The Autonomous Car Industry

Week 1

Elon Musk will make driverless cars a reality sooner than you think

Tesla founder Elon Musk has promised the world a completely autonomous car by the end of 2018. But we might not have to wait that long

Rami Niemi

Elon Musk has promised the world that a completely automated Tesla will be available by the end of 2018. Although other companies revise their estimates for self-driving vehicles in the consumer market – Waymo has pushed its date back to 2020, for instance – Musk is being coy. He’ll have it ready even sooner.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE International) has established five widely-accepted steps to vehicular autonomy. Level five equates to true driverlessness, where cars can drive as competently as humans (or, hopefully, more so). The preceding four are colloquially known as “feet off, hands off, eyes off and brain off” – and I believe Tesla will unveil a consumer-class level-four vehicle long before 2018 is over.

But wait, we haven’t had a level-three Tesla yet – doesn’t that have to come first? Actually, no. While the five levels make sense in theory, in practice, there’s no useful distinction between levels three and four. In fact, level three – eyes off, but brain on – could be considered dangerous because it combines all the things humans are bad at: quickly switching between tasks, maintaining focus on two things at once and staying awake on dull English motorways.

If you don’t need to have eyes on the road but you do need to be alert, what do you do? Read, talk, watch TV? OK, picture this: your seat’s reclined, your window’s down and Tyrion Lannister just delivered a killer piece of snark. Would you notice your car – which you hadn’t paid attention to for the past hour – was in need of course correction? Could you switch from sleepy Netflix bingeing to crisis aversion in milliseconds? The odds aren’t great.

We’ve already seen this problem occur. Tesla’s Autopilot is a level-two system that still requires you to be cognizant of what’s going on around you. But humans can’t concentrate just a little bit. In 2016, Joshua Brown’s Auto-piloted Tesla Model S mistook a white lorry for a clear expanse of sky, and Brown – who was watching a film – couldn’t correct it in time. The car slammed into the lorry and Brown died.

Humans just aren’t built to co-operate with machines in this way. It makes sense to stop trying to make humans and drivers share the work, and skip straight to machines taking over. Level four. And Tesla is the company to do it.

Why? Because it’s a tech firm as much as a car firm. Its customers are early adopters by nature. This means Musk can afford to take bigger risks than established automotive marques.

A disaster such as the 2016 crash could have been the end of any other car brand. But because it was a Model S, when details emerged about the driver watching Harry Potter, Tesla fans were more inclined to blame the man than the machine. In effect, the accident was ascribed to user error and followers continued signing up for the next model. This forgiving mindset of Musk’s fanbase that will ensure Tesla is the first to produce fully autonomous cars.

Elon Musk is just crazy enough to make it work – and sooner than he’s letting on.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

I believe the lack of criticism on the Tesla model S should not be taken for granted. The product’s inability to provide protection for the driver and passengers in the vehicle should not be permitted to operate on public roads. Not only would the technology endanger the driver of that vehicle but also the traffic around it. Secondly, before the Tesla S is sold to any customer, they should be briefed of the high probability of mistakes the car may make. I believe that it is Tesla’s duty to provide a brief introductory course to the cars and its limitations.

我觉得Tesla这一次缺乏批評和没有引起民怒不應轻视事件。 我们其实是不應允許無法為公共道路上的駕駛員和乘客提供保護的產品。 這項技術不僅會危及車輛的駕駛者,而且會危及車輛周圍的用路者。 其次,在Tesla S被賣給任何顧客之前,顾客應該被告知汽車出現錯誤的可能性很高。 我相信Tesla有責任提供一個簡短的入門課程。


Waymo’s application for driverless testing challenged by consumer group

Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit consumer group, has called on the Department of Motor Vehicles to make its application process for granting permits to autonomous car companies available to the public. The consumer group’s challenge comes amid reports that Waymo has provided all the necessary information to the DMV as part of its efforts to secure a permit to test driverless cars on public roads.

According to a press release from the consumer group, Waymo’s application for public testing was the second that was filed to the DMV. The first company failed to meet the DMV’s requirements, resulting in the agency asking for more data. Waymo, however, managed to meet the DMV’s full requirements, making its application ready for review.

John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy and Technology Project director, noted that the review process for Waymo’s permit should be a public process. According to Simpson, Waymo would be using public roads as its “laboratories” and civilians as its “guinea pigs;” hence, it is only appropriate for the DMV to provide full transparency.

“This should be a completely public process. The companies want to use our public roads as laboratories and us as human guinea pigs. There should be complete transparency about what’s happening. Waymo’s application, as well as the insufficient one from the unknown company, should be posted on the web so the public can see what’s going on and comment,” he said.

Simpson further noted that if Waymo is fully confident in its driverless technology, there should be no problem in sharing its data with the public.

“If Waymo’s robot technology is so good, they should have nothing to hide. If the DMV doesn’t post the application, Waymo should,” Simpson said.

