Sunday, May 1, 2011

Real Implications of Automated Cars

In case anyone had forgotten, I really want a car that drives itself. I don't like to drive. I find it to be a waste of time. I liked buses in the Denver-Boulder area, but the system in SA, especially where I live, isn't up to the same level and my life here doesn't support that. Just the ability to read during commutes was great for me. I would get through a lot more of my intended readings if I could sit back and read during my morning and evening commutes.

The ability to do other things while the car drives is only a first-order effect though. It is using the car like we do now, but just more automated. Where things get interesting is when you look at the higher-order effects. The examples that come to my mind are uses of the car that occur without having a licensed driver present. It might take a while longer for these to take effect because people/society will have to truly trust the automated driving mechanism before it will be legal to have the cars really drive themselves without a person who is responsible for them being present. However, I think that point will be reached and that is when the full impact of this change will become apparent.

There are two main categories that jump out
  • No humans in the car at all.
  • Non-licensed drivers in the car.
The first thought I had related to the initial item was because I see automated cars as needing to have a high level of safety maintenance. Things like cleaning sensors and doing regular checks that they work will be required for legal reasons and for insurance. The work itself will be largely automated and it won't take long before people want to just send their car out to do it while they are at home or at work.

Ever had one of those late night cravings for some type of food that you don't have in the house? Maybe a fast-food pick-up. You don't really need to be there for that. You place the order online (possible on a phone or tablet) then send the car to pick it up. A little extra automation will be needed, but nothing too difficult.

Remember in the dotcom bubble there were companies that wanted to deliver groceries with online orders? It didn't scale well because of the cost of delivery. If people can simply send their car to pick it up that problem is solved.

This also leads to a new specialized product: mini-cars that don't carry humans, only other stuff. The vehicle that goes to get your combo meal doesn't need to be big enough to carry a human or have the nice seats. Same for all these other tasks. You can have a much smaller device that exists just to transport goods to end users.

The second bullet was normal cars driving without a licensed driver. Driving the kids to school in the morning? Why does a parent have to be there physically? I can see all types of bad social implications of this with parents sending their kids out all the time and never seeing them. Then again, how different is it to do that with your self-driving car versus their bike? Less exercise for the kid, but not less contact with the parent. In fact, with video call capabilities the parent could be interacting with the kid while they are being transported.

Of course, automation is going to alter all types of other things in the world in the coming years. This was just a few thoughts on some of the less obvious implications of cars that drive themselves.