I’ve been dreaming about self-driving cars since I was a kid, and I first read about work being done on them in, I think, 3-2-1 Contact Magazine. Since then, a lot has happened with the technology. According to the latest rumors, they’ll be available to the public by 2020. I wish it were sooner, because I want one. That said, Google is doing a lot of work on them, and we’ve got a great update about the features they’ve been working into these cars.
I’ve been talking about this concept for the past few years now, and early on I had a couple of friends tell me that this will never happen. Their reasons were that people like the idea of being in control of their car, and there was already push-back (at the time) against the cars that parallel parked themselves. At the time, I thought that was a ridiculous notion because I think that the level of safety the technology will bring is worth a bit of discomfort at the beginning.
I recently heard that Elon Musk said that he changed the conversation a bit when he was talking to people. At first, he’d mention self-driving cars, and people would respond a bit negatively. It was when he started talking about putting autopilot into cars that people started to think it was not only a good idea, but a really cool idea. The idea of a car driving itself tends to be a scary notion, but the idea of a car with autopilot on is intriguing and awesome.
1. Cars with Autopilot will save lives
Hundreds of car accidents happen every day, many end in lives lost and families torn apart. People also, very stupidly, drive while drunk, too tired, or texting their friends. I’d look up stats of the numbers of lives lost by negligence of the law while behind the wheel, but all you need to do is turn on the nightly news to see reports that prove this point. Crashes may still occur, but that will happen less and less.
2. Autopilot will save time
With cars in control of transportation, we won’t have people varying their speeds on roads or causing traffic jams. There will be less time spent stopped, and more time on the move, as traffic lights will begin to be a thing of the past. Cars will be communicating with or sensing other cars on the road so that multiple cars will be able to travel through the same intersection, going different directions, all at virtually the same time.
3. Autopilot will save energy
Eventually, the need for constantly running traffic light systems will go away, and if there are cars with manual drive systems, they’ll likely have systems built into their dashboards letting them know if they have a red or green light, rather than the need for a light at nearly every corner.
4. Autopilot will Mobilize People that are Blind
An early test of a car with autopilot had a person, who is completely blind, go to a restaurant and complete a transaction at the drive-thru. Getting around will still have the aide of a seeing-eye dog, but having wheels to get to a grocery store will change their lives forever, and lead to other new technologies to help them shop.
5. Autopilot will Mobilize People that are Disabled and/or wheelchair bound
There are many shut-ins that can’t drive, many people that have other disabilities that cannot currently go anywhere without the help of others. Autopilot will empower them to be able to go wherever they want or need to go. And, because all cars are driving themselves, we won’t have any idea if the person in the car next to us has a disability.
6. Autopilot will drop you off at the front entrance, and pick you up when you’re ready to go
Imagine going to a show, a sporting event, or even the grocery store, and your car brings you to the front entrance. You get out of the car, and it drives off. It either goes to a nearby charging station in what used to be a parking lot, or it returns home, where it parks in the garage or driveway, to idle and charge. When you’re ready for the car to return, you take out your smartphone, and tap a button that calls for the car to pick you up. Based on where you are, it could return with a trunk attachment, for the load of groceries. The car arrives, and you and your party get into the car and off you go to your next destination.
7. Allow for younger people to travel
You’re at work, and your kids need to be picked up from school, get to practice on time, or get home. Send your car to handle it, or another autopilot vehicle that you temporarily rent to handle it.
8. Decrease or eliminate car theft
If you can get a car almost any time, to bring you where you need to, at a reasonable cost, there’s less of a need to steal one, if that’s how you’d get one in the first place. Plus, people will rarely need to have their car parked in a place that isn’t so safe. Cars could also have security systems built in, where you have to unlock the car with your smartphone or smartwatch. If your car is about to be compromised, and it recognizes that’s what is about to happen, it could start itself and drive away, escaping danger. If the car has been compromised, it could lock itself down and alert the authorities.
9. Decrease the need for parking lots
I bet all of us have been in crazy parking lots. Most people seem to forget that the speed limit in a parking lot is only 15 MPH. And that’s the limit. You can go slower. I can’t count the times I’ve been backing out, only to have someone driving 30 MPH or more, come speeding past me. I’ve also had people walk past, risking their lives, after it’s been made clear by my lights that I’m going to back up, and there is a huge truck next to me blocking my vision enough that I can’t see them. With cars that drive themselves, the need for giant, messy parking lots is bound to change. Cars will park themselves in the nearest convenient parking spot for themselves (even if it means parking a few blocks away from the restaurant you’re at).
10. Revolutionize transportation in big cities
Taxis, busses, gridlock. With everyone’s car just taking them where they need to go in the most convenient way possible, the roads will be clearer than they ever have before. Imagine getting from one end of Chicago to the other in only a half hour, during peak traffic hours. Without people cutting other people off, doing what amounts to be stunt driving, and risk-taking, while others are driving too slow, or getting into accidents, the roads will gradually get less and less gridlock. Taxis will be fleets of cars that are ready to come and pick you up from anywhere, as long as they’re available. Busses will also have traffic signals built into their control screens as they’re likely to be manual until they aren’t needed anymore, or can be made autopilot as well.
