In the next 25 years, the driverless car will be to our culture what
the PC and the Internet combined were a generation ago--the surprise
enabler of the once-unimaginable. Talk to any automotive engineer at
Freescale, Infineon, Renesas, Bosch or any other leading supplier
and he'll tell you about the immediate impact on safety, traffic, from
spacing to average speeds even to highway design (highways could be
narrower because spacing can be tighter). She'll tell you about the
favorable impacts on the environment, car maintenance and insurance
rates, and on the human condition (less stress, easier commutes).
Then there will be non-obvious impacts. Vivek Wadhwa and I were
about computing innovation a couple of weeks back over
coffee and he veered into another lane, the impact of driverless
cars: "It changes urban planning forever." Parking is pushed to
less-expensive, outer-ring portions of densely populated cities
because you can send your car out to park once you've stepped out and summon it back. Need to grab a
cup of coffee? Pop out of your car and have it drive around the
block until you're ready.
In fact, it probably changes the mechanics (and economics) of car
ownership forever. It makes services like
Zipcar a lot more convenient and accessible..
The Roomba precedent
Are there hurdles? Absolutely, but the most populous U.S. state has bought into the program and technology, while it can obviously improve, is here now and cost is falling fast. Already I'm hearing
of entrepreneurs building after-market driver-assist sensors systems
you just stick on your car and connect via WiFi to your smart phone.
People don't think twice about a robotic vacuum cleaner wandering
through their living rooms, and, in the not-too-distant future, the
sight of a moving car with a "driver" reading a book or even
sleeping won't be novel.
As a culture we have struggled mightily--shoving a square peg
into a round hole--just to change the fuel source for a car and patch together an infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the Jetsons Age just sneaked up on us.
--Does Tesla's supercharger answer the road trip question for EVs?
cars: Sooner than we think?
Challenge pushes driverless vehicles
--Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it