50 Mind-Blowing Implications of Self-Driving Cars (and Trucks)

What to expect from the next 3–20 years of autonomous vehicles

Is this what will a driverless future look like?

As Uber rolls out its first self-driving taxis in Pittsburgh, Tesla and Mercedes roll out limited self-driving capabilities and cities around the world negotiate with companies who want to bring self-driving cars and trucks to their cities, I thought it might be interesting to think through the implications of a fully implemented self-driving transportation network.

Depending on who you listen to, a driverless world could happen as soon as 3 years or as far out as 20 or 30 years or more. It’s exciting and scary!

As I’ve learned more, it’s become clear to me that the driverless future will have huge impacts on our daily lives, our economy and, maybe even to the power and wealth structures of the world.

Below are my thoughts about what a driverless future will be like.

What could happen when cars and trucks drive themselves?

  1. People won’t own their own cars. Transport will delivered as a service from companies who own fleets of self-driving vehicles. There are so many technical, economic, safety advantages to the transportation-as-a-service that this change may come much faster than most people expect
  2. Software/technology companies will own more of the world’s economy as companies like Uber, Google and Amazon turn transportation into a pay-as-you-go service. Without government intervention (or some sort of organized movement), there will be a tremendous transfer of wealth to a very small number of people who own the software, battery/power manufacturing, vehicle servicing and charging/power generation/maintenance infrastructure. There will be massive consolidation of companies serving these markets as scale and efficiency will become even more valuable
  3. Vehicle designs will change radically — vehicles won’t need to withstand crashes in the same way, all vehicles will be electric (self-driving + software + service providers = all electric). They may look different, come in very different shapes and sizes, maybe attach to each other in some situations. There will likely be many significant innovations in materials used for vehicle construction — for example, tires and brakes will be re-optimized with very different assumptions, especially around variability of loads and much more controlled environments
  4. Vehicles (being electric) will be able to provide portable power for a variety of purposes (which will also be sold as a service) — construction job sites (why use generators), disaster/power failures, events, etc
  5. Driver’s licenses will slowly go away as will the Department of Motor Vehicles in most states. Other forms of ID may emerge as people no longer carry driver’s licenses
  6. There won’t be any parking lots or parking spaces on roads or in buildings. Garages will be repurposed — maybe as mini loading docks for people and deliveries. Aesthetics of homes and commercial buildings will change as parking lots and spaces go away
  7. Traffic policing will become redundant. Police transport will also likely change quite a bit. Unmanned police vehicles may become more common and police officers may use commercial transportation to move around routinely
  8. There will be no more local mechanics, car dealers, consumer car washes, auto parts stores or gas stations. The auto insurance industry as we know it will go away (as will the significant investing power of the major players of this industry). Most car companies will go out of business, as will most of their enormous supplier networks. There will be many fewer net vehicles on the road (maybe 1/10th, perhaps even less)
  9. Traffic lights and signs will become obsolete. Vehicles may not even have headlights as infrared and radar take the place of the human light spectrum
  10. The power grid will change. Power stations via alternative power sources will become more competitive and local. Consumers and small businesses with solar panels, small scale tidal or wave power generators, windmills and other local power generation will be able to sell KiloWattHours to the companies who own the vehicles. This will change “net metering” rules and possibly upset the overall power delivery model. It might even be the beginning of truly distributed power creation and transport
  11. Large scale battery vehicles (such as trucks with huge batteries) may fill the role of power lines in remote areas and perhaps be used to charge fleets of vehicles when other sources aren’t available
  12. Traditional petroleum products (and other fossil fuels) will become much less valuable as electric cars replace fuel powered vehicles and as alternative energy sources become more viable with portability of power (transmission and conversion eat tons of power). There are many geopolitical implications to this possible shift
  13. Entertainment funding will change as the auto industry’s ad spending goes away. Think about how many ads you see or hear about cars, car financing, car insurance, car accessories and car dealers. There are likely to be many other structural changes that come from the dramatic changes to the transportation industry
  14. The car financing industry will go away, as will the newly huge derivative market for packaged sub-prime auto loans which will likely cause a mini version of the 2008–2009 financial crisis as it blows up
  15. There will be many new innovations in luggage and bags as people no longer keep stuff in cars and loading and unloading packages from vehicles becomes much more automated. The traditional trunk size and shape will change. Trailers or other similar detachable devices will become much more commonplace to add storage space to vehicles
  16. Consumers will have more money as transportation (a major cost, especially for lower income people and families) gets much cheaper and ubiquitous
  17. Demand for taxi and truck drivers will go down, eventually to zero
  18. The politics will get ugly as lobbyists for the auto and oil industries unsuccessfully try to stop the driverless car. They’ll get even uglier as the federal government deals with assuming huge pension obligations and other legacy costs associated with the auto industry
  19. The new players in vehicle design and manufacturing will be a mix of companies like Uber, Google and Amazon and companies you don’t yet know. There will probably be 2 or 3 major players who control 80% of the customer-facing transportation market
  20. Supply chains will be disrupted as shipping changes. Algorithms will allow trucks to be fuller. Excess (latent) capacity will be priced cheaper. New middlemen and warehousing models will emerge
  21. Roads will be much emptier and smaller (over time) as self-driving cars need much less space between them (a major cause of traffic today), people will share vehicles more than today (carpooling), traffic flow will be better regulated and algorithmic timing (i.e. leave at 10 versus 9:30) will optimize infrastructure utilization
