Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageOp-Ed: Autonomous vehicles will radically change our society

By Ken Hanly     Feb 14, 2018 in Technology
While it is still not clear how long it will take, electric cars, robo taxis, and self-driving trucks are bound to radically alter our society, perhaps sooner than we think.
Tests of driverless cars are already taking place
Carlos Ghosn CEO of the Renault Nissan Alliance claims that driverless or fully autonomous cars will be in use everywhere within six years. If such a quick transition takes places it would do more than change just the automobile industry but change our lifestyle and the shape of our activities within cities.
However, as a recent Digital Journal article points out driverless cars may still be far in the future. Many are selling the concept without any actual product being available or even if it were regulations that would allow it to be used need still to be developed. The market just for purely electric vehicles is still relatively miniscule. It remains to be seen if consumers are even anxious to become involved with the new driverless technology.
Declining public transportation
Cheap ride hailing services could reduce the use of and demand for public transportation . According to a recent University of California study people are already using ride hailing apps instead of driving, taking the train, cycling or even walking.
It is hard to see why one would encourage such a trend. It could create new problems as public transport moves huge numbers of people in a few vehicles whereas privatized driverless vehicles would need many more and create its own type of traffic jam. It is not clear why the same type of service could not be provided publicly. Public transportation could use the new driverless technology on its systems making them much cheaper and more efficient than robot taxis.
While removing human drivers from a private hailing system might make it more affordable, the same is true of any public system. If the public system became more efficient and were promoted as are private systems than we would not likely have dwindling passenger numbers. The public system is declining because politicians like to promote and reward the private companies that lobby them and help finance their campaigns.
The decline of air travel over short distances
In the US, people often take short flights between or even within states. However, the autonomous technology could make car journeys a more pleasant and productive technology. A Bloomberg article argues that the effect could be similar to that of bullet trains in Japan.
However, this ignores the fact that the cars would need to go at a similar speed to the bullet trains. The bullet trains are much more efficient as well in that they carry huge numbers in one vehicle.
Finally, the argument ignores the fact that driverless vehicles also includes airplanes. They can take advantage of the same technology as the driverless autos. Aviation consultant Mike Dorion claims that pilotless flights will be available within the next five or ten years.
The link between US popular culture and car ownership will dwindle
Already a University of MIchigan study shows that fewer young people are learning to drive citing the cost and ability to share rides as a key reason. However, there is no reason why car ownership of driveless cars could not become a matter of pride and create a similar link with popular culture. Makers and sellers of driverless cars would promote this linkage.
Yet Microsoft's Doug Seven a leader of the company's connected and driverless car efforts said:“We as Americans associate our identity with our car. When the 20 year-olds become the 40 year-olds and the 40 year-olds become the 60 year-olds, the cultures will shift.”
Driverless trucks
The US is already facing a shortage of drivers and fewer young people want to take on the job. The average age of drivers is now about 49 so within a few years they will retire. More driverless trucks should be good for the industry.
Tesla is producing a driverless semi and several companies have place pre-orders. However, many doubt that Tesla will be able to deliver what is promised and critics point out that considerable advances in battery technology are needed for Elon Musk of Tesla to keep his promises. Musk has been late on delivering promises before so it would not be surprising if the advent of driverless trucks is some time in the future yet.
Companies will test a few units to see how they work before buying the trucks in quantity. GIven their limited range, the new trucks will probably be confined to shorter hauls. An infrastructure of charging stations still needs to be developed.
A Bloomberg artcile discusses other important impacts of the new technology plus winners and losers.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about autonomous vehicles, robo taxis, public transporrt
More news from
Latest News
Top News