Overall, Consumer Watchdog is concerned that Waymo’s autonomous cars are not yet ready to go fully driverless. According to the consumer group’s press release, a detailed analysis of Waymo’s disengagement reports shows that the Google-backed company’s vehicles still make mistakes in otherwise simple driving scenarios. Among these include reacting to incorrectly parked cars, shorter-than-average yellow lights, and rapid fluctuations in street traffic.

Sahiba Sindhu, a consumer advocate of Consumer Watchdog, expressed the group’s stance on the idea of Waymo’s vehicles testing on public roads without a human driver.

“The DMV has proof in the data in these reports that robot cars require a driver ready to take control of the wheel in order to ensure public safety. The least the DMV can do is ensure public transparency and corporate accountability in the process, so we know what’s going on,” Sindhu said.

Waymo has so far continued to push its driverless initiatives. Just last month, Waymo CEO John Krafcik unveiled the company’s latest addition to its fleet of autonomous vehicles — the Tesla Model X-competing Jaguar I-PACE. According to the CEO, the autonomous I-PACE fleet is set to start testing sometime later this year, with Waymo deploying as many as 20,000 of the vehicles within two years of production.

I completely agree with the concerns that the consumer group raised. I believe the government should not only hold them accountable for any accidents but also mandate complete transparency with data results and information of the car through the DMV. The information is the only way that the public are able to verify the authenticity of the car’s safeness. Furthermore, the cars should only be restricted to certain areas within the city where the concentration of traffic is not high and where the percentage of accidents is low to ensure a lower probability of accidents’ occurring.


我完全同意消費者群體提出的擔憂。 我相信政府不僅要讓Waymo對任何事故承擔責任,還要通過DMV发出汽車的數據結果资料,过程要完全透明。 這些资料是公眾唯一能夠驗證汽車安全性真實性的方法。 此外,汽車应该被限制在城市內交通少的地區和事故發生率較低的地區才能確保减低發生事故的次数。

Week 2

Autonomous Cars: How Safe Is Safe Enough?

One morning this past spring, Baruch Fisch­hoff, a professor in the department of ­engineering and public policy at Carnegie ­Mellon University, was walking to campus on a quiet tree-lined Pittsburgh street when a prototype computer-driven Uber, a gray Volvo XC90, motored slowly past.

Pittsburghers have grown accustomed to seeing the vehicles prowling the streets of the company’s de facto outdoor test bed. But as Fischhoff approached the corner, he noticed a road crew and a cement mixer in the middle of the intersection. “I thought, ‘Gee, I wonder if the computer can figure out if this is something in the road that’s not moving.’”

He waited for the car, which was idling to his left, to make a right turn—the only plausible move. But it did nothing. “It was there first, it had the right-of-way, and I was waiting for it to turn,” he said. Still, the car did nothing. “The longer I waited, the less willing I was to trust that the computer would make the right decision.” Finally, the human stationed inside the car tapped on the window and silently motioned him across.

Fischhoff, who studied math and psychology—and who trained with both Daniel Kahneman and the late Amos Tversky, giants in the field of the psychology of decision making—is one of the world’s leading scholars on the psychology of risk. There is a cosmic irony in the idea of Fischhoff standing on a corner, trying to calculate what this machine was going to do, what he should do, and how he felt about the whole thing.

We are all, in a sense, standing on the corner, caught between the whirlwind of breathless news about the driverless future and our own uncertain sense of what that looks like and, more important, what our comfort level with that future is.

In terms of saving lives, driverless vehicles, on paper anyway, make sense: Simply remove the possibility of fatigue or alcohol impairment in a driver, and you have just knocked 45.5 percent off the fatality rate in the U.S.—and that is merely the lowest-hanging fruit in a forest of human-factor hazards.

But we don’t tend to think on paper. We think in our heads, which Fischhoff has spent his working life trying to get into. In a 1978 paper titled “How Safe Is Safe Enough?” he and his coauthors noted that in modern industrial societies, “the benefits from technology must be paid for not only with money, but with lives.” From nuclear energy to aerosol cans—and, of course, cars—“every technological advance carries some risks of adverse side effects.” The question was: How much were people willing to pay in convenience, efficiency, and money to lessen that risk? The answer does not simply depend on the amount of benefit, but how we feel about the risk itself—and not all risks are felt with the same force.

Let us now flip the equation somewhat. Imagine that fully automated vehicles come to market with a promise of being safer than conventional automobiles and at a comparable price. What level of additional safety—rather than “acceptable risk,” think “perceived benefit”—would prompt drivers (who rarely have immediately warmed to new safety technologies) to give up the wheel for good? Last year, Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at the time, declared that a driverless-­vehicle fleet, to earn government approval, should increase safety at least twofold. In other words, it should at a minimum cut in half the current toll of roughly 40,200 deaths annually. Even that large of an improvement might not be enough to entice Americans to give up the steering wheel, though, since computer-driven cars push the very same psychological buttons that most strongly affect our feelings of risk.

