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Autonomous cars are so close to reality

When I declared automated cars to be on our roads within 5 years and highly adopted in 10 years with private transportation becoming obsolete in 15-20 years, my friends looked at me like I was nuts and an overoptimistic technologist.

Mark my words, a transportation revolution is happening and most people are completely unaware how fast it is coming.

Telsa has joined the ranks of autonomous vehicles: Tesla Testing Software For Autopilot Trips Between Seattle & San Francisco

Elon Musk’s promise to deliver a fully functional self-driving car within the near future appears to have some truth to it — it seems to have not been an exaggeration, in other words (despite his habit of overstating things). The company has reportedly begun testing software that will allow the Model S to “drive itself” all the way from San Francisco to Seattle.

[Source, Clean Technica]

I so welcome it. The ramifications of autonomous vehicles is huge! Think of the infrastructure changes alone:

  • No more parking lots. (turn mall parking lots into actual parks)
  • No more signage = prettier cities.
  • No more painted roads.
  • Narrower and fewer roads = less maintenance, less environmental impact.
  • No more DUIs.
  • No more road rage.
  • No more divided highways (the cars negotiate the number of lanes each direction as demand dictates)
  • No more stress of ownership (ie. no more insurance, unexpected repairs when payday is still weeks away, worry over other’s ruining your vehicle by running into you)
  • No more accidents.
  • The elderly can become mobile again.
  • Special needs (mentally, disabled, blind, etc) people who previously could not drive will have refound freedom.
  • Greater quality time on commutes. (Trips to work can be productive. You can sleep on the long commute to granny’s house. Practice guitar while passengering to that gig. Play cars with your child instead of demanding they play the alphabet game once more time.)
  • Moving vans delivered to your door. (Want to move a bedroom suite from Cincinnati to Knoxville? Have Penske autodeliver a truck to the house in Knox then let the truck take you to Cincinnati, load, and the truck returns you or better yet just send the truck to Cincinnati and have locals load it.)

So many possibilities!

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Bring on our robotic overlords — self-driving cars are needed now!

When I enthusiastically talk about the death of personal transportation, my friends wrinkle their brow, squint their eyes, and declare, "I’ll never give up my car!" I will! I’m ready now. I would much rather open an app on my iPhone and schedule a car to arrive at the house at a certain time. Say, 9am. But I dillydally until 10am. That’s okay. The car is billing me. And in the long run, that bill will be far less than the cost and stress of ownership. The car will take me anywhere I want to go even if that is across the country. I won’t be concerned with filling it up with whatever magic makes it go. (gas? electricity? tired mice? I don’t care.) Never again will I have to schedule maintenance, lose a Saturday to sitting in the mechanic’s lounge drinking bad coffee while watching Fox News and having discussions with people I’ll never see again, or worry about how I’m going to pay for whatever vehicular madness is destine to befall me during next month’s lean period "Sir, your combobulator is defective and we have to send it to Pennsylvania and we needed to add 300 gallons of water to your tires and I have this great coupon which brings your bill down to only umpteenquadrillon dollars." Anyone that has ever used Uber can appreciate the means by which travel will be handled in the near (yes NEAR) future. A car pulls up, you get in, it takes you somewhere, you get out. No currency exchange. And no driver!

Infrastructure will change. Imagine no longer needing traffic lights, road signs, or lines on the roads. Roads can narrow and in many cases be eliminated completely. The municipal savings will be tremendous!

Additionally, parking lots will go away. We simply will not need parking lots when your car will always drop you off at the front door of your destination. Imagine your shopping mall’s parking lot becoming a wooded nature trail…with shopping in the center.

The other thing I have said in describing autonomous vehicles is that the configuration will change. Specifically I’ve said the car of the future will have a round table (popup from the floor possibly) and the chair will all spin to face the interior of the car. In this way, the passengers can see each other, do business, play games, converse, and relax. There is no need to see what is happening outside. For that matter, we could make the windows go away. Google has shared my vision. Their latest rendition of the autonomous car eliminates the steering wheel and the control pedals. I can’t wait until these are the primary means of transportation!

Of course, with scientists saying that they can convert light to matter within the next year, the car may be dead. Bring on the transporter beam!

Follow-up commentary: In answer to:

So it comes down to comparing the time it takes to walk to your car in a parking lot versus waiting for a robot to come pick you up. How much is that convenience worth? Less in dense metropolitan areas where it’s impossible (or really expensive) finding a place to park."

I answered:

In theory, there will never be more than a few minutes way, like Uber.

For those living in rural areas, some planning ahead may be in order…the trade off for living away from the city. So instead of having a vehicle in under 5 minutes, it may take an hour.

Just like the challenge we face with extending broadband to rural areas, this model may flounder outside of metropolitan areas. Perhaps we will see outliers continue to own personal transportation for which they will drive to the extremities of Metropolis where they will switch for a robotic car. BUT what I suspect will really happen is that the robotic cars will use the same predictive algorithms that Amazon is going to use for same day shipping to make sure a car is near the rural place of need. So if rural home 401 farm st. always orders a car on Wednesday morning why not go ahead and send one before it is requested? If 401 farm st doesn’t call that car someone nearby is likely to need it. Also I suspect the maintenance and storage facility for these vehicles will be in rural areas serving a dual purpose of warehousing outside the space of the city and providing faster deployment in those rural communities.

Then an hour later Techcrunch published "Uber Confirms ‘Record Breaking’ Fundraising, Interest In Driverless Ubers"