A world filled with autonomous cars

What will be the impact?

Katie Gillett

By: Katie Gillett

Living in the Bay Area, electric cars are everywhere. I frequently see Google testing their autonomous cars in our local neighbourhood and was so disappointed to find out that the cute-as-a-button “Firefly” is being retired in favour of a more standard looking car. But a recent trip back to Europe was a stark reminder that the Bay Area’s widespread adoption of electric cars remains the exception rather than the global norm.

And yet recently, Tesla overtook BMW in market capitalisation, having already overtaken Ford and General Motors back in April. It is now America’s most valuable carmaker. This is despite some reports suggesting that traditional car manufacturers – like Ford, General Motors, Daimler and BMW – are more advanced than new entrants such as Tesla when it comes to self-driving technology.

The momentum is undeniable: self-driving cars are coming your way

No matter who will ultimately emerge as the technology leader in autonomous vehicles, the momentum is undeniable: self-driving cars are coming your way. With this world being within the realms of possibility in the next decade, what might be some of the societal impacts of mass adoption of autonomous cars?

  • Global demand for gasoline accounts for more than a quarter of the world’s oil consumption. This demand could evaporate.
  • Nearly 1.3 million people die in road traffic accidents every year with an additional 20 – 50 million injured or disabled annually. Many remain skeptical on this point but, theoretically, this number could disappear, or be significantly reduced.
  • A reduction in road traffic accidents, coupled with a likely rise in e-hailing (either self-driving taxis or on-demand micro car rental) would likely drive down the total number of vehicles and ease congestion. Fewer traffic jams gets a big like from me!
  • Automated cars will be better at parking than us (well, at least some of us…) They will be able to get into tighter spots, reducing the overall need for parking.
  • The rise in e-hailing could lead to a concept of having “public transport anywhere”. Consider what this could mean in terms of where you could live if you didn’t have to worry about easy access to the station or getting stuck in traffic on your way to work…
  • With cars doing most or all of the driving (coupled with the hours you’re saving not sitting in traffic jams), just think what you could do with all the extra time. Not only is your commute time reduced but this time could become the elusive “extra hour in the day”. According to McKinsey, commuters worldwide could save a combined 1 billion hours everyday once autonomous vehicles go mainstream.
  • With every car providing big brother style surveillance, the way we police could fundamentally shift and the impact on crime could be significant.
  • Get a self-driving car with a solar roof and your car just transformed from being a cost centre to a self-sufficient object, and maybe even a revenue generating asset.

Massive changes to our environment, our health and safety, our cities, our precious time… I recognise that the sum of these statements is unlikely to become a reality within the next decade exactly as I’ve described them but, if this is the future we’re moving towards, it’s one that’s worth getting excited about.

So, while Tesla’s rising value remains controversial for many, the Elon Musk dream is increasingly becoming one that I am buying into.

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