Before considering the safety of driverless vehicles, it is worth determining how safe human driving is. The chance of any one trip in the U.S. ending in a fatality is remarkably small. In a 1978 study, Fischhoff estimated the odds at 1 in 3.5 million; after ­several decades of safety improvements, he roughly estimates the risk has halved, to 1 in 7 million. Over a lifetime, however, according to the National Safety Council, that figure drops to a mere 1 in 114 (with the proviso that one’s individual risk may vary greatly). The disparity seems massive, but according to Fischhoff, people have trouble seeing “how small risks mount up through repeated exposure.”

And so, even though driving has been called “the most important contributor to the danger of leaving home,” few of us would openly admit to needing a car that drives for us. Simply being a driver changes our risk assessment of driving. When the driver moves to the passenger seat, research has found, they become much less optimistic about their chances of not being in a crash. Suddenly, their risk has become more “involuntary.” For us to become full-time passengers in a car, to accept that we are not in control, we will probably need commercial-aviation levels of safety, where the lifetime death rate is a mere 1 in 9821. No one much wonders anymore—given the extraordinary gains in aviation safety—whether man or machine is at the controls of their flight at any given moment. But to get us to that point, driverless cars will need an extraordinarily robust safety net.

Feelings of risk decline when one feels in control. We so enjoy the feeling, laboratory studies have shown, that people will pay more to make their own choices—even when doing so comes with a greater risk of a bad outcome.

Gill Pratt, the CEO of the Toyota Research Institute (which investigates service robots as well as robots for the road), uses the example of motion sickness to describe that connection, that feeling of dominion the driver has over a car. “When a person is behind the wheel, they tend to get much less carsick than if someone is driving for them,” he says. “At a very basic neurological level, you know that you get to control acceleration and how the car turns—when I turn left, I know that pretty soon my inner ear is going to feel me turning left.” Passengers, lacking that direct interface, can feel at sea, in more ways than one.

Fully automated cars not only make us passengers (and hence more fearful), they put us under machine control. That turns a voluntary activity into something that feels less voluntary, making us more risk averse.

“The rational utilitarian view is that we should trust the machines versus us as long as they’re even the slightest bit better.” _ Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute

Anuj Pradhan, a research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, was riding in a Navya Arma, a French-made driverless bus, in Mcity, the institute’s test facility, when the vehicle made a small series of juddering braking maneuvers. Out of the corner of his eye, Pradhan had seen “a tiny bird, a sparrow,” fly in front of the vehicle, and its motion was picked up by the vehicle’s lidar sensors. If he had not seen the bird, Pradhan says, he might have been tempted to yank the emergency shutoff—or what the researchers call the “Oh shit! bar.” A driver might have explained the reason for the incident, but the machine simply resumed. “This is where the human-machine interface becomes critical,” he says. “You want to be able to inform the passenger or operator what the state of the system is.” Automation researchers have noted that where human relationships tend to build toward trust, our trust in machines begins high and then erodes with errors. We are more likely to give people second chances than machines.

“The rational utilitarian view is that we should trust the machines versus us as long as they’re even the slightest bit better,” says Toyota’s Pratt. But how good will be good enough? “Our hypothesis is that, because it’s hard to empathize with a machine compared with a person, society is going to hold machines to a higher standard,” Pratt says. This not-level playing field could have legal ramifications, the authors of an article in the Santa Clara Law Review contend. Cost/benefit arguments, they suggest, would “not depend on whether the at-fault autonomous vehicle is better overall than a traditional vehicle, but whether the autonomous-vehicle technology could have been tweaked to make it safer.” Computer-­driven cars do not so much have to be better than people, but rather the platonic ideal of a driverless vehicle itself.

A machine-caused crash looms larger than a human-caused crash. As the English risk expert John Adams puts it, “What kills you matters.” It matters in myriad ways. In one study, subjects were presented with two fatal crash scenarios: In the first, death was the result of “inhalation of toxic fumes from a damaged engine”; the second death came from “trauma caused by the force of the airbag deployment.” Both were arguably product flaws, but under a dynamic termed “betrayal aversion,” subjects felt much more betrayed by the manufacturer under the airbag condition because their trust was violated by the very thing that was supposed to save them. Driverless vehicles, marketed as a correction to human error, will have to overcome our low threshold for betrayal.

In “How Safe Is Safe Enough?” the authors wrote that “reduction of risk typically entails reduction of benefit.” Traffic fatalities could be massively cut, virtually overnight, if speed governors set to 35 mph were installed on every car. We have decided that the benefits of fast, unfettered mobility are worth the cost in human lives.

