Self-Driving Cars Are Out. Micromobility Is In.
Bikes and scooters can transform cities in a way autonomous vehicles never could
It’s amazing how quickly perceptions can change. It may seem hard to remember now, but in 2017, the hype machine was going full steam ahead on self-driving cars and their presumed future dominance of transportation. Cars would still dominate—many presumed—but drivers would be liberated as software took over their role, making everyone a passenger.
The fatal Uber crash hadn’t happened yet. People still believed that Tesla’s Autopilot system was safe and that full self-driving was on the horizon. The reporting on autonomous vehicles suggested they were safer than human drivers, despite a complete lack of evidence. The tech visionaries had spoken and, as is often the case, the media fell in line.
But, as 2018 began, criticism began to emerge amid delayed timelines, a growing number of collisions, and the slowing progress in reducing the number of times human test drivers had to take over for computers. As the year played out, critics were proven right — but a much more inspiring vision for the future of transportation has emerged in the wake of the self-driving vehicle.
Waymo, a division of Alphabet, has long been a leader in autonomous vehicle technology. Based on the limited data released on the company, its vehicles have driven the most miles in self-driving mode and have the lowest rate of disengagement (moments when humans have to take over).
But Waymo’s CEO, John Krafcik, has admitted that a self-driving car that can drive in any condition, on any road, without ever needing a human to take control—usually called a “level five” autonomous vehicle—will basically never exist. At the Wall Street Journal’s D.Live conference, Krafcik said that “autonomy will always have constraints.” It will take decades for self-driving cars to become common on roads. Even then, they will not be able to drive at certain times of the year or in all weather conditions. In short, sensors on autonomous vehicles don’t work well in snow or rain—and that may never…