What will be the impact of the Driverless Car?

The light bulb did not replace the candle.  It replaced going to bed early.  The motor car did not replace the horse.  It replaced staying at home.  Every major innovation has primary consequences and secondary consequences.  The secondary consequences look obvious in hindsight but they were not obvious at inception.   Who in 1985 would have anticipated that the internet mean that music downloads would kill major record labels or that an innovation like Wikipedia would finish Encyclopaedia Britannia?

So let’s spend a moment speculating on the impact of a big innovation that appears to be heading our way – driverless cars.   Google and others have demonstrated prototypes that perform very well.   Most of the technology needed is already in place.  See this video interview from the Economist.

The primary consequence of this innovation will be that fully automated cars replace conventional cars and drivers become passengers.  What will the secondary consequences be?

Once again I turn to the Economist in which Schumpeter speculates on this.  He forecasts that some of the secondary effects might be:

  • Hospitals will need fewer emergency rooms and orthopaedic wards as the rate of road traffic accidents is dramatically reduced.
  • Hotels will lose business as tourists and businessmen sleep overnight in their travelling vehicles.
  • Taxi and car-rental businesses might merge into one automated pick-up and drop-off service.
  • Much less need for motor insurers and brokers.
  • Bad news for lorry drivers and cabbies.
  • A boon for country pubs no longer affected by drink-drive laws.
  • Less demand for road signs, traffic light, signals and guard rails.
  • Less need for traffic police and traffic wardens (automatic cars will be programmed to obey the law).
  • A rise in house prices in more distant suburbs as greater commuting distances become easier.
  • Less demand for city car parks and meters and less revenue for local authorities (the cars can be sent home or elsewhere).

    Worldwide over 100,000 people are killed in road accidents every month and the figures are rising.  Nearly all road accidents are caused by driver error.  This is the single most compelling argument for the driverless car.  You and your children will be safer.  But the other consequences will be many and varied including some of those above and some that we just don’t anticipate.

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    6 thoughts on “What will be the impact of the Driverless Car?

    1. Dropping off kids at an elementary school can be a nightmare. Picking them up is worse. I wonder what the drop off and pick up sites will look like?

    2. IoT-managed autonomous vehicle (AV) fleets will become the core of the new Personal Transportation as a Service (PTaaS) infrastructure.
      Individual AVs will become mobile information and entertainment destinations, as well as mobile offices, just as as smart phones have.
      New Car Dealerships will have to pivot (successfully) or perish, because AVs will be sold to fleet operators, directly; active systems and subsystems monitoring, via IoT, with return-to-base options, will transform vehicle maintenance practices. Today’s Car Dealerships could be relegated to keeping an aging inventory of owner-driven ICE vehicles driveable and saleable (think Castro’s Cuba), for as long as a dwindling demand for them endures or until governments otherwise legislate ICE vehicles out of existence.
      48v mild hybrid drive train technology will provide a bridge to this EV/AV future, as long as advancing systems technology can squeeze out more performance, with less investment and lower operating costs than alternatives. Tier I automotive suppliers, rather than OEMs, will largely control 48v mild hybrid technology and advancements.

    3. There has been a backlash with books and records, as sales of vinyl and paper books have bounced back.

      Theer is such a culture of driving that ‘old driver cars’ could easily return. If they are banned for safety reasons, then there will be a rise in illegal driving. And maybe the appearance of driving parks, where you can drive legally.

      The whole face of buildings and urban planning will change in unknown ways too.

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