Ian Walker, a psychologist specializing in traffic safety and travel choices at the University of Bath, says there is something else, besides the perceived benefit and the voluntary risk, that leads us to accept highway fatality numbers that far exceed workplace—even combat—deaths. And that is randomness. “Implicitly, people are buying into this idea that it’s okay to have a system in which ­millions of people die as long as there’s no predictability or forethought about it.” It is millions of drivers, driving millions of miles, making their own risk/reward decisions, having the occasional “accident”—a word we turn to for comfort, even though we know most accidents are preventable. More than a century after the invention of the automobile, with the true “auto” mobile shimmering on the edge of feasibility, the whole calculus of risk and safety will be taken out of the hands of individuals and brought into the system-wide decisions of software engineers, vehicle manufacturers, and regulators. Whether those parties favor absolute safety at the cost of conveni­ence (with slower, less aggressive cars) or embrace the gains of machine optimality with higher risks (platoons of tightly packed, fast-moving vehicles) remains to be seen, but for the first time, the decision to assign odds will be made consciously. We’ll no ­longer be gamblers but the casino.

The article discusses the safety of autonomous cars and the level of safety which people are comfortable with. Specifically, the psychology behind people’s comfort with the car’s level of safety is heavily discussed. Autonomous car makers are dealing with more than just statistics with the data that is collected. Safety of autonomous cars is not about how it can be safer than humans driving vehicles, but rather how much safer than human’s driving cars does it need to be in order for the technology to be socially acceptable. I agree with the point the article is trying to make– the sense of control and betrayal aversion that humans innately possess. The article compares two scenarios in which accidents occur due to faultiness of a normal car. One of them being the malfunction of the airbag, which the article revealed to be more discomforting to the surveyed individuals.


Autonomous Cars Are Not Really About Safety

The autonomous Chevrolet-FNR concept, debuted at the 2015 Shanghai Motor Show. Photo: GM

Ever since General Motors rolled out the latest game plan for self-driving cars earlier this month, I haven’t been able to shake a line that CEO Mary Barra, among others, offered up: The carmaker’s vision of an autonomous future, she said, is for traffic crashes to be a thing of the past.

It’s noble, sure. Does anyone oppose this idea? Who out there is for more crashes, more emissions, more congestion? Of course, everyone wants zero crashes. Autonomy proponents regularly trot this out as a main goal: by removing humans from the equation, entirely, we can reduce the glaringly high number of traffic fatalities to virtually zero. In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation said as much: Autonomous vehicles are, the department assessed, “driving us to a Zero Death Future.”

But when you start to consider the possibilities of what could be done in the near-future, it becomes hard to accept that the zero crash goal is being pursued in earnest.

If the unequivocal goal is creating safer driving environments for millions of passengers on the road every day, there’s a lot more that carmakers could—but are not—doing about it. This doesn’t even have to include possible future tech, even. There’s readily-available safety technology for every new car that automakers could be implementing right now.

GM’s ideas—anchored, ostensibly, around this grand vision of safety relying on distant, trickle-down future tech—never seem interested in this, at least publicly. The same could be said about the majority of tech developers and automakers. Why, though? Why not take this sort of action right now? Forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, for instance, are two features that’ve been found to cause a 40 percent drop in crashes. At the moment, it’s being rolled out across model lines, often an optional extra.

GM even has semi-autonomous tech in production right this very moment. New Cadillacs can come with Super Cruise, a feature that holds your car in your lane for you, tying together all of the driver-assistance systems we’ve seen debut over the past few years. GM talks about Super Cruise like a safety system, but it’s only available to those who have plenty of cash on hand—right now it’s only on the pricey Cadillac CT6 sedan. How long will Chevrolet buyers have to wait before they’re permitted to have as much safety as Cadillac customers?

Is the problem that these features cost too much for the average car buyer? GM could be eating that cost if it was truly selflessly devoted to promoting safety, but it’s not. And if GM was still forced to pass its development costs on to the customer, why not come out in support of policies that’d lead to raising wages across the board? (I’m using GM as an example here, by the way; the same could be said of a lot of automakers pioneering this tech on luxury cars.)

In GM’s most recent presentation to investors on the benefits of its self-driving development, the company said that “EV is the foundation for autonomous vehicles.” Why? If this really is a life-saving technology, why not work to get it in as many cars as possible. Why confine yourself to electrics, a sliver of the car buying market? You’d think GM’s Zero Crashes vision would have the company aiming to get this into as many Chevy Cruzes and Equinoxes as possible. It’s not like it’s impossible to make a self-driving car with a gas engine. The first car to win DARPA’s autonomous vehicle challenge was a diesel Touareg. Google’s first prototypes were hybrid. Waymo’s current Chrysler Pacificas are hybrids. GM’s actions don’t match its lofty rhetoric.

There areother ways to bring down traffic deaths, as my colleague Raphael Orlove pointed out late last month.

“There are ways that we have access to right now, not dangling perpetually ahead of us—things like making our roads safer, designing cities better, building safer conventional cars and creating smarter crash tests. (Even better driver education would go a long way, in theory, though in practice that’s tough to implement too.)”

Does any of this fit in the autonomous vision of the future with Zero Crashes?

The Zero Crashes ideal is pitching a drastic change from the status quo, and it requires drastic steps to be taken. This goes far beyond planning new automated models and slowly rolling out tech from the top of the market down. It’s not unprecedented in the auto industry for companies to massively overhaul their business.

