By Mark Richards.
At the beginning of last week, we wrote about driverless (or self-driving or autonomous) cars: what they were, how they worked and which companies were investing the money. But the big questions for most people are much more basic: ‘what does it mean for me?’ ‘How will they affect my future?’
Well, if you are as old as me then the answer to the first question is, sadly, ‘not much.’ But for my children, the answer is ‘significantly.’ Driverless cars – and autonomous vehicles generally – are going to re-shape the future.
Car ownership is changing
Before we consider that, though, let us consider one major change we have already seen – the rise and rise of ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft. Car ownership in cities where apps like Uber and Lyft are widely used is falling. The co-founder of Lyft predicts that private car ownership in cities will have died out by 2025.
While there is an element of ‘well, he would, wouldn’t he?’ about that last statement, there is no doubt that the mood among politicians and legislators in cities is moving rapidly against traditional petrol and diesel vehicles.
Oxford, for example, has now announced that it will ban all petrol and diesel vehicles from some of its streets by 2020 and will extend the ban to all of the city by 2030. The sale of petrol and diesel vehicles will be banned in the UK by 2040. The boy racer will become an endangered species…
So how will driverless cars shape the future?
First things first, we will become more social: we will need to get used to sharing a car. Ford plans to launch a fully autonomous car by 2021, but it is not going to be a case of waking up one morning and seeing a driverless car on your neighbour’s driveway. Not unless they have what one Silicon Valley executive estimates as “Several hundred thousand dollars.”
Early guesses put the cost of a driverless car at between $300,000 and $400,000: given that all the early driverless cars will be imported into the UK, you can almost certainly put a pound sign in front of those numbers and have a reasonably accurate estimate. So – initially at least – people won’t own driverless cars, companies will. So however much you dislike him, you need to get used to the idea of sharing your ride into the office with the man from no. 62…
But as driverless cars are mass-produced, so the cost will come down – and that will be fantastic news for parents. You will not need a licence to ‘drive’ a driverless car – so the school run and the frantic dash across town to get your son to football training will become a thing of the past.
City centres will evolve – driverless cars will drive with more precision, so streets may become narrower: there should be more room for cyclists and pedestrians
Businesses may come to you. Driverless cars also mean driverless trucks and lorries and some of them will deliver exactly what you want. Tired of going to the gym? No problem: the gym in the back of a truck will drive to you, park in your drive and then move on to the next customer. We may even see a revival of offline shopping, as a clothes shop drives a selection of clothes – matching, colour coordinated and in your size – directly to you.
The lives of older people will be transformed, as more people will be able to live independently. The driverless ‘medi-monitor’ could scan your personal, wearable fitness device and know you need medical attention before you do…
There is, however, one less good piece of medical news. Organ donations could be in short supply, as there will be far less fatal car accidents.
The jobs market will change. Jobs like a taxi driver, lorry driver and pizza delivery driver are going to disappear. If a driverless car can take your daughter to school it can most certainly deliver a triple-meat feast and some chicken wings. But there will also be new jobs created: we will need more hi-tech mechanics and software developers and there will be an increased demand for new, intelligent infrastructure. As an article in today’s City AM suggests, the future is here right now. We need to start training our children for these jobs now – as no doubt the Chinese are busily doing…
There is going to be an increasing divide between the city and the country. Most of the predictions above are fairly widespread in articles about driverless cars. But here is one of my own – the rise of driverless vehicles and the rush to eliminate petrol and diesel vehicles will further widen the divide between our cities and smaller towns and the countryside.
It is widely accepted that people in smaller towns and villages need to own cars, as companies cut back on unprofitable bus and rail links serving isolated communities. Will these people be able to afford to switch to electric vehicles and/or driverless cars? I doubt it. So does that mean they will be effectively excluded from city centres unless they use public transport?
I live on the North Yorkshire coast. I suspect it will be several years before the town sees an Uber, let alone a driverless car. Given that the population of the town is older than the national average and the wages are significantly below the average, I doubt that many people will be able to afford to switch to electric vehicles. And yet this morning a committee of MPs is calling for the ban on petrol and diesel cars to be accelerated…
Have you bought your last car?
I read an article recently called ‘Have you bought your last car?’ It was written – no surprise here – by someone in the middle of a big city. Yes, conceivably if you live in the middle of London or Manchester you could have bought your last car. If you live in a small town or in the country then the answer is almost certainly ‘no.’
Last year the Guardian published an article – ‘Owning a car will be a thing of the past’ – describing it as a utopian vision of the future. I have no evidence for this disgraceful slur but I suspect most Guardian writers live in cities: if you live in an isolated community, then not owning a car is the exact opposite of a utopian vision.
Ah well… At least us country bumpkins will not be short of company when we are allowed to visit the city. Driverless cars will also see more people living in the city centres. After all, we will need to do something with all those buildings that were once high street shops…