Living with Technology: On the road to self-driving cars
Published 10:19 am, Thursday, July 9, 2015
I love cars and driving cars. Growing up in southern California, it’s well known as a car culture.
A book titled “You Are What You Drive” reinforced the idea that your identity as a person is reflected (or based upon) the car that you drive.
Even today, a person’s status is sometimes measured by the car they drive, whether it be Japanese, American, German or even Korean.
Already, we’ve turned cars into workspaces. The use of mobile phones lets us talk to other people while we’re driving around.
If cars could drive themselves, we would not have to concentrate on the practical matter of getting from one place to another.
We could spend time working, being entertained, talking to others, sleeping, sightseeing or any number of other activities.
Most of us have heard about Google’s self-driving (autonomous) vehicles. Apple has announced it’s doing the same. Tesla has announced a software upgrade to its line of electric cars that will allow some autonomous actions. Most automobile manufacturers have self-driving car projects underway.
That all sounds like a lot of fun.
But what if self-driving cars isn’t the big change?
What if NOT having your own car is the big change?
If we look at the actual utilization of cars that people own, it’s generally pretty low. Most of them are not driven very much.
If one commutes by train, the time the vehicle is used consists of driving to and from the train station. It sits idle most of the day.
In fact, most people don’t need cars. They need transportation.
What would happen if whenever you needed a car, one magically appeared? It could whisk you to your destination to go and was there when you needed it again, say to whisk you home?
Some may say this is what taxis do.
Yes, but what if the vehicle that arrived had no person driving it?
While I grew up believing in car ownership, I think the time has come to be prepared to think differently.
As soon as self-driving vehicles are available in large enough quantity and affordably, I believe it will be time to reduce the number of vehicles in our household.
I envision companies such as Avis, Hertz, Dollar and Alamo having fleets of self-driving cars. Uber and Lyft could also engage self-driving cars, either owned by the companies or by people who sign them up for the respective services.
Furthermore, as companies such as Ford, GM and Chrysler determine that they’re in the transportation business and not the automobile business, they could participate in this new model.
If we look at the utilization of personal vehicles, it’s pretty low. Most vehicles are used for commuting or driving around town. But typical vehicles are used less than three hours per day, so are sitting idle the rest of the day.
If we could eliminate (or at least reduce) idle cars, we would not have to MAKE them, we would not have to PARK them, we would not have to SERVICE them. All of these benefit our environment.
Self-driving cars could also find people going from the same location to the same location and could offer the riders real-time ride sharing, also freeing up roadways.
The ripple effects of self-driving cars go far beyond not having someone drive cars.
It will be very interesting to see how the introduction of self-driving cars into the marketplace affects the activity of driving and how it will people’s daily lives.
Mark Mathias is a 35-plus year information technology executive and resident of Westport. His columns can be read at http://blog.mathias.org online. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.