The Future is Here: Autonomous Cars

The Future is Here: Autonomous Cars

The Future is Here: Autonomous Cars

Driverless cars, once consigned to science fiction, are about to change our world and our mindset about ownership, real estate, insurance, safety and industry - along with our 100 year love affair with cars. Are you ready?

        "Old people began to cross the continent in their own cars. Young people found the driverless car admirable for petting. The blind for the first time were safe. Parents found they could more safely send their children to school in the new car than in the old cars with a chauffeur.“ 
- The Living Machine” by David H. Keller, Wonder Stories, 1935 -

The dream of  autonomous vehicles (AV)  has been around since Da Vinci but the reality had to wait for technology to catch up.  Computers, sensors, video and software all had to get small enough, cheap enough and smart enough for the dream to become reality.  That time has arrived, at least to the point of having prototypes tested.  The most visible representation of this has been the Google's Self Driving Car which has racked up over 1.4 million miles as of February, 2016.  

The Gain

As significant as cars seem to our lives, you may be surprised to know that on average in the U.S., cars are utilized about 5% of the time and sit idle the other 95% of the time - that's about 1 hour a day in use and 23 hours parked somewhere.  That 1 hour gets us to work, school, or many other places we need, want or have to be.  However that 1 hour also, in the first half of 2015, caused over 18,000 deaths, 2.3 million injuries and over $ 150 Billion in costs for medical expenses, wage and productivity loss and property damage. That's just in the U.S.   Almost all these accidents can be linked to human error during driving.  The promise of a fully autonomous fleet would be to reduce accidents and related costs to near zero.


A secondary result could be the  increased utilization of cars far above the current 5 %.  Imagine a combination of Uber, Google and Tesla providing a car within minutes of our need and taking us to our destination in the most efficient time and highest safety possible then immediately finding the next user.  This would reduce the number of cars we need and eliminate the need to own cars for most people - at least metropolitan residents - which covers about 80% of the population. McKinsey and Co. projects this could reduce parking space needed by 5.7 billion sq. meters (2,200 sq. miles).  The home garage could be an extra room.  As a society we would shift to one that valued the experience of riding over the ownership of the drive. 

McKinsey and Co. projects this could reduce parking space needed by 5.7 billion sq. meters (2,200 sq. miles).  The home garage could be an extra room.  As a society we would shift to one that valued the experience of riding over the ownership of the drive. 

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This would have huge impacts on many sectors of our economy.  The car insurance industry, nearing $ 200 Billion annually, is based on large number of accidents and a large number of cars in use.  Both of those numbers are projected to go way down so that would require car insurers to change their business model or find other markets.  Since car ownership will go down then the more profitable sector will not be to build cars but rather to provide the ride experience.  The major car manufacturers are already moving to Silicon Valley to pursue AV technology - they also are beginning to court or invest in the Lyfts and Ubers.  The world leader in "user experience", Apple has also started to dip in to AV technology.

The Loss

 “We don’t always know how to get along with her, but you certainly can’t get along without her,... And if that isn’t marriage, I don’t know what is.”
- Groucho Marx-

Grouch Marx was talking about the American love affair with the car in a television episode of the Dupont Show of the Week which aired in 1961.  Perhaps the love affair is a myth but the impact that the automobile had in shaping our society in the 20th century is absolute.  The growth of highways, the move to suburbs, larger homes, the global power of oil  and all the resulting good and bad can all be traced to the growth of the automobile in our lives.  Enter your text here...

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For the X Generation and older, one of the main milestones of our coming to age was getting our drivers license.  I still remember my Drivers Ed class, being in a car with two steering wheels, two sets of brakes and accelerators, two fellow class mates and of course - Coach.  For some reason coaches and Drivers Ed seem to go together and the whistle around the neck stays in the car.  I remember when my Dad let me use his car for the first time, I remember the first new car I bought after getting married and I remember the minivan I bought right after my first daughter was born.  I was never a car person but somehow a car marked some of the major moments along the larger ride through life.

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Television, advertising and cars are closely linked and grew up together beginning in the 1950's.  Cars represented our growing up, our lifestyle and symbolized family in commercials and print.  Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet symbolized all that was America. I grew up wanting "Rich Corinthian Leather" because Ricardo Montalban made it sound so good. Mustang Sally, PInk Cadillac, Red Barchetta, Little Red Corvette and Cars are some of the many songs about cars or driving we grew up hearing mostly in the car. 

However, if you are younger than the X Generation, then baseball isn't as exciting as football, hamburgers beat hot dogs, the understudy, ice cream has beaten out the fading star, apple pie - and cars are just another place to text, tweet and listen to Spotify - so better to ride rather than drive.  The driver's license for the latest generation is more about getting through airports than driving.  Maybe they have the right idea, but us old timers still remember Bond and his Aston Martin, Batman and his Batmobile and Back to the Future's Delorean.


        "In each loss there is a gain, as in every gain there is a loss. and with each new ending comes a new beginning."
- Buddhist Proverb -


Such is life.  Our ability to communicate has never been greater with email and text, but we lost the art of letter writing.  So much of what we know of history is through letters we wrote to each other. - the slowness of communication forced us to write with much more depth and thought. The driverless future will enhance our lives and make a safer more livable world for all of us, but we do lose a cultural icon that has shaped our history, both personal and collective, over the last 100 years. 

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Ravi Madhavan

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