Autonomous vehicles (AVs)–better known as “self-driving” or “driverless” cars–once imagined no further than in the context of an Isaac Asimov novel, could take the world by storm in as little as three decades. In fact, as industry giants such as Google, Tesla, BMW, and Mercedes all race to create the top self-driving car on the market, a Business Insider report from 2015 projects that some 10 million self-driving cars will be fully operative on roads by 2020 and would be available for mass consumption by the year 2050.
What Does This Mean for the Consumer?
According to Google, self-driving cars would allow anyone, regardless of age or driving ability, to operate a vehicle. This includes the deaf and visually impaired. Currently, more than 1.2 million deaths occur from traffic accidents every year, 94 percent of which are due to human error. Self-driving cars seek to virtually eliminate most auto-accidents by almost 90 percent. Such predictions have overwhelmingly positive implications for the U.S. economy overtime, saving nearly $190 billionin accidents between medical and emergency room costs. Picture a world in which auto fatality falls from the second leading cause of death in the U.S. to the ninth.
Knowing this can alleviate many worries and shore up considerable free time for passengers. For as long as 50 minutes a day, passengers are free to work, study, watch TV, listen to music–pretty much anything–significantly increasing productivity and digital-media sales around the world. Even as self-driving models will emphasize safety first at all costs, however, Tesla does stress the importance of passengers remaining engaged since nothing is ever certain.
From there the similar technologies of AVs and robots will thrust the world full-force into Asimov’s universe of advanced artificial intelligence–including humanoid robots–that can perform day-to-day functions once deemed distinctively human. The advent of such intelligence indicates a gradual shift in how people spend their time, allowing them to pursue their passions more fully and just let the machines handle the mundane.
In addition to all this, for the environmentally conscious, it’s likely that such vehicles could reduce carbon emissions by 2 to 4 percent over the next 10 years and that we could be looking at fully-functioning, battery-operated cars in the long run. Furthermore, with models that do not require open-door space to park, inevitably shrinking parking by up to 15 percent, it is easy to see the overwhelming long-term benefits for the industry.
In early stages, while overall safety is a growing concern among many skeptics, Google is one company that promotes itself as having the safest consumer options. So far, its robotic cars have seen just one minor fender-bender at low speed, and that was with a robotic driver.
After the transition from reluctant acceptance to enthusiastic optimism occurs, the insurance providers could be looking toward shifting their coverage from the individual driver to the technical errors of the car manufacturer. Additionally, the business model is the zenith of efficiency and productivity with the increase of automation in supply chains. This is the landscape of a world with autonomous vehicles.
What to Take Away
If we had been standing on the brink of the 19th century, reading about prototypes for the first automobile, the similar frenzy of skepticism and doubt would seize the most imaginative among us. The trends of history, however, can only move uncompromisingly forward, and we must either be willing to either embrace it or brace ourselves for it.