  22. Roads will wear out much more slowly with fewer vehicle miles, lighter vehicles (with less safety requirements). New road materials will be developed that drain better, last longer and are more environmentally friendly. These materials might even be power generating (solar or reclamation from vehicle kinetic energy)
  23. Premium vehicle services will have more compartmentalized privacy, more comfort, good business features (quiet, wifi, bluetooth for each passenger, etc)
  24. Cities will become much more dense as fewer roads and vehicles will be needed and transport will be cheaper and more available. The “walkable city” will continue to be more desirable as walking and biking become easier and more commonplace
  25. People will know when they leave, when they’ll get where they’re going. There will be few excuses for being late. We will be able to leave later and cram more into a day
  26. There will be no more DUI/OUI offenses. Restaurants and bars will sell more alcohol
  27. We’ll have less privacy as interior cameras and usage logs will track when and where we go and have gone. Exterior cameras will also probably record surroundings, including people. This may have a positive impact on crime, but will open up many complex privacy issues and likely many lawsuits
  28. Many lawyers will lose sources of revenue — traffic offenses, crash litigation will reduce dramatically. Litigation will more likely be “big company versus big company” or “individuals against big companies”, not individuals against each other. These will settle more quickly with less variability. Lobbyists will probably succeed in changing the rules of litigation to favor the bigger companies, further reducing the legal revenue related to transportation
  29. Cities, towns and police forces will lose revenue from traffic tickets, tolls (likely replaced, if not eliminated) and fuel tax revenues drop precipitously. These will probably be replaced by new taxes (probably on vehicle miles). These may become a major political hot-button issue differentiating parties as there will probably be a range of regressive versus progressive tax models
  30. Ambulance and other emergency vehicles will likely be used less and change in nature. More people will take regular autonomous vehicles instead of ambulances. Ambulances will transport people faster. Same may be true of military vehicles
  31. Airports will allow vehicles right into the terminals, maybe even onto the tarmac, as increased controls and security become possible. Terminal design may change dramatically as transportation to and from becomes normalized and integrated
  32. Innovative app-like marketplaces will open up for in-transit purchases, ranging from concierge services to food to merchandise to education to entertainment purchases
  33. Transportation will become more tightly integrated and packaged into many services — dinner includes the ride, hotel includes local transport, etc
  34. Local transport of nearly everything will become ubiquitous and cheap — food, everything in your local stores. Drones will likely be integrated into vehicle designs to deal with “last few feet” on pickup and delivery. Perhaps this will accelerate the reduction of traditional retail stores
  35. Multi-modal transportation will become much more common and further open up mobility. Over time, this will become more integrated optimized in experience (timing, automated billing)
  36. Biking and walking will become easier, safer and more common as roads get safer and less congested, new pathways (reclaimed from roads/parking lots/roadside parking) come online and with cheap, reliable transport available as a backup
  37. More people will participate in vehicle racing (cars, off road, motorcycles) to replace their emotional connection to driving
  38. Many, many fewer people will be injured or killed on roads, though we’ll expect zero and be disproportionately upset when accidents do happen
  39. Hacking of vehicles will be a serious issue. New software and communications companies and technologies will emerge to address these issues. There will probably be a debate about whether and how law enforcement can control, observe and restrict transportation
  40. Many roads and bridges will be privatized as a small number of companies control most transport and make deals with municipalities. Over time, government may entirely stop funding roads, bridges and tunnels
  41. Innovators will come along with many awesome uses for driveways and garages that no longer contain cars. There will be a new network of clean, safe, pay-to-use restrooms that become part of the value-add of competing service providers
  42. Mobility for seniors and people with disabilities will be greatly improved (over time)
  43. Parents will have more options to move around their kids on their own. Premium secure end-to-end children’s transport services will likely emerge. This may change many family relationships and increase the accessibility of services to parents and children
  44. Person to person movement of goods will become cheaper and open up new markets — think about borrowing a tool or buying something on Craigslist. Latent capacity will make transporting goods very inexpensive
  45. People will be able to eat/drink in transit (like on a train or plane), consume more information (reading, podcasts, video, etc). This will open up time for other activities and perhaps increased productivity
  46. Somewhere in the distant future, we may each have our own “pod” that we get into, which will then be picked up by an autonomous vehicle, moved between vehicles automatically for logistic efficiencies
  47. There will be no more getaway vehicles or police vehicle chases
  48. Vehicles will likely be filled to the brim with advertising of all sorts (much of which you could probably act on in route), though there will probably be ways to pay more to have an ad free experience
  49. These innovations will make it to the developing world where congestion today is often remarkably bad and hugely costly. Pollution levels will come down dramatically. Even more people will move to the cities. Productivity levels will go up. Fortunes will be made as these changes happen. Some countries and cities will be transformed
  50. Sensors of all sorts will be embedded in vehicles that will have secondary uses — like improving weather forecasting, crime detection and prevention, finding fugitives, infrastructure conditions (such as potholes). This data will be monetized, likely by the companies who own the transportation services

Note: I had the privilege recently of watching ryan chin, CEO of Optimus Ride speak at an MIT event about autonomous vehicles. He really got me thinking about how profound these advances could be to our lives. I’m sure some of my thoughts above came from him.

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