We all have dreamed about a future where our cars will drive themselves. We would just have to get into the car and ask the car to take us to the destination. Luckily, we are not too far from that sci-fi dream. We already have cars that have a lot of functions automated, such as emergency braking, lane assist, and other forms of driver assistance features. To take it even further, the likes of Tesla have autopilot features that allow the car to be driven with no input from the user.
These self-driving vehicles might become a reality soon, thanks to the efforts of Google’s self-driving car tech. You could just climb in it and get to your destination. So, where did it start? Google actually started this project back in 2009. However, Alphabet acquired Waymo in 2016, and Google decided to name their self-driving project Waymo. Waymo has been working to bring this technology to reality and has invited people to join the public trial of autonomous vehicles.
How much work needs to be put in?
In Waymo’s vision, the car would be fully autonomous and they would be able to drive themselves with absolutely no human input. But they don’t get the need to start from scratch to achieve that. We already have some tech that is used in cars today, such as frontal crash prevention, automatic emergency braking, etc which take control from the driver in a dangerous situation. These are the basic building blocks.
We also have automatic parking in cars such as Mercedes-Benz and Tesla. These cars can find a parking spot and automatically park themselves. So, when we think about it, we already have access to some levels of autonomy. Cars are getting smarter day by day.
Waymo made an announcement that self-driving cars would be available by 2020. However, that hasn’t happened yet, sadly. They are only available in some trials, as of now. Waymo’s technology for self-driving cars is not drastically different from the tech we have today – use radars, cameras, and LIDAR to make a map of the environment and progress forward. By feeding the destination and map, the cars can safely drive themselves to their destinations.
Changes in businesses and the money involved
One of the biggest changes the self-driving cars will bring is the massive change in the car industry and the way business is done. It is predicted by futurists that many businesses stand to lose billions of dollars if all cars on the streets are automated. Also, the government could not charge for licensing fees and other taxes. If you don’t own a car, you wouldn’t have to pay.
If you have a car that drives itself, there is no need for a driver and there is no need for health insurance and other insurances. The occupants don’t need a license to be inside. You do not need airbags and other safety equipment since the cars will be so safe. Even parking spaces in buildings will become an unnecessity.
What Google and Waymo are planning to do is to promote car-sharing. With cars that drive themselves, Google aims at reducing the total number of cars on the roads. Not everyone requires a personal car. You could just share a ride with other people and the car will take you to your destination.
Robin Chase, the CEO of Buzzcar, stated, “This (has the potential to) dramatically reduces the number of cars on the street, 80% of which have people driving alone in them and also a household’s cost of transportation, which is 18% of their income – around $9,000 – for an asset that they use only 5% of the time.” He is absolutely right.
Since cars will not be sold all that much, companies are expected to take a massive hit. At the same time, software developers and automakers can also earn billions for creating and honing the software for self-driving cars. By 2030, the figure is expected to rise to $87 billion worth of opportunities.
Differences in the way cars will be manufactured
Just imagine, if you don’t need a driver, the number of changes that can be made inside a car. There would be no need to create a driver-centric interior. There would be no requirement for a car with front-facing seats anymore. You wouldn’t need an infotainment system just for the front passengers. Automakers can integrate their own unique ideas.
Also, some of the biggest automakers in the US, such as Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota Honda, etc could earn billions – around $600 billion – in the sales of these new cars. However, in the long run, if people take to sharing cars rather than owning one, their sales figures would drop dramatically.
Changing the infrastructure
Of course, if sharing is popularized, you wouldn’t need tons and tons of space just for parking your car. With lesser cars to park, the parking space can be used for other useful purposes. If the infrastructure demands, the already existing parking lots and spaces can be turned into greenery, by planting more trees. Also, the government can take big lanes and highways and allocate them for other purposes.
Better for the environment
Another major impact of the lesser number of cars on the road would be the huge impact on the environment. Obviously, with lesser cars on the road, the emissions would be drastically reduced and hence, better for the environment. It is high time we start thinking about the environment and this could be a step forward.
Also, if the future is electric cars and if these self-driving cars are electric, the greenhouse gas emissions would be cut down by a huge amount and hopefully restore the climate and the environment. However, as this happens, oil and gasoline companies may also suffer from a loss.
Self-driving cars are safer
Are self-driving cars safer? Of course, they are. Self-driving cars are essentially computers running the car themselves. Imagine if all the cars on the streets are computers. They do not commit mistakes like humans, so taking human error out of the equation, would mean a much safer road. Accidents would practically be eliminated and extremely rare.
As Chase pointed out, computers do not get drunk or drive too fast. 90% of the accidents are caused by driver errors, so self-driving cars would be a boon for road safety. This would also affect insurance companies as there would be no need for vehicle or health insurance. These companies could see a loss of up to $200 billion.
So, what’s the catch?
As much as we love this concept, there are also some potential hazards. A bug, if somehow gone undetected during testing, could potentially be life-threatening if the car somehow malfunctions while on the street. There would also be the risk of hackers, who could hack into the car and cause problems. There would also be legal problems and risks. If a car crashes, who is to blame and why?
We as humans love tackling risks. We wouldn’t have been where we are without undertaking risks. This is a step forward in the right direction and it could dramatically change the world we live in today. Lots of opportunities may open up and some may shut down forever.