Ben Klayman, Reuters’ Detroit-based crack car correspondent, wrote a very good feature on self-driving cars. After interviewing many sources, he comes to the conclusion that “it’s been more than half a century since some of the first concept cars boasting self-driving features were presented to the world” and that this probably will not change anytime soon. Even Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google and the staunchest supporter of the technology cautiously says that “self-driving cars should in our lifetime become the predominant way.”
The answers Klayman received from experts range from “My mental model of trust in technology is a Windows blue screen of death. That’s how much faith I have in PCs and computer systems,” said by Bryan Reimer, a research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, to a despondent Bob Casey, curator of transportation at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, who seems to have accepted that the driverless car is coming and who is already bemoaning the past when real cars were still driven by real people:
“Part of the fundamental attraction of automobiles has been the actual driving of them. If you do away with that, then it really becomes an appliance … a toaster, a washing machine.”
BMW (“We will always be the ultimate driving machine”) does not buy the story, GM is all for it: “Once we have a car that will never crash, why don’t we let it drive?”
For me, the best part is Ben Klayman’s factbox. He actually went through the painful exercise of actually reading the study KPMG and CAR had prepared last week. He summarized the study’s findings, which read like the driverless cars will be the answer to society’s ills, stopping short of curing cancer and the common cold:
Possible consequences expected from driverless car
- Automakers cut weight from cars and trucks as crashless cars do not need to be made with as much reinforced steel or as many safety devices like airbags. That would lower vehicle costs, speed up vehicle development time and boost fuel efficiency.
- Automated cars would drive in tighter packs because computers would control their speed and spacing. That would mean smaller roads were necessary and result in the elimination of shoulders and guardrails, leading to a significant reduction in the $75 billion spent annually on roads, highways and other infrastructure.
- With computers controlling the cars, driving would be more efficient and thus faster, leading to less congestion on the roads. Fuel consumption would decline and companies that rely on just-in-time delivery could reduce inventories even further.
- Automated cars also would allow for the elimination of traffic and road lights in many cases. That would slash energy use drastically.
- Driverless cars would mean a change in the way drivers are insured, and could even end the need for car insurance.
- Crashless cars would mean auto repair shops see fewer damaged cars, meaning they would need to shift their business model to serving the aftermarket needs of existing cars that lack autonomous driving systems.
- Steelmakers would have to adjust to a world where cars use less of their product.
- Less expensive, driverless cars would open ownership to new audiences like younger generations or even the blind, but they also could lead to wider vehicle sharing that would slash global sales.
- If vehicle sharing expanded, cars could be summoned as needed and people could pay for mobility services as needed instead of owning a vehicle.
- Autonomous transportation could eliminate the need for and cost of high-speed trains.
- Vehicle sharing could keep vehicles in more constant use, reducing the need for parking lots that take up a lot of land in cities.
The depends on which side you are on:
- Hospitals would lose more than two million crash victims sent annually to U.S. emergency rooms.
- State and local governments would have to adjust to the loss of traffic fines, possibly reducing their police forces. Governments might seek to replace some of that lost revenue; perhaps with infrastructure usage fees.
- Lighter, easier-to-build cars could open the auto industry to new rivals using a model like Apple’s, where a company designs and markets a product but outsources its construction.
- A connected, driverless car network would require security from hackers and would raise privacy concerns with many consumers.
P.S.: In a TTAC reader poll, 69 percent of the respondents thought driverless cars will revolutionize the industry, 31 percent thought they won’t.