flying cars incorporate self-drive technology.
Making all flying cars self-drive would enable countries to create air-lanes, managed by computer, that would be similar to roads, except wtihout the massive expense of building them.
Several companies have flying car prototypes nearing completion and taxi company Uber is even developing a flying car/self-drive taxi system for long distance travel. They expect it may be ready for testing by 2025.
Given the speed of development, especially once the bugs are worked out of self-drive technology, I expect we may not only have a revolution in road travel, but we may at long last have our flying car traffic long ago promised in Saturday morning cartoons.
What are your thoughts on self-driving cars? Hate them? Love them? Afraid of the security threats or the safety? Have I missed your favourite coming change? Join the discussion at Alternate Futures Discucssion Group and have your say.