Ford was presented with such a case in the 1920s, when Model T sales started to slide. Realizing it needed to change to prepare for the release of the newer, better Model A, Ford laid off thousands of employees and shut down operations, as Automotive News recounted:

“… the wait was painful for those associated with Ford Motor Co. Ford workers were laid off as factories were shut down, suppliers struggled to survive, dealers squeaked by selling used cars, and competitors gained an edge as Ford’s sales declined further.

The changeover from the Model T to the Model A was the largest and most costly undertaking in industrial history to that point. Historians estimate the cost between $100 million and $250 million.”

Much of the cost was associated with transferring production from Highland Park, where Ford had built the Model T, to the new Rouge plant, a move that took six months.

That’s impossibly drastic, but Ford recognized it needed to change to survive. What General Motors and the Department of Transportation are proposing with their Zero Crashes goal is on that level: a world where car crashes no longer happen. How else can you get there without pursuing an impossibly drastic route?

But in the current environment, both automakers and the regulators who oversee them could be too stubborn enough to consider that sort of proposal. Take BMW.

Back in late 2012, the automaker asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration if it could be exempt from an unbelted occupant crash standard if the it instead put seat belt interlocks into all of its cars. In other words, the BMW won’t drive unless seat belts are in use.

As BMW put it, they could save thousands of gallons of fuel and pounds of safety equipment necessary to meet the unbelted crash test, so long as they guarantee its occupants were wearing their seatbelt in the first place.

Here was NHTSA’s response, from friend of Jalopnik Juan Barnett, who reported from the meeting:

“Removing the protection offered to unbelted occupants would be unprecedented for NHTSA considering unbelted crash test requirements date back to the 1970s”

NHTSA doesn’t even want to consider the possibility of “unprecedented” change. Of course, consumer advocates may’ve viewed the proposal as a step backward for safety—but BMW’s argument was that it could actually increase seatbelt usage in doing so. So what happened? Both sides were at a stalemate, and both came out looking bad: NHTSA doesn’t budge; BMW, despite saying that seat belt interlocks were ready to go and would make their occupants safer, still doesn’t put them in its cars, not without that crash test exemption from NHTSA.

With autonomy, this presents a terribly strange moral conundrum. It’s disingenuous to say, “this technology is better than humans and will save lives,” and then not do everything in your power to ensure that technology is universally adopted, as soon as possible.

We’re not talking about the first wave of expensive cars that, at first, get Apple CarPlay and then, one day, that technology becomes standardized. It’s about life or death. Why put that off? Because the markets said so?

According to every autonomy proponent, robots will—one day—overwhelmingly be seen as safer drivers than humans. Why, then, would you not support whatever policy’s necessary to ensure that every driver has access to such a vehicle?

There’s a solution, however unprecedented it may be, that can achieve GM’s vision. When you consider all of the barriers to reach near-zero car fatalities, it’s the logical, inevitable conclusion: ban driving. It’s not something any car enthusiast wants to hear, and certainly not something I support. But you can see where the thinkers come to this conclusion.

It’s jarring to consider, but with one of the largest automaker’s in the world pushing such a vision, it has to be contemplated. If GM, the department of transportation, and any developer of self-driving cars, actually wants to reduce the number of traffic fatalities to zero, a ban will, eventually, have to be on the table.

How to go about implementing a ban seems difficult at first, but the basic notion could be this: set a date—say, by 2050—and do whatever’s necessary to ensure everyone has access to an autonomous car. (California lawmakers are already considering banning gasoline cars by 2040, a drastic move in its own right.)

GM can say it wants zero crashes, but that’s not an argument. There’s no one standing in opposition to that goal. If GM wants that, it can lead the way and produce only fully-autonomous cars and support a ban on driving. If you truly believe that autonomy is the way to achieve zero crashes, how else could you get there?

If GM sticks to its current plan of only trickling out self-driving tech across limited production and high-end cars, a driving ban would cut out low-income car buyers and owners, as as Jalopnik’s own Patrick George recently pointed out. That’s GM’s customer base. Unless GM absolutely commits to getting autonomy into the hands of every driver in America, promoting a driving ban would mean shooting itself in the foot. The only leading face who even suggests a ban is Tesla’s Elon Musk. Tesla thinks it can have a fully-autonomous car on the road by 2019, but without the push of someone like GM, there’s no question that human-driven cars are going to be in production indefinitely.

If Barra and her colleagues aren’t willing to consider a ban, a vision of the future in which there’s zero crashes and zero congestion is nothing more than puffed up drivel to sell investors on. Put more simply, you won’t eliminate the majority of car crashes unless you ban driving. But we as a society have to decide if this is what we really want.

That’s my main problem with the pro-autonomy tagline of a Zero Death Future. GM, Ford, and every automaker developing self-driving cars aren’t serious about it. They’re serious about being successful car companies. With public opinion still (for the most part) against automated cars, with income inequality continuing to expand, there’s no question regular, human-driven cars will be in production for the foreseeable future.

