Forget about those flying cars we were promised as children, the age of driverless cars is upon us and it is happening faster than you think. Right now we are at the beginning stages of transitioning from cars that require human interaction and those that do not. The dawn of robot servants is finally upon us! Well, maybe not just yet, but the technologies that are needed to create a driverless transportation society already exist. So, what exactly will a future of driverless cars look like and what does it mean for those traffic tickets piling up in your glovebox?
A little more than a century ago, people got from place to place in horse and buggy. With the invention of horseless carriages (motorized vehicles), most people needed chauffeurs to drive these complicated machines. Then Henry Ford came along, revolutionized the car assembly line, and produced easy to drive cars that were affordable (the first Model T sold for $825 in 1908). In less than a decade, cars took over the roads and horses were put out to pasture…literally, they were no longer allowed on the roads.
For a hundred years, people have bought private cars and driven themselves from place to place, but this private system is transitioning to the next great transportation revolution of a shared economy system. With the proliferation of Uber and other e-hailing service companies, we have returned to a time where chauffeured travel is cheaper, easier, and convenient. In many cities, owning a car has already become obsolete because you can simply order one up on your phone and it arrives in minutes like a piping hot pizza! As this system evolves, the need for car payments, insurance, maintenance, or trying to find the perfect parking spot will disappear.
At the same time, the autonomous car revolution is underway. Companies like Tesla have already developed autonomous vehicles (AVs) and the first hybrid, semi-automated models are already available. By 2020, Tesla, Toyota, Nissan, and others expect their fully automated AVs to be consumer ready. Even Uber expects to be driverless by 2030 (sorry human Uber drivers). While only the wealthiest people will be able to afford the first AVs, prices will drop, and nearly everyone will have access to driverless vehicles by 2025.
Now, things start to get interesting. Once the human interaction is removed, what then? Will people ride around from place to place in their private lounging pods, watching movies and getting a little nap in between stops? Fingers crossed! However, it is more likely that we will transition into a shared autonomy system. Rather than owning private vehicles, people will use driverless public systems that will be a high-tech version of ride sharing. Small AVs will pick people up at their current location (like Uber) and will either take them to their destination or drop them off at stations to board large mass transit AVs. This will become a very efficient form of transportation, even replacing subway systems. For those who want more privacy, people will buy into privately-owned fleets that require subscription fees rather than car payments.
While it may sound fantastical, the future of autonomous transportation could be in full force by 2050. The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980, and that doesn’t seem like a long time ago…in a galaxy far, far away…now does it? So what will happen in the meantime? Well, as human error fades from the transportation system, a lot of really great benefits will result. Traffic accidents due to teen, drowsy, and drunk drivers will start to reduce. Men will never have to pretend like they’re not totally lost anymore. Speeding tickets and other driving violations will become less common because police officers will have no reason to pull over an autonomous car…except for that driverless Google car that got pulled over for going too slow. This future means no more traffic tickets and no more online traffic school!
But before the robots take over, when you do get a traffic ticket or want to receive a discount on your car insurance (which will also change dramatically), you can still attend online traffic school. While the future of transportation will evolve quickly, it will not happen before your next court date, so don’t go tearing up those traffic tickets just yet because you still have to pay them… for now.