There's something a bit spooky about self-driving cars, though engineers say they will be safer, and waste less fuel than our current car fleet. The uneasiness stems, perhaps, from the illusion driving gives us of being in control.
Yet what if the self-driving cars had the added advantage of a) being all electric, b) part of a car sharing pool, and c) they arrived to pick us up when and where we needed them?
It is at the intersection between car sharing, electric cars, and autonomous driving a new model for city mobility is taking shape.
We already know that the idea of owning a car in a city is growing ever less popular. In some German cities, for example, young consumers' desire to purchase cars has dropped by 60%.
Add to that two features in the latest generation of car sharing: the ability to pick up and drop cars off wherever you want within certain city boundaries; and new fleets of e-cars in car sharing. (Autolib is leading the way in the latter, and in the new year will bring electric car sharing to its first American city). The last important piece, the factor that what will really take car sharing to the level where everyone will want it, is when the car sharing vehicle you want can show up at your doorstop exactly when you want it to.
"I think in the future we'll see that autonomous cars will make car sharing the predominant mode of transportation. People will no longer own their cars." - Dr. Alexander Hars, Driverless-future.com
The first generation of autonomous cars is less than three years away - Gothenburg, Sweden will implement a pilot in 2017 with 100 cars and 100 regular drivers who will manually drive cars to roads where they then join road trains and switch to auto drive. Nanyang Technological University in Singapore already has a driverless electric vehicle testing out a 2-kilometer shuttle route. And Nissan has done a successful test of an autonomous electric LEAF on roads in Japan.
And in the example that comes closest to showing off the autonomous cars + car sharing model, Britain in 2015 will debut an autonomous taxi service in the town of Milton Keynes.
The next step will be for a significant car sharing company to be part of a autonomous electric car pilot program. Car2Come, anyone?