There is no hiding the fact that I’m a techie. On of my favorite phrases is, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” It’s actually Sci-fi writer and Futurist Arthur C. Clark’s Third Rule.
But to me, the real magic is in understanding how a new technology might affect our lives. I often ponder, research and debate the merits and impact of Technology and Society. The key word being “And”. There is really a synergistic relationship between culture and tech.
My most recent muse: Self-Driving Cars. These vehicles purport to carry passengers without drivers by utilizing radar, laser sensor, processor, wheel-hub sensor and orientation sensor. The most recent news splash was made with the reveal of Google’s new driverless car.
Disclaimer: I am not a trained researcher or strategist. I simply love to dive below the surface of new tech by asking (hopefully relevant) questions and considering the potential answers. Below I’ll reveal the question, potential answers and opinions I formed while exploring a future with driverless vehicles:
Why would (auto) consumer want the technology?
Studies reveal there would be tremendous savings:
- Safety: Save 42 lives per day
- Money: Prevent $576M from crashes per day and save $14M in speeding tickets per day
- Fuel: Save 420,000 barrels of fuel (35% reduction) per day
There is no doubting the convenience factor. Less time in the car, more productive hours at work and home and less variability in traffic.
Driverless cars are more accessible, empowering blind or disabled people who may not have other transportation options.
How might the technology affect our (auto transportation) experience?
Initially vehicles may allow optional drivers but eventually there will be no need (or equipment) for active drivers. You are simply a passenger in the vehicle.
Owning a car will become optional. Vehicles could become a service rather than a possession. Owned vehicles currently sit idle a staggering 90% of the time.
Mobility on demand will become the future of transportation in cites. Catching a ride will be as simple as summoning a vehicle via a mobile app. This paradigm can already be found in services such as Uber and Lyft.
For any family that chooses to own a driverless vehicle it will decrease the need for multiple vehicles. You could summon or preplan where your vehicle should be at any given time for various household members.
How might the technology affect (the auto) industry?
Cars may see a significant split: City vs Country. City cars would be designed to move slowly (25 mph for the Google car) while others would be designed for high speed travel between cities.
Design of future vehicles may be focused on locale, not individuals. When cars are no longer a possession, the type of person (soccer mom, yuppie, etc.) utilizing the vehicle may be deprioritized.
As driverless vehicle use transitions to on-demand or ride sharing, new markets open up. The industry could target those who can’t afford a currently priced vehicle. They are the second largest purchase people make.
How might the technology change (auto) advertising and marketing?
0-60 in… who cares? Purchasing or use of vehicles may not be largely influenced by their acceleration, torque, size or shape. Advertising and marketing will have to shift focus.
There may be buyer segmentation. City cars may be purchased by municipalities and companies for use as fleets. Country cars may be owned by individuals or groups of individuals. The split target audience will require unique communications.
How might the technology affect (traffic) laws and enforcement?
Courts set precedence by determining liability in an accident involving a self-driving car. Does it lie with the owner/passenger or vehicle manufacturer. These laws would greatly affect insurance coverages and costs.
Make no mistake, software developers for driverless vehicles are programming morality. Should the cars be programmed to prioritize passenger or pedestrian safety? Is the logic different if there are children involved? Will developers, manufacturers, courts, insurance companies or society have the last word on how to decide the fate of those involved in collisions.
Traffic laws will need to be adjusted or confirmed. Would it be legal for a self-driving cars to speed or run a light in certain cases (avoiding oncoming vehicles, animals)?
Police can change their focus. With self-driving cars and smart intersections, less police will be required for traffic violations and accidents.
How might the technology effect the (driving) environment?
Eventually we will not need most traffic lights and signs at intersections. Sure, we should keep them around during the transition period from driven to autonomous cars. Studies estimate 3/4 of cars will be autonomous by 2035.
We will need a more connected infrastructure. Vehicles will need to be online. Sensors must be added to roads and smart intersections programmed. Currently planners are relatively silent on these, but the need is real.
With very little owned (not utilized) vehicles and more availability of on demand vehicles, there will be a decreased need for parking spaces. Self-driving cars will drop you off at the store and return home or move on to the next passenger. There should be little need for large parking lots and decks, opening up valuable real estate.
How safe and secure is the (auto) technology?
By simply slowing down, city vehicles will be safer. Under 25 MPH collisions are considered “low speed,” greatly decreases injury. At those low speeds, cars may not even crush in collisions.
Very soon vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication will become standard. All cars will communicate their vitals (location, speed, acceleration, braking) to nearby cars. With V2V, your car could calculate the hazard risk within about 300 meter, alert drivers or take collision-avoidance action automatically. The tech may be required in all vehicles (not just self-driving cars) by 2017.
There is a long way to go before consumers trust the logic in self-driving cars. People can’t help but question if the logic is sufficiently programmed and tested to be trust worthy? A recent poll revealed 79% of people questioned whether the technology might fail at some point.
In that same poll, more than half said of people said were worried about hackers getting into the car’s computer. With cybersecurity already a modern day issue, security of in-vehicle software is a real concern moving forward.
How will (auto) jobs be affected?
There is no sugar coating it, some jobs will become irrelevant: professional drivers (taxi, truck, bus etc), road safety professionals, traditional transportation planners.
Other jobs will have a reduced need: injury lawyers, ER personnel, collision repair, police and auto-insurance brokers.
But, like most technology new and increase jobs arise in other areas: ride sharing companies, car fleet management, technology roles and jobs updating the infrastructure.
Ask Questions. Consider Answers.
If you read this far, I applaud you. As you can see, a significant technology can pose tremendous questions and even more potential answers.
After all, this post is not actually about Self-Driving Cars. Take the “auto” out of these questions and they are valid for many topics: Wearable Tech, Home Automation, Robot Caretakers.
Trying, learning and exploring is core to my being and infused in Untold’s DNA. No matter your approach or depth I challenge everyone to continue exploring technology and society.
Self-Driving Car Sources: