Five implications of the Google self driving car

Recently Google announced the first working prototype of their self driving car. It is the result of 4 years of work aiming to “help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use”. What are the implications of such technology? How will it shape personal transportation in the future?

 

This self driving car is the end of a long process, oriented to give more and more intelligence to the cars. Nowadays, some cars already have Internet connection, and there are very advanced pilots of car-to-car (and truck-to-truck) interconnectivity. Imagine a traffic jam where cars can ‘speak’ between them to avoid massive crashes, or real time information about the motor conditions of the car… the applications are endless.

And then Google creates a car that drives by itself. This announcement has many implications. Here are some of them:

First of all, this will dramatically change the personal (private and even collective) transportation paradigm. If a car is a means to get from point A to B, and the car efficiently rides without any human intervention, the role of ownership dramatically changes, particularly in a urban context. Some initiatives of pay-per-use car sharing are already in place, and demonstrate that the Total Cost of Ownership drops down dramatically when using these options. Yes, well, the car is not yours, but you don’t have to take it to service, change wheels, etc. You only pay what you use. Because of that, car manufacturers will consequently sell less, much less.

Self driving cars in an interconnected ecosystem have also an impact in the usage of personal time, both because transportation time will be more predictable (for better or for worse,  no excuses of being late), and because in that time people can do other things, even be more productive. No more 2 hour commuting + 8 hours working but 2 hour working in motion and 6 hours in the office. More time for work-life integration.

Predictability has also an impact on the environment. The Google self-driving car is an electric car, if it knows my journey, so recharging can be optimized. After dropping the passenger,  the car can go alone to any close recharging station, like a Roomba vacuum robot. Parking paradigm can also change. No more need to park close to the dropping point. For the same reason, parking can be as far as the fuel (electricity) cost for self transportation (empty) and return. Parkings could offer free recharge for a fee, or free parking for a recharge.

Another professional group seriously affected by the self driving cars is the taxi drivers one. Like in Total Recall (1990), Johnny Cabs can take you wherever you need, without problems (except if the passenger is Arnold Schwarzenegger). If companies like Uber or Lyft are being a nightmare for the established Taxi Unions, imagine Johnny Cabs.

Johnny Cab from Total Recall (1990) movie.

 

Finally, the last category that will need reinvention is Insurance. Car insurance companies protect a good (the car) or people (passengers) against a risk and its liability. If self driving cars are so well designed that reduce the number of accidents close to zero (one of its main objectives from the beginning), risk will drop down, and insurance costs too. How to calculate the risk of a machine making decisions? Good question…

But for those who see the car as more than transportation, there is still place for dreaming. Many will say there is nothing comparable to driving a real good old-fashioned car on a mountain road, my last image is dedicated to them.



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