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The Future: Autonomous Vehicles

In our research on transportation and urban mobility at HERE, the latest developments in Autonomous Driving certainly hold considerable promise. However, there are some big gaps in its potential use right now that I’d like to highlight.

he average American uses his or her car less than 6% of the time, yet spends over 17% of his or her income on that vehicle. Most of the time it is sitting in the garage or parking lot at work.

Autonomous cars, and by that, I mean vehicles that do not need a driver and do not have a steering wheel or peddles, are on the way, and like the cell phone before it and the computer before that, will take over the way we drive. Autopilot has already whittled the cockpit from 4 to 2, and to only 1 in freight airplanes, and the vast majority of the time pilots do nothing but monitor. Trains have one engineer, and generally don’t need him.

Local, followed by over-the-road, trucks will be next, eliminating the need for driver down-time. This is already being tested in several locations around the world. The final delivery to the consumer may still need someone to jump out and bring your packages to the door, but they won’t need to drive, and won’t stop at a bar on the way. Drone tech may even eliminate this job.

Productivity will improve as people work in their cars, freed of driving. The aging Baby Boomers may be early adopters as they fight doctor’s warnings about their ability to drive (by 2030 the oldest will turn 85, youngest 66). The disabled and blind will be freed to go anywhere they want. Millennials will likely prefer the significant reduction in costs. The poor will be able to get to work for a fairly low, on-demand cost, instead of being tied to a bus schedule or troublesome car. Children can go to any school their parents send them to. Traveling families can spend quality time together without distracting the driver.

Uber and Lyft, already taking jobs from taxi drivers, will be first to replace your car with their fully utilized autonomous vehicles. It is estimated that it costs us on average 90 cents per mile to own our cars (depending on city), way more to rent a cab, and more than twice that to rent an Uber or Lyft (though these are cheaper than owning a car in Manhattan). It will cost under 90 cents per mile, and by some estimates significantly less than that, to take an autonomous rideshare vehicle wherever we want to go. Buses, subways and commuter trains will be cost-competitive, but less convenient. http://www.businessinsider.com/uber-lyft-cost-versus-car-by-metro-area-2016-3 https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2016/10/3/the-price-of-autonomous-cars-why-it-matters

All will be electric. They will charge quickly. Many will use solar, wind and other intermittent power sources because they will be able to charge when energy is being generated. The positive effect on the environment could be substantial. Coordinated activity and peak hour surge pricing will encourage carpooling, as individuals currently unaware of the efficiencies they could benefit from now, are
connected by the apps.

Autonomous cars will be safer. They will not get drunk, use drugs or text while driving. They will communicate with one another, alert other vehicles to issues, and map the roads from thousands of points constantly. Eventually, when they dominate, we will no longer need traffic lights or signs. Speeds will increase. Advances in AI will only make them stronger. Eventually, and this is already being tested in Dubai, they will fly. http://www.zdnet.com/article/dubais-autonomous-flying-taxis-a-reality-in-2018/

Neighborhood and city “High” streets will flourish, no longer burdened by lack of parking. Huge lots at malls, entertainment and other places will be developed for better uses.

Some predict that the number of cars on the road will be reduced by over 50% by 2030. Several million driver, gas station, car-wash, maintenance and repair, and other related small businesses will be eliminated or dramatically altered in the next 20 years, but many of their employees will still be needed.

Are there remaining hurdles, of course, but it is coming. It is coming soon. Plan accordingly.