How driverless cars will change our lives
Today, there are over 1.2 billion vehicles on the world’s roads. Which means that the advent of autonomous vehicles is going to have a profound effect. Who will be the winners from this new, disruptive technology? Who will be the losers? And what changes are we likely to see?
We live in the age of technological disruption (we’ve written about it here). These advances have the potential to change the way businesses are run, towns are planned and the way we live life. Take the impact of the mobile phone, internet or automobile – whole towns had to be replanned away from the horse-and-cart model.
When looking at disruption, it’s important to remember that very few changes are truly transformative. It is reasonably safe to assume that we will continue to have advances in healthcare across the board. But most of these will be incremental.
Similarly, it is reasonable to assume that cars will become more efficient and internet speeds will increase. However, it is very rare that a disruptive idea comes along and completely transforms the way we function. There are certainly copious instances of underwhelming (or at least slower than expected) disruption.
But what about autonomous vehicles? Let’s start with an explanation of the term. Current research ranks the autonimity of cars in 6 levels:
Level 0: Humans hold all the power
Level 1: Humans hold all the power – BUT there’s a little help in a (some) specific function(s) eg. a little power steering
Level 2: The car has a mode in which a driver can take their hands off the wheel and pedal and the car will function e.g. cruise control/ lane cantering
Level 3: The car drives when it’s simple but the human takes over when it’s tricky e.g. traffic
Level 4: The car drives itself! Humans can intervene and drive in unusual circumstances – like if you decide you’re James Bond for the day, or it’s snowing on a dirt road
Level 5: The car drives… no human necessary, you don’t need any steering wheel or pedals (oddly enough, this scares some people).
Ok great. Where are we up to? In terms of cars you can buy, Tesla’s hit level 2 and 3 in their latest releases. In terms of cars you can ride, Uber has autonomous cars ready for you in Pittsburgh and San Francisco (equipped with two engineers each) and Waymo’s at it too.
What are the implications? There are a raft of first, second and third order effects that would occur should this technology become mainstream.
For a start, driver jobs become threatened. In 2012, CEDA estimated that 28% of the Australian population had jobs involving driving. On the surface, that’s a big number – but remember technological change can create new jobs too.
No driving creates a lot of new time. The default transport option no longer involves focussing on the road – you’re free to conduct meetings, have lunch, sleep, shop or be entertained on the go. This creates a lot of opportunities for advertisers to capture your attention, but also retailers and service providers to offer in-commute services.
Third, we need to rethink car ownership, the value proposition of destinations and retailers, carparks, fuel stations, the current fleet of cars, use of roads, and how a town is laid out… the third order effects are extremely extensive.
To be clear, this article is a thought exercise. Can it happen? Yes – there are already autonomous vehicles. Will it be transformative? It can be – and will certainly make us question our road designs and rules.
BUT – it could also take a long time for regulators to become comfortable with driverless cars, towns to be redesigned and people to be comfortable with a car dropping their kids off to school. This is just one scenario in a range of uncertain futures that we need to consider.
 Think of the below expected growth in smartwatches, virtual reality in the 90s, Google glasses, and things like the IOT hairbrush
 In certain environments and conditions
 A good read on this subject from the Economist can be found here: https://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21700758-will-smarter-machines-cause-mass-unemployment-automation-and-anxiety
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