Google has been researching and developing autonomous cars for nearly a decade and while public opinion is still divided about them, it seems that they could be just around the corner.
But what will the world look like with driverless cars? The truth is that nobody can say with any degree of certainty what it will look like in 10 years’ time. A price point hasn’t been set, regulations haven’t been laid out by governments and despite thousands of test hours on roads we can’t be sure how popular the idea will prove to be with the general public.
1. They could bring an end to mass car ownership
"I think driverless cars will virtually eliminate the concept of private car ownership altogether. Instead, almost everyone will get around in driverless taxis," predicts Timothy B. Lee of Vox.
"We take consumer car ownership for granted because it's how things have always worked. That blinds us to how profoundly wasteful it is. Not only do our cars spend 90 percent of their lives sitting unused in driveways or parking lots, but we've designed our cities around this wasteful practice, setting aside several parking spaces for every car"
This point of view has seemingly been backed up by co-founder of Uber Travis Kalanick, who pointed out: "When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of Uber becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle.”
2. They could change the age of retirement
Will it in fact be the elderly, as opposed to the younger tech nerds, who will benefit the most from the introduction of driverless cars? One thing you can be sure of is that the technology will certainly not be starting out cheap, meaning the vehicles may well be out of reach for many road users, especially younger ones.
“The boomers all moved to the suburbs, and the suburbs don’t have good transit. When boomers get to be seniors, they will find themselves without as much driving ability and without the ability to use transit to get places,” explains Brad Templeton, who consulted on the Google car team.
“Sometimes the only alternative will be to move out of your house. If [a self-driving car] lets you keep your house rather than having to move, I think you’ll see people who aren’t necessarily early adopters go for it.”
This new found freedom could well result in ‘seniors’ choosing to stay on longer in their jobs, with retirement ages already being pushed upwards through financial need, a new way of facilitating this would fit in well with what is already a natural progression.
3. They could save us a lot of money
As mentioned above, the chances are that if driverless cars were to go mainstream then the majority of us wouldn’t be owning one, but paying for a series of rides throughout the day. That in itself would save individuals a sizeable amount, however the fact remains that the technology needed to get the cars around is very expensive.
However, back in October 2014 a new innovation emerged which might drastically reduce the cost point for driverless cars. “The Puck” is a palm-sized piece of kit which is cheaper and smaller than current options, comprising of 16 lasers that map the car’s surroundings – compared to 64 in the original model. This significantly lowers the price, from somewhere in the region of $85,000 to $8,500. The weight and cost of the ‘Pucks’ could mean that multiple ones could be fitted into vehicles to address concerns of a reduced field of vision for the on-board computers. While none of this is certain, you can be sure that the innovations will keep on coming and continue to drive down the price for the everyday road user.
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