One automaker after another is about to launch self-driving cars in the coming years. Driverless cars are gaining more and more fans, but even the critics of the future technology are not far behind. Fear of loss of control, lack of trust in technology and unresolved ethical issues are mentioned.
Whether we like it or not: the development seems to be unstoppable. What currently Tesla, especially with his Tesla autopilot, BMW, Ford, General Motors or Volvo, will soon offer: The dream of autonomous driving vehicle, which requires no driver.
A dream of mankind finally comes true – self-driving cars
As early as the middle of the 20th century, people and car manufacturers began to imagine how cars would soon be without a driver and how people could use their time much better while driving. Similar to a train ride, they could talk face-to-face, spend time reading or playing, or work, as they travel safely and accurately across the country. However, the necessary technology at affordable costs and with the necessary accuracy has become available only recently; and also the will to use them.
At first glance, it sounds like a long-cherished dream of free and unhindered individual mobility. No idle waiting time stuck in a traffic jam, no more worried about a second's sleep, but even extra nap time on the way to work and no more annoyance over risky overtaking maneuvers by other road users.
If you take a closer look into the future, it quickly becomes clear how incredibly strong our society today is already geared to the prevailing mobility system with vehicles that are driven by people, and how much the self-driving car is not just the transport sector, but our entire world and the way we live will change.
Even now, the first signs and expert opinions make it very clear which areas have to adjust to changes. We would like to discuss some of these below:
No more ownership of the car – When cars can find their own parking space, they can be summoned to the desired location on demand, as in the television series Knight Rider with David Hasselhoff and the car users are no longer able to decide with their gas feet whether to lay down a cavalier start or to rush over the red quickly. Then the car will probably soon lose its status as a status symbol. At some point, many may wonder if they want to own a car of their own with all the costs and expenses that a car can bring. Especially when economic considerations are added, carsharing is gaining new momentum.
If self-driving cars, such as taxis today, can be summoned, but no driver needs to sit behind the wheel, then a taxi service will be much cheaper, as the staff costs are completely eliminated. A self-driving car will then be much faster where it is needed, the more such autonomous vehicles are on the roads. The likelihood that a vacant vehicle is just in the vicinity thus increases enormously.
Now imagine that such a car can be in use 24 hours a day, 24 hours a day, and is used by many people on call every day - everyone pays only for the distance traveled - how much cheaper it will then be an automobile to use it only when it is needed instead of owning it all the time and then paying full attention to maintenance and preservation?
Orphaned Parking and Parking garages – With fewer and fewer people owning cars and self-driving cars almost always on the road to pick up their passengers and bring them to their destinations, who needs parking or parking garages? Real estate specialists in the US have already thought about it. They assume that these then free parking areas, for example, converted into storage rooms or even living spaces. Even today, there are architects such as William Hezmalhalch in Orange County, CA, which consider the future development and offer about garages that can be converted into living space with little effort.
In addition, living or at least the construction of apartments, shopping centers, and office real estate could be much cheaper. Because so far, parking garages are often built in the lower floors of new buildings, especially in inner-city locations. Of course, the costs are borne by the tenants in the form of higher rent. If no more garages are needed, the total construction costs are reduced enormously, which could subsequently reduce rents. An indication that autonomous driving could also lead to increased construction activity in the future.
No cars: No car Dealers – As the proportion of cars owned by private individuals decreases, so will many facilities associated with the automotive sector. If in the future, only car-sharing companies and companies will buy cars in large numbers and negotiate them directly with the vehicle manufacturers, or if the manufacturers themselves play the role of car-sharing services, the demand for the presentation of new cars will also be significantly lower. Car dealers lining up on large driveways could soon be a picture of the past. Here, too, open spaces will be created that can be used for other types of use.
Just as companies or even large taxi companies with large vehicle fleets already have their own car washes or workshops where these services are handled internally, repairs and vehicle maintenance are probably carried out more cost-effectively and efficiently by the major car-sharing or taxi companies themselves, which means that such facilities may become rarer.
Gas stations while there will continue to be, or at least places that perform this function - even if they are quick-charge or battery replacement stations - when there is no need for a driver to refuel the car and then go to the store to pay as it is automatically billed, it may also soon no longer need a large range of goods around the clock in gas station shops. Perhaps these will be converted into warehouses without a direct sales area, from there to load the orders from nearby customers online late into the next free autonomous car, so that this brings as quickly as possible the bag of chips or crate of beer to the desired address. In the same way, drive-ins of fast-food restaurants could become superfluous.
It is already becoming clear how profound the changes could be in front of which society stands on the threshold of the technology of self-driving vehicles. But we have just started.
No roads anymore? “Where we're going, we do not need Roads." Well, granted, the move to flying cars still seems a long way off, but in fact, autonomous driving vehicles could at least ensure that fewer roads are needed. Cities are very much geared to the car today. Each street has a road to reach it with a vehicle. But maybe this will not be necessary anymore in the future. City planners could develop a completely new concept, which does not stop at the road network.
When people no longer need to sit behind the wheel themselves but can use the travel time effectively for entertaining, working or just looking out the window, they have much more time available. The time they may also want to take a few meters to walk to a pick-up station similar to today's taxi ranks, where the next self-driving car is already waiting for passengers.
Autonomous driving could mean that expensive roads no longer need to reach every house. Instead, over the last 100 meters to a row of houses, only pedestrian or cycle paths mean that it is easy to move to the nearest pick-up station, where it can be chauffeured to the desired destination with a waiting or ordered car. This would offer enormous potential to save paved areas. Likewise, road surfaces could be built narrower, as no longer would have to be provided everywhere at the edges of the lane parking. However, if cars are driven more than standstill anyway, the metal columns in our cities will soon become an increasingly rare picture.
Looking back, humanity has faced a similar radical change in mobility: when the transfer from the horse-drawn carriage to the car took place. More than 120 years ago, New York City had about 3 million inhabitants, and city officials at the time believed that the city would not be able to grow much further as the roads were clogged with horse-drawn carriages and had reached their capacity limits. The horse manure also represented a foul-smelling and ugly problem everywhere. One did not expect however with the invention of the car and the mass spreading of the same. Thanks to the faster, then clean and now also more efficient transport option, the existing roads could be better used and the population explosion of New York stood nothing in the way.
A similar revolution is still ahead of our world today. So far, we can only imagine what changes self-driving cars will bring to our society, our cities and the way we live. But they should be profound. The city of the future will change as well. When artificial intelligence and technology make traffic smoother, faster and more efficient on fewer road surfaces, street signs and traffic lights disappear, and millions of square feet of parking space are no longer used around the world, so will the city of the future the way our society is ticking.