11. Revolutionize transportation in small to medium sized cities
Right now, small and medium sized cities don’t have much in the way of taxi driving without a phone call, or other types of transportation. With autopilot cars, companies can provide fleets to more cities to help change all of that.
12. Don’t own a car? No problem.
Just call for a car to come and pick you up. In some places, there’s no need to own a car because public transportation is so good. That will become true of more and more places, as fleets of cars with autopilot built in become more ubiquitous. If you need a car, one will show up shortly after you call for it.
13. Cars will learn from each other
As each car deals with current road and weather conditions, all of the data that it collects will be sent to all other cars on the road surrounding it. Sensors can also be placed on current highway mile markers, and speed limit signs, that can gather data about road conditions. This data can be used by other cars to help negotiate the roads more efficiently. If there’s a traffic jam or other incident, all other cars will seek alternate routes if any are available.
14. Cars will report need for road work / plowing
This winter was one of the worst we’ve seen in around 50 years. One reason was the lack of enough plows to clear the roads, and the need for cars to be off of the roads when plows were coming through. The winter led to many potholes. If a car goes over a pothole, it could sense it, and then immediately send data about the pothole to the department of transportation. All other cars will also learn where the pothole is and begin avoiding it, while a vehicle comes out to fix the road conditions.
Imagine having autoplows correctly moving snow, and cars parked on the road moving themselves so the plows can do their work. This will take some time to create a system that works well, but it’s possible and by the time this technology is in use, it will be solved.
15. Autopilot will follow all road laws that people don’t usually follow
One of the biggest problems with driving today is that people are terrible drivers. People think they can follow as close as they want because the person ahead of them will never need to brake. Even if they do brake, these people have lightning quick reflexes and will be able to stop on a dime. Sure they will. With autopilot, all cars will drive the posted speed limits, and they’ll also drive for the road conditions. The side effect? Everyone will get to their destinations at approximately the same time they would have if they were manually driving, and speeding. The reason is because all cars will be constantly in motion, and if they need to stop, it’s because of too many cars approaching the same intersections at the same time. But once all cars negotiate the intersection, they’ll continue at the posted or safest speeds to arrive at their destinations in one piece.
As a bonus: road construction workers, bicyclists, pedestrians and more will be safer because cars will sense where they are, too, and avoid harming them as well.
16. Police will be freed up to spend time doing other important work
Because all cars will automatically follow the rules of the road, police will be freed up to do other police work, more efficiently than ever before. This is a very good thing.
17. Ambulances will have quicker, safer routes to travel
Imagine an ambulance is coming down the road and it’s coming to a very busy intersection where cars are everywhere. With people behind the wheel, it might take a minute for the ambulance to negotiate where to go. With all cars on autopilot, sensing what’s happening around them, they can simply move out of the way on their own. Plus, as everyone is a passenger and there are no drivers, it’s not like you’d even really notice anyway, apart from hearing the sirens and seeing the lights.
18. New forms of motor vehicle will be created for delivery and light road repairing / painting
With all of the talk of flying drones for package delivery coming from Amazon, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were already working on wheeled drones to handle the same thing, or heavier packages. Other new types of vehicles will be invented to do other jobs, such as filling potholes, painting roads, delivering food, delivering groceries, and other things we haven’t dreamed up yet. Small, go-cart sized, and larger vehicles will be able to drive alongside other traffic on the roads. Other cars will compensate their paths for these vehicles.
Have you ever been in a city where they have huge roundabouts where cars are seemingly driving this way and that? Or where you see scooters everywhere, driving around cars at death-defying distances? That’s what the roads will kind of be like everywhere, but without human error.
19. Where you had to focus on the road before, now you can do other things
Cars will have very different interiors, safer for all passengers, without the need for a dashboard with pedals and steering. Sounds kind of frightening until you realize that, should something go wrong with your car, other cars on the road will sense it, and may be able to avoid an accident. Family road trips can involve more communication and/or game playing, and there will also be more time to get work done while on a commute to the office. Get some extra sleep if you need to.
20. All GPS systems are constantly kept up-to-date
With cars reporting data about road conditions, road construction, changes and detours, your car will always know the fastest routes to their final destination, even while on the go. When the department of transportation needs to shut down lanes for construction, cars will compensate immediately. Any businesses and restaurants will be kept up to date, so you’ll know if the place you’re heading is even open, so you can avoid a needless trip.
Bonus: Traveling around foreign countries will be much easier
After posting this, my wife and I were talking and realized that, with cars like this, you’d have an easier time getting around foreign countries. Instead of trying to learn the rules of the road, you’ll be in a car that knows them all.
Can you think of other reasons why self-driving cars will change the world?