5 ways autonomous vehicles will change our lives
Around 100 years ago, when the automobile first entered our daily lives, the world began on a transformation that would irrevocably change our lives. No longer constrained to walking, cycling or trains, the whole length of the country was suddenly within reach.
The effects of greater mobility are not difficult to spot. Every country is criss-crossed with a network of roads, homes have driveways and destinations have car parks. Our lives and participation in society are founded on one thing and that is the car.
Now that autonomous vehicles are on the horizon, we are set to yet again see a change. If the introduction of the car taught us one thing, it is that it doesn't matter how far away something is, all that matters is how easily you can get there.
1. The 25th hour
With the removal of the vehicle's controls, it will no longer to be necessary sit attentively at the wheel watching out for somebody or something trying to make an attempt at your no claims bonus. The average commute time is around 30 mins which means that to a from work, you now have an extra hour free to work, rest or play. This has become known as the 25th hour. Autonomous vehicles of the future will probably feature completely different interiors with desk space, media and entertainment - or even a bed.
We won't need to sit miserably in traffic. In the future we could be catching up on emails, playing Gran Turismo or indeed catching up on some much needed zzz. Whatever we choose to do with our newfound time, it offers us may interesting opportunities and has the potential to increase the productivity of our lives.
2. Car ownership
As fond as we may be of our cars, they spend around 90% of the day stationary. We drive to work, it sits in a car park all day, we drive it home, might nip to the pub, then it stays on the driveway all night. A driverless car however, has the potential to do an awful lot more. Provided that it remains fuelled/charged and maintained, there's no reason it can't go all day. Since each person only requires use of a car for about 10% of their day, it makes sense that autonomous vehicles work on a ride hailing model such as that used by Uber.
These autonomous taxis could take a few people to work in the morning, travel to a depot to have its seats removed to become a light delivery vehicle, do a whole day of deliveries and then revert back to being a taxi for the journeys home and back from the pub. During the night it can perform more deliveries and make use of the quiet roads to cover longer distances. Whilst it is working around the clock it is able to pay for itself very quickly which will help to offset the inevitably higher purchasing costs.
All this will likely remove the need to even own a car if you know you can call upon one cheaply and quickly. Of course there's nothing preventing you from owning your own personal, luxury autonomous vehicle that nobody else uses. But with such earning potential, don't be surprised if companies like Uber and Lyft start making these services popular.
3. Mobility for everyone
For a lot of old people or those with disabilities, getting about can offer up many challenges. Many are not able to drive and as a result will have to rely on public transport. This makes it much harder to do even the simplest things such as going to do your weekly shop, or visiting friends and family. It doesn't matter how regular the trains are or how many bus routes are introduced, there is still probably the need to walk some distance to reach your destination. For people with reduced mobility, this can offer up a big challenge which prevents them from participating fully in society.
Autonomous vehicles remove many of these problems. They can travel door to door and offer a comfortable and convenient journey to the passenger. Additionally, since autonomous vehicles no longer need to resemble traditional cars, there could be special vehicles within the fleet with ramps for wheelchairs along with many other features to improve accessibility. This would make travel far less daunting and offer a lifeline to people who previously were not able to get around.
4. Settlement patterns
Just as the introduction of the car made it possible to live further away from jobs and amenities, it is likely that the autonomous car will have a similar effect. If travel is no longer boring and laborious, we won't mind doing it so much. That is to say that our perceived cost of travelling is reduced and we will be willing to do more of it. The result is that we will likely see the suburbs spread further out of the city and into the countryside.
There might no longer be a corner shop down the road or walkable amenities but does that actually matter when an autonomous vehicle is ready and waiting outside and it has a TV? If however we build our cities to be reliant on travel by car, it becomes very difficult to change travel behaviours to be greener in the future. We only have to look at cities like Houston to see how this has be come a problem.
5. Safer roads and city centres
Autonomous vehicles of the future are expected to be much safer than human-driven cars because of their ability to see all around them and react immediately to potential hazards. This means that the boundaries between road and pavement can start to become blurred into a multimodal, shared roadway where people and cars can mix safely and seamlessly. Furthermore, if car ownership is lower there'll be much reduced traffic volume trying to squeeze through the often crowded city centre streets. This is excellent news for our cities because it means we can devote more space to pedestrians and green spaces to make getting around far more enjoyable.
The new vehicles will also include technology which can talk to the infrastructure around it. The benefits of this are wide ranging with potential for improved safety and traffic flow. Crossings could illuminate to indicate that it is safe to cross and the autonomous vehicles will know well in advance about the light change so they can slow down more gradually for extra comfort and pedestrian safety.
Land that is currently devoted to cars, such as parking lots, driveways and excess roads, could be repurposed and redeveloped as new businesses or entertainment venues. At the same time it will become easier to get dropped off closer to your destination as regularly spaced, short stay drop off bays replace larger car parks that are often located away from central locations.
So there you have it...
The autonomous revolution is yet to happen and when it does, it is likely that all of the ideas I have just written about will come into light very slowly. Having said that, many companies have promised working examples within a few years so the future of automobiles might be closer than we thought and it could unfold in front of our eyes. Whether you're a futurist or a die-hard traditionalist, the automotive world is set for a big change and there are multiple benefits and opportunities to be realised.