The idea of self-driven cars may evoke diabolical visions of the “rise of machines,” – the first step to robots becoming humanity’s overlords.
Try to look deeper. Imagine a morning commute where there’s no one on cellphones, or applying makeup, or otherwise swerving wildly while they operate deadly machinery.
The human element is confined – stress free – to passenger status, free to prep for meetings, nap, watch TV, or do whatever, without lousing up traffic with imperfect decision making. Free from reactive thinking, studies show just a few robotic cars help improve traffic flow.
While it’s difficult to quantify the overall impact before automated cars actually arrive, there’s little doubt that these computerized rides – capable of billions of calculations a second – will be superior drivers to their all-too-human counterparts.
Besides the obvious effects on traffic, there is tremendous potential for autonomous cars to affect new home development and community planning.
More private ownership of driverless cars might draw commuters further out into the spacious exurbs. Free to work while they ride, they might not mind the longer commute.
Rural communities that have been proverbially “excluded” from the working landscape could be revitalized.
In the cities, the autonomous car revolution will probably manifest in more subscriptions to ride-sharing services, meaning there could be a marked decrease in automobile ownership. In expensive urban markets, a lot of land is currently locked up in parking lots and garages.
Under current regulations, builders must shoulder a lot of the extra costs of all that parking space. With fewer cars, extra space could be used for more apartments and condos, bringing down the cost of housing.
Suburban residents who subscribe to ride sharing could eliminate the need for so much garage space, currently taking up about 15 percent of the total size of the average American home.
New homes built without garages could reduce overall cost. There could be more land available to put up larger homes in new subdivisions and neighborhoods. Or homes could come with larger yards or more interior space.
It could be closer than you think. Ford, Volvo, and BMW and GM plan to release robotic vehicles by 2021, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk says one of his cars will soon make the trip from Los Angeles to New York.
Look past the movie-driven versions of impending doom and imagine a near future where traffic is easier, safer and more efficient – with cars serving us, rather than us being slaves to our cars.