The Future of Personal Transportation with AI

AI is coming. It’s really already here. Carefully woven into our everyday lives to a point that, were it to vanish overnight, our economy and society would have a hard time picking itself back up.

Today I wanted to take a good look at the future of transportaion and share a few quick thoughts about some big changes to look forward to in our lifetimes. I’m going to be speculating of course, but my speculation is based upon trends and prototypes which already exist today. The intention is to lead you down a logical progression of thoughts and hopefully, by the end, you will agree with me on a few important points.

Self driving cars (SDCs for short) are already upon us. Google has been testing them for years now and have collectively driven 1,001,338 miles from 2009 to May 2015 (meaning this data is almost a year out of date at this point) with only one incident of error occurring. Tesla, recently began to roll out a very early version of autopilot mode for use in the Model S vehicles, and according to the quiet whisperings and speculation behind the second part of the Model 3 reveal, Elon is poised to announce that all Model 3’s will ship with a near complete autonomous mode. What’s more, it’s not just large multi billion dollar companies getting into this space. Famed iPhone jailbreak mastermind “Geohot” built a fully functioning self driving car in his garage. Although you may question the safety of such a seemingly hacked together project, as I do, you cannot help but be amazed at how far the capabilities of this fledgling industry have come in the past decade. And then you begin to wonder where it will take us in the next decade.

This transition from manual to auto transportation is, by and large, going to be one of the biggest shifts in society in the next decade. Our thinking of transportation will change dramatically.

So what are some implications of this newly found autonomy from the steering wheel?

Imagine getting into your car in Atlanta, GA at 9pm on a Friday night, closing the door, and asking via natural language input “auto, take me to New York”. As the car slides away from your driveway the seat reclines and allows you to drift into a sleep. Yes, I predict a lot of our future transportation will involve us catching up on a few hours of sleep or doing work.

When you wake up at 9am the next day, you find that the car is parked at your desired location in New York. You are fully rested and can make the all important meeting your boss invited you to with ease, leaving you the rest of the day to enjoy the city or get a few more hours of work done. When you are ready to return, your auto will dutifully cary you back home while you sleep (or again, let’s face it- some of us will be up doing work during the drive).

That kind of travel will change the relationship we humans have to distances around us. No more are we forced to live near a city just because our job and commute demands it. Traveling for meetings, or taking road trips just got easier… and a lot safer.

But, it’s not only the concept of distance which will dramatically shrink with this auto revolution, but the concept of ownership of a personal transportation auto will become irrelivent.

Imagine the year 2020. Tesla has been very successful in proving that self driving cars are fit for public roads due to the swift rollout of autonomous mode on their Model 3’s. Uber holds a press conference in July of that year. they announce two things:

  1. Uber has acquired 1.6 million self driving cars from [insert your favorite manufacuter here]
  2. Uber is launching a subscription based service for their fleet of self driving cars at 299.99/mo with unlimited uses.

Now, instead of owning cars for personal transportation, you subscribe to Uber’s new service and request self driving cars whenever you need to get to point A to point B.

Suddenly, car ownership ceases to be the economical thing to do. This trend isn’t new, by any means either. Millenials by and large value a car less than they value access to the internet/their iPhone. Plus it’s just very expensive. Leasing or buying a car can cost thousands. You’re getting an older model if you want to cheap out and save a few thousand bucks. Regular maintenance, tire replacements, oil checks, malfunctions, accidents, insurance. The true cost of owning a car today is actually pretty high, but people put up with it today because it’s the only way to feasibly get around. That changes with such a subscription to a service like Uber’s self driving platform.

Apart from the benefits of not owning a car because $$$, the cars that would be in use would not be spending 99% of their time in a parking lot or space waiting for their owner to use them. Once an Uber drops off a passenger at a location it immediately looks for another passenger to pick up and serve. No down time. No wasted space. No parking lots. No walking a mile to the mall because you had to park in bum-fuck land.

The changes occurring at the behest of this self driving industry will be large and far reaching and I expect to have missed some of the bigger effects this will have on society and our mindset/relationship with technology, but at the core of this revolution, like so many other technological revolutions we have to look forward to in our lifetimes, it will be spurred on by AI.