That plays seamlessly into the ambiguous timelines offered by autonomy proponents. When will we arrive at the Zero Death Future? How many years are we talking? A quarter-century? More than 100 years? No one ever says.

That’s the problem. Car companies haven’t been interested in presenting a realistic timeline, because in order to actually achieve that kind of drastic change being pitched, it would require them to wholly and totally reconsider the way they do business—which is to say they’d have to ditch making human-driven cars. That goes against the grain of their very business model, and car companies exist to run successful businesses. They’re not charities. They’re not utilities. They exist to make money.

Baked into GM’s presentation was an extensive passage by the automaker’s president, Dan Ammann, about what it sees as the potentially huge business opportunity for self-driving cars.

“We believe this is the biggest business opportunity since the creation of the internet,” Ammann said.

That business opportunity begins with deploying fully-autonomous cars in 2019 for car-sharing purposes. It jibes with most of the industry’s vision in the near-future—early on, proponents say, self-driving cars will be intended for limited spaces for Uber-like services. Google’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, has a driverless pilot ongoing in Phoenix; it’s likely to stay contained for some time. Ford doesn’t think it can get an autonomous car on the road until 2021; when that happens, it’ll be for geo-fenced ride-hailing and ride-sharing.

More and more, as the regulatory landscape and reality itself comes sharper into focus, I’m inclined to believe that self-driving cars are going to be limited to that sort of capacity, indefinitely. And, really, it is a great business opportunity. A fully-autonomous taxi service that doesn’t require a driver at the wheel presents a scenario where the owner of the business reaps the entirety of a passenger’s fare, and only has to focus on upkeep of the vehicle. The vehicle itself is constantly ferrying people around 24/7; robots don’t need to sleep.

It’s no surprise that GM’s so gung-ho about the idea of self-driving cars as a lucrative business endeavor. Hell, Uber thinks driverless cars are absolutely essential for its business in the future.

And so I’m left to wonder what’s the point of all of this. If it’s to launch automated taxi services, then cool—say that. If you’re willing to take it a step further (as GM is implying with its Zero Crashes rhetoric), and suggest that automation can rid the world of traffic crashes, then actually lay out how you think we can get there.

Otherwise, it’s plainly obvious what the end-game is. Ammann said as much: it’s the greatest business opportunity since the internet. It’s about making money—for now that means ferrying select passengers around by way of automated ride-hailing services. Not safety.

The article above talks about the real motives behind autonomous car production. Many large car manufacturers are pursuing this new technology. I agree with the article’s claim that car manufacturers are developing their autonomous car technology for profits. Nonetheless, I do not believe that they should be condemned for their efforts to reduce accidents while simultaneously profit off of the new service that their automobiles provide. Instead, I think there should be more coordination with governments and incentives from governments to help these manufacturers achieve these goals.


Week 3

Self-Driving Cars Could Change The Auto Industry (GM, F)

Driverless cars have piqued human interest for centuries. Leonardo Da Vinci sketched out the plans for a hypothetical self-driving cart in the late 1400s and mechanical autopilots for airplanes emerged in the 1930s. At the New York World’s Fair, visitors were introduced to the concept of a self-driving car as part of its vision of the future in General Motors (GM) Futurama exhibit. A true driverless car, however, has remained elusive until recently. In the 1960s an autonomous vehicle was developed as a possible moon rover for the Apollo astronauts.

Technological advancements in global positioning (GPS), digital mapping, computing power and sensor systems have finally made it a reality. Efforts by DARPA, the research arm of the U.S. military, as well as by private enterprise such as within the auto industry and most notably by Google (GOOG), have accelerated the development of practical driverless cars that are safe and efficient on any modern roadway. (For more, see: How Google’s Self-Driving Car Will Change Everything.)

But what are the potential impacts of driverless cars on the car industry and the larger economy?

Impact on the Automobile and Related Industries

The automobile industry has been historically slow to react to technological change. Traditional car makers have been reluctant to develop a full-featured electric car, and start-ups such as Tesla Motors (TSLA) have been founded to innovate instead. If driverless cars become prevalent, it is likely that technology companies such as Google or Apple (AAPL) will lead the way and put a serious dent in the profits of traditional car companies such as GM, Ford (F) or Toyota (TM). (See also: How the Automobile Industry Has Changed.)

One serious implication of a world dominated by driverless cars is that private ownership of cars may become a thing of the past. If driverless cars can be summoned by a user using an Uber-like app, then there would be no need for that user to own their own car, let alone multiple cars. The driverless car will pick you up, drop you off, and then depart to accommodate another user or users. A decentralized fleet of driverless cars, therefore, could be shared by many needing rides. If this were to happen, it surely would hurt sales of new and used cars alike, unless manufacturers and dealers could quickly adapt. (See also: How do ridesharing companies like Uber make money?)

