How Technology Will Revolutionize the Way We Get Around… Sooner Than We Think

A “hands-free” future is imminent, and we are going to see some pretty cool innovations along the way.

There are far too many cars on the road — 253 million to be exact. And what do more cars on the road mean? An increase in accidents, pollution, and traffic, among a myriad of other societal and environmental implications. However, as cities react to automotive saturation, we are starting to see innovations that are redefining the way we think about transportation. Perhaps fewer, yet smarter, cars is what our cities need.

In the future, the connected consumer might not even need their own car to get around. Contrary to our original Jetson-esque visions, flying cars may not be the ideal aspiration. To embark on a longer trip, one could hop in a self-driving car, optimize the route to get to the destination in the shortest amount of time possible, and also pick up other passengers on the way. In fact, many of these seemingly far-fetched concepts are already becoming a reality with the help of new technology.

The rise of the ridesharing economy

At the forefront of this revolution is the growing popularity of on-demand ‘taxi’ services like Uber and Lyft, symbolizing a shift in our perception of cars being a product to cars being a service. With the tap of a button, a customer can instantly request a ride that will pick them up within minutes. Now, many of these companies are starting to introduce carpooling services, where customers are incentivized to share rides with those nearby. These rides are initially desirable because they cost less, and ultimately will lead to fewer cars on the road. As this technology continues to improve, finding faster ways to pick up even more passengers, we can expect to see additional taxi and ridesharing services adopt this model.

There is also an increasing number of companies that allow complete strangers to rent and utilize the same car, all with the click of a button. Zipcar was one of the first to pioneer this model, using an app to enable customers to quickly locate the nearest car for rent and reserve it for a desired amount of time. Now, there are companies like Getaround and RelayRides following a similar model but focusing on peer-to-peer car rental where car owners can easily rent out their vehicle when they are not using it.

New insurance models for low-mileage drivers

Car sharing services allow multiple people to utilize the same vehicle, and as people start to choose these alternative forms of transit, advances in technology are also being used to encourage a single car owner to drive less. Data can now be extracted from a car simply by plugging a device into the OBD-II port, the same port a mechanic uses to measure car health. At Metromile, we use an OBD-II device to accurately measure mileage to offer an insurance pricing model that is primarily based on miles driven. If someone doesn’t drive much, they will pay less each month. We recently completed a study with the Global Affairs department at Yale, where we determined that when someone pays for insurance based on miles driven, they end up driving 6% less. This small reduction in driving can lead to major societal and economic benefits, such as saving $6 billion on road maintenance costs and 2,400 lives due to fewer accidents.

Other insurance companies like Progressive and Allstate are also utilizing the OBD-II device, yet in a slightly different manner as they assess behavior to offer discounts to drivers with safe driving habits. While this isn’t necessarily directly correlated to driving less, it encourages car owners to become safer and more cognizant of the way they drive.

The introduction of self-driving cars

In the not-so-far-off future, car ownership will be completely redefined when self-driving cars are introduced to consumers. And with this, traffic patterns and our reliance on cars will likely change also. Although this all seems like a thing of the future, Google is making tremendous traction and recently released a report confirming that self-driving cars have a near-perfect driving record thus far. The few times that they are involved in an accident, it’s usually because a human was at fault.

The first to capitalize on the autonomous car will likely be taxis and ridesharing services. Not only will the expense of the driver be eliminated, but the vehicles will also be able to pick up more people on their route and complete their trips much faster than usual. Uber recently built an Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, where they are reportedly testing self-driving cars among other innovations in transportation. And when autonomous cars become the standard for everyone, there will be less traffic due to smarter driving, fewer accidents, and optimized routes.

Rewriting the rules of the road

There is plenty of innovation being used to optimize the number of cars on the road and how we drive, and cities are working hard to improve infrastructure and adopt the aforementioned technologies. However, there are still roadblocks affecting just how fast we can revolutionize transportation, including government regulation, money, and consumer readiness. We need to push for these innovations — by supporting the development of self-driving cars, by committing to the “carpool economy”, and by better optimizing our commutes. Then, we will see the significant impact that having fewer, yet smarter, cars will have on our environment, economy, and everyday lives.