4 Reasons I’m Excited About Autonomous Vehicles
Uber recently announced that its first self-driving fleet will arrive in Pittsburgh later this month. The autonomous car, once thought to be science fiction, is coming sooner than most people realize.
Throughout history, transportation has evolved. Each evolution provided advantages that the previous mode of transport lacked. Here are four reasons I’m excited about autonomous vehicles.
The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1.25 million people die from car related injuries each year. Without action, road related deaths are anticipated to become the 7th leading cause of death by 2030. According to the Eno Center Transportation, driver error is believed to be the main factor in 90% of crashes. Drunk driving, distracted drivers, failure to remain in one lane and failing to yield the right of way, are cited as the main causes. Since the vast majority of car crashes are due to human error, self driving cars have the potential to save countless lives. Although the safety of autonomous cars will become statistically evident very soon, it may take some time before the majority of people feel comfortable with the idea. Regardless, I’m confident society will eventually welcome self-driving cars.
Until you stop to actually think about it, it’s not instinctively clear how much space is devoted to cars and parking infrastructure. It’s estimated that in most cities, between 20–30% of usable space is taken up by parking spaces. The vast majority of these spaces are constantly occupied since cars are parked approximately 95% of the time. Along with safety, autonomous cars promise efficiency. In a world where vehicles can be summoned via ride-hailing apps like Uber, the majority of vehicles will be in constant use. This will lead to a decrease in the demand for parking space in the city. An autonomous car that is constantly aware of its surroundings requires less space to park. It’s predicated that by 2035, the need for parking space should decline by more than 5.7 billion square meters in the United States alone (that’s half the size of Connecticut). This means more parks, more offices/apartments, and a better use of real estate.
With the amount of texting, phone calls, day dreaming, and other distracting activities that go on while driving a vehicle, one thing is clear. People would rather be doing something else. Unless you’re ripping down the racetrack, driving is a very mundane task. I honestly prefer taking the bus to school, since it allows me to read during my commute. Autonomous cars would free people’s time, and allow them to perform more productive or entertaining tasks. The time saved by commuters each day could potentially add up to an astonishing one billion hours — equivalent to twice the time it took to build the Great Pyramid of Giza. That’s a lot of reading time!
4. Human Capital
While the exact figures are unclear, it’s no surprise that the adoption of autonomous vehicles will lead to a substantial amount of taxi drivers, chauffeurs, truck drivers, etc., losing their current jobs. Job lose is usually viewed as a negative, but it’s important to also consider the benefits of freeing up human capital to do more productive tasks.
A passage from Berkshire Hathaway’s 2015 shareholder letter provides an excellent example:
“In 1900, America’s civilian work force numbered 28 million. Of these, 11 million, a staggering 40% of the total, worked in farming. About 90 million acres were devoted to its production and the yield per acre was 30 bushels, for a total output of 2.7 billion bushels annually.
Today, we devote about 85 million acres to corn. Productivity, however, has improved yields to more than 150 bushels per acre, for an annual output of 13–14 billion bushels.
Increased yields, though, are only half the story: The huge increases in physical output have been accompanied by a dramatic reduction in the number of farm laborers (“human input”). Today about three million people work on farms, a tiny 2% of our 158-million-person work force. Thus, improved farming methods have allowed tens of millions of present-day workers to utilize their time and talents in other endeavors, a reallocation of human resources that enables Americans of today to enjoy huge quantities of non-farm goods and services they would otherwise lack.”
The human capital required to drive people around will be freed up and directed to more rewarding jobs. These jobs could even be directly linked to the autonomous vehicle industry. Examples may include:
- Building new infrastructure to support autonomous vehicles
- Autonomous car design, development, and manufacturing
- New insurance-related jobs
- Auto mechanics
The challenge lies in re-training workers and putting this human capital to use. The farmers that lost their jobs due to agricultural innovations moved on to work in industries that were previously unimaginable. These new jobs furthered prosperity and productivity. I’m confident that as a society, we will continue to innovate.
“Don’t bet against the human spirit — that’s been a losing trade since the beginning of humanity.” — Chamath Palihapitiya
Autonomous vehicles, while at present may seem strange, will become a natural part of our society. Accessing transportation at a click of a button will no longer be a fantasy, but a reality. As Elon Musk says:
“I think [autonomous driving]’s just going to become normal. Like an elevator. They used to have elevator operators, and then we developed some simple circuitry to have elevators just come to the floor that you’re at, you just press the button.”
That’s a future I’m extremely excited about.
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(Note: This post is merely a reflection of what goes on in my weird little head)🤓