Driverless car makers promise their products will be safe and reduce accidents. Drunk driving will become a thing of the past as inebriated passengers will be chauffeured by their mechanical Hobsons. As a result, the incidence of hazard might fall dramatically – seriously impacting car insurance companies such as Allstate (ALL), GEICO (BRK.A), and Progressive (PGR). Since there presumably would be fewer accidents, the cost of insurance would plummet along with insurance companies’ bottom lines.

On the upside, these companies would not need to pay out as much in claims, however claims experience plays a large role in policy pricing. Driverless cars also promise to be more energy efficient, which could impact the demand for gasoline to some degree. Morgan Stanley (MS) has conducted research indicating that driverless cars could save the economy $488 billion in annual savings from reducing traffic accidents and another $158 billion in savings due to reduced fuel costs. (See also: 20 Industries Threatened by Tech Disruption.)

Impact on the Greater Economy

Without the need to sit at the wheel, commuters will be able to engage in productive activity while the cars drive themselves. Morgan Stanley’s report estimates that replacing traditional automobiles with driverless cars in the United States could contribute $507 billion to the economy as a result of increased worker productivity. Moreover, traffic and congestion will largely disappear, adding another estimated $138 billion in annual savings as people are able to get to where they want to be more efficiently.

The total estimated yearly savings is upwards of $1.3 Trillion, or more than 7% of gross GDP, a truly significant positive impact on the economy.

It is not all good news, however. Overland trucking and other transportation services that rely on human drivers will largely be made obsolete by driverless cars and trucks. Unemployment is likely to increase in those sectors, including truck drivers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, chauffeurs and to some degree heavy machine operators, with those sorts of jobs never coming back. Those low skilled workers may find it difficult to find new employment in the increasingly technology-driven economy.

The Bottom Line

Once just a far-off dream, driverless cars are now technologically feasible and may be coming to a street near you sooner than later. Driverless cars are sure to disrupt the automobile and related industries, seriously hurting the bottom line of those companies who are not quick to adapt. At the same time, the benefits to society and the macroeconomy will be positive and significant. There will, however, be a smaller few who become displaced by the new technology and will not benefit from the larger societal gains.

The article talks about the impact of the driverless system to the car industry as well as the economy of the US. There are a few topics that I believe are important to point out. Firstly, traditional car manufacturers’ aversion to risk is a huge entrance potential for tech companies to build the next generation of transportation. The technology of cars itself is very relatively mature and standardized, so in terms replicating car production, I believe car production will not be a large obstacle for tech giants. However, with the talent and specialization in AI and driverless technology, tech companies will have the upper hand in the upcoming phase in transportation. As such, it will have a heavy impact on car manufacturing industry, first-hand automobile retail market as well as the second-hand automobile retail market. Ride-sharing companies like uber will largely reduce the need for privately owned cars as people are very likely to opt for ride-sharing services which are safer and more economical. Furthermore, it will also have an impact on employment. Professional drivers will gradually be replaced by driverless vehicles and we can potentially see a large increase in unemployment.


Driving change without a driver: How the driverless car will alter retail forever

The particulars of the retail business are always derivative.

The nature of what is sold, and where it’s sold, and at what price, is always derived from the nature of other things.

For example, consider a little black dress.

Its value is never inherent. The whims of fashion play a role. As does the price of the commodities used to make a dress. So too does scarcity, because the rareness of an object generally correlates with its price. So a dress of cotton, worn by a celebrity, and made in limited quantities at a time when the price of cotton is high, will generally cost more than a dress of polyester, made in mass and worn by the masses, at a time when oil is cheap.

But let’s put aside the price of materials, the mysterious nature of fashion-consciousness and trend-following, the rise or fall of labor costs and look at the one factor that overrides all other factors in retail: Transportation.

As long as man has sold things, the act of selling has been dependent upon the transport of goods. Whether you’re talking about ox-driven carts of food, caravans of merchant goods moving across the ancient world, containerized cargo bringing finished goods from the Third World to the First, or digital downloads and cloud-based access to software, nothing is sold unless it can move from Point A to Point B.

So here’s the thing:

The very nature of how things move from Point A to Point B is about to change. And that will change the retail industry every bit as much as did the creation of the Roman merchant fleet, the opening of the Transcontinental Railroad, or the birth of the Interstate Highway system.

Brace yourself for the world of the driverless car.

Collision course

This article isn’t about the particulars of driverless-car technology. Suffice it to say that Google is already testing autonomous cars, Apple and Tesla might make them soon, Volvo has said it will have them by 2017, and the rest of the world’s automakers are scrambling to catch up. If you want to learn how they’ll work, you can read this simple explainer or this moderately complicated one or you can tackle this 214-page treatment from the Rand Corporation.

Regardless, all you really need to know is that driverless cars are coming. Luddites, nervous politicians and protectionists might be able to slow the arrival of the technology, but driverless cars will be everywhere soon.

So what does that mean for retailers and the companies that sell through retail?

Change. Lots of it.

And it’s coming at the exact right time for the retail industry.

