The idea of an autonomous, or self-driving car has fascinated people for decades, but finally has us in its headlights. Its implications might be huge, like this ad from the fifties promises: "highways will be made safe- by electricity! No traffic jams... no collisions... no driver fatigue." Or it may be a disaster, a license to sprawl. We have given it a lot of coverage, thinking that it might affect our cities and urban development patterns as much as the conventional car did. We have talked to a lot of planning experts and urban design theorists, but Clint Henderson of PartCatalog has talked to about a dozen automotive experts to get their view of the future of the autonomous vehicle.
The first few questions, like Who will be the first with a fully AV (autonomous vehicle)? are for gearheads only; It really doesn't matter who is first. Or as Brian Cooley of CNET notes,
Hard to say and the first mover advantage won’t be too meaningful as I don’t think any one carmaker is going to own the self-driving position in the market. This will be more like automatic transmissions, something that becomes the price of admission in the market and not a first mover advantage for long.
It gets more interesting with questions about What effect(s) do you think more AV vehicles on the road will have on society? Again, Cooley:
Vast and transformative. Better roadway utilization, reduced congestion, reduced fuel consumption and exhaust emission, recapture of 1+ meaningful hours each day in hundreds of millions of peoples’ lives, hundreds of millions of new hours of interactive media usage daily, utter recasting of the cost and nature of auto insurance and, of course, dramatic reduction of injuries and fatalities toward the Zero Fatality goal in the EU by 2050.
Auto Journalist Nino Karotta sees big changes in our daily lives:
Legislation and enforcement is killing out all fun from driving anyhow, so it only makes sense to let go of the temptation altogether. In-car sex, on the other hand, will be daily routine. For some couples, daily commute and love life might blend. Average sleep time might somewhat increase, along with the popularity of polycyclic sleeping patterns. Mobile game high scores will go up.
Will they be safer? Again, Brian Cooley:
Vastly safer. Humans are good at fuzzy logic and unfamiliar pattern processing but poor at the vast majority of driving that lies outside of that. States like bored, distracted, drunk, tired and nervous come out of the equation, where they never should have been in the first place.
Most of the experts expect the autonomous cars to common in ten years, but note that there are other things that have to be worked out, like insurance, legislation, and sharing the road. In the end, being car guys, they do not seem to be looking forward to it, with comments like "Just because we can do something doesn’t always mean we should." Or they want the option to take the wheel: "When I want to escape down the road with my car and hear the engine roar, I can."
I think that is wishful thinking. It will be a very different car and we will quickly become very different drivers. Or as Nino Karotta notes, "I’d bet that by 2065 we’ll either have more in common with our actual AVs than with current humans, or we’ll be extinct altogether."
Read it all at Partscatalog.