I read an article the other day about how technology will effect your industry of employment in the coming years. One of the top industries that were going to be effected was the taxi and ride sharing industry, it was obvious to me that without even reading why it would be because of autonomous driving technology. It was extremely obvious that this technology would certainly replace the drivers that today most, including me, dread to engage with for a ride home after a long night out.
It's funny how our attitudes to technology change in the 21st century. I've studied technology and systems in depth whilst I was at university and developed a psychological theory about technology. That theory was the direct correlation between societies increasing distrust for other human beings and their increasing reliance and trust for technology. If you think about it 10 years ago using a computer error as an excuse for not getting a report in on time was fairly common place. Where now the excuse really just doesn't fly, because computers and technology in general is being programmed and tested in real world situations. That means that, most of the time, advances in technology are extremely relevant to our lives.
I'll come back to the autonomous driving example. Just recently in the city of Geelong, Australia a young girl has accused a taxi corporation and and their driver of sexual harassment and eventually assault and negligence. This is one of those rare moments where the incident was reported directly after occurrence. I read the police description of the incident and bloody hell was it graphic. I myself seldom trust cab or Uber drivers, mostly because of their work efficacy. But this was next level. I think it's a fairly general feeling in most communities at the moment as well, which truth be told is very unfortunate. There are a lot of honest taxi drivers out there that, I'm sure, are just trying to feed their family.
Most recently though I've been much more trusting of technology. Just last February I got the opportunity to sit in a BMW 7 series test autonomous vehicle whilst it drove. And that was phenomenal. The way the car avoided obstructions and read its surrounds was thirty times better than any driver could do so, racing or not. Up until that moment I'd been really cynical about autonomous driving.
There had been a bunch of rumours in the automotive industry about horror autonomous driving systems stories. I'd heard that Volvo had to delay it's full system roll out because the system couldn't recognise the direction in which a Kangaroo was going to hop (I'm not even joking when I say that). And that Tesla were having issues with time based obstructions (when something moves at speed in front of a vehicle not giving the vehicle time to avoid). But I could not fault that 7 series with either (not that we tested it with a Kangaroo).
This culminated then in driving a newer model X3 at the start of this year with BMW's autopilot system (semi-autonomous), which I found to be another highly impressive advancement in the autonomous driving system. Without incriminating myself I would've almost been able to go to sleep using that autopilot system.
BMW, Volvo, Audi and Jaguar Land Rover have all committed to fitting their vehicles both with autonomous and manual driving in the future. That means that there will not be such a thing (apart from for commercial uses) as a car which only drives itself in the near future. However after experiencing these systems first hand, I believe that not only is there a market for autonomous driving, but we should all stop whinging about it.
Allow me to digress. You're out on a night in town. It's 3am, you've had about 14 beers over the course of the night, and you're with another 3 mates, all who are tired and looking to go home. After stumbling out of a pub or club you walk towards the taxi rank, only there's a line a mile long to get the next cab. You open your phone and look at Uber, the wait time is 20 minutes. But here's the thing, you only live 5 minutes from town. How frustrating is that?
Let's rewind and use the same hypothetical. Except you stumble out of the club and you along with your 3 mates pile into your Range Rover Sport, put all four addresses into it's autonomous driving AI system and turn on the heated seats whilst your mates go to sleep. You watch the rest of the revelers shivering in the cab line. Cursing your autonomous driving brilliance.
Here's another one, you wake up in the morning with a meeting in a city center. You get an email telling you the presentation has been updated and you need to learn or change your own presentation for that meeting to match. But it's okay, your Audi A8 will battle the traffic whilst you sit in the back seat fixing the presentation only to arrive in the city fresh and ready for the meeting.
See naysayers of autonomous driving don't live in the real world. They live in a world where they drive in the Scottish Highlands every day, or drift rear wheel drive cars on snow, or get to take their car to the track on a Monday at midday and throw it left to right until they can stop for coffee. No, naysayers live in a world where time isn't a premium and petrol is just fine because they use so much of it, never care about paying for it and never have road accidents.
In the real world we have road fatality counts, traffic, deadlines, lack of sleep and drunken nights. And for all of those "real worlders" you have got to be assured that car manufacturers are working on a solution that means you don't have to smell the grotty supermarket worker on the train to work, you don't have to turn up to a conference without makeup on, you don't have to forego McDonalds on your way home from the club because your cab driver refuses to go through a drive thru.
Yes, car manufacturers live in the real world as well, and that really excites me. Because it means the real world in the near future might put a smile on my face in the morning, instead of bringing a frown with the thought of having to face another day.
The real world is also going to allow you to put your hands on the wheel and drive your car like you want to any time you want. Because driving is an emotional thing, it's something that brings joy. And with autonomous driving in the future? Driving will become a thing of choice, it'll become something safe but something that you do only when you want to, and only when you want to enjoy it. It won't be something you're forced to do every day. I think that's the most important part about autonomous vehicles, where everyone thinks it's going to take the skill and joy away from driving? I think it's going to bring it back. Because driving a car should be about choice, and it should definitely be about joy.