Here’s why: take a look at the chart below.

What the chart shows is that the two channels of retail are on a sort of collision course. Buying visits at brick and mortar stores are falling rapidly, while buying visits online are rising ever higher.

As those two lines grow closer, the retail world is entering an entirely new era with entirely new challenges.

For online, the big question becomes how can retailers possibly deliver all the goods ordered online as the delivery system reaches capacity? And given the increasing importance to online buyers of free delivery, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where online buying visits can continue to grow at such a rate.

For brick and mortar, the question becomes how can any real-world retailer survive when the trend line looks so bleak? What segments can carry on? What segments become nothing more than showrooms for online sales? And what segments will disappear into history just like general stores, five and dimes and record shops?

What’s fascinating to think about, however, is that the one thing that could affect both trend lines — boosting real-world visits to stores and adding capacity for deliveries from online orders — is the arrival of the driverless car.

How could robot cars do that?

By altering these four areas of the supplier/retailer/customer world:

Logistics — It seems reasonable that businesses will adopt autonomous vehicles at a faster rate than consumers. While a parent of small children may be a bit worried about handing over control of a vehicle to a piece of software, businesses won’t have the same level of emotional concern.

For business, the decision to use driverless vehicles will be based largely on costs. And that means that driverless trucks are likely to fill the highways before driverless cars do.

Home Deliveries — Just a few months ago, it seemed possible that retailers of the future would use airborne drones for delivery. But the recent decision by the FAA seems to have put that idea on hold.

Enter the driverless delivery car. Early reports are that Google hopes to use its driverless vehicles to support a competitor to Amazon Prime’s same-day delivery service. Meanwhile Uber, which has launched a package-delivery service in New York and a food-delivery service in Spain, is opening a testing facility in Pittsburg to build robotic cars.

  • Look for a surge in such small-package delivery services — particularly from retailers who have the resources to buy a fleet of driverless cars or can sign on with companies that can deploy large fleets for hire — whether that’s Uber, Lyft, UPS or some company not yet in existence.

Errand running — When you own a car, it tends to sit around a lot. It sits in the garage when you’re at home. It sits in the parking lot when you’re at work. If you bought it on credit, you pay for it all the time, but you only use it part of the time.

Companies like Zipcar have built a business around getting consumers to see the downside of such an arrangement. Why own a car, they ask, when you can simply rent one for the brief periods of time when you’re actually inside a car?

But what if your car was productive without you?

What if, for example, when you went into the office, it went grocery shopping. Then it picked up the dry cleaning. Then it picked up the kids at school, took them for a snack, dropped them at the park and sent you a video of them playing baseball, sounded its horn when playtime was over, got the kids inside, drove back to your office, picked you up, then took everyone home before starting its second job as a pizza-delivery vehicle for the business down the street?

  • Look for the rise of the driverless car as employee — more robot than robot car, doing all the things you can’t do or would prefer not to do.
  • Expect employees of brick and mortar stores to spend an increasing amount of time interacting with customers’ vehicles, rather than customers.
  • And look for these butler/nanny/assistant cars to cause major congestion on the roads.

Customer service — Imagine a world where robot cars have made same-day delivery common and where running errands is something that the car does, not you.

That’s a pretty cool world if you’re a consumer. And it’s a pretty cool world if you’re most retailers.
But it’s decidedly less-than-cool if you own a brick-and-mortar store that depends upon impulse buys. Because in a robot-car world it’s possible for a consumer to never, ever enter a retail establishment of any kind. Ever.

So to get customers to actually visit a store, retailers are going to have to offer something more than they do now.

  • Look for high-end retailers in particular to use robot cars of their own to pick up their preferred customers and return them home.
  • Expect all retailers to begin offering deep discounts, coupons, contests, sales, etc. that are limited to consumers who visit a brick-and-mortar site. And such offers will have to be far superior to those offered by today’s click-and-collect retailers who only need to lure consumers out of the car.
  • Look for a rise in retailers who offer a carefully curated “experience” for consumers — something that changes on a regular basis but that can’t be predicted or easily duplicated, like an edition of a magazine.
  • And place your bets on retailers who have adequate space to offer unlimited free parking. Because we’re going to have to put all those driverless cars someplace.

This article focuses on the effects that driverless technology will have on the retail industry. It points out the eminent threats that both the downfall of brick and mortar stores and the rise of online retail face. Both problems can be solved with the introduction of driverless vehicles to society. Regarding brick and mortar stores, I believe that a brick and mortar store’s nice is the most important factor in the success of sales nowadays. The hype generated around a brand, the rarity and location exclusivity are things that make certain brands stand out. With driverless technology, stores, specifically those that cater to high end consumers, can elevate their service and their product as a whole by providing commute service to their customers to encourage visits to the store. On the other hand, online retailers can benefit off of driverless tech as it largely helps with the vast volumes of deliveries that need to be made. In particular, conglomerates like Amazon will have trouble filling driver positions as prime subscriptions and sales continue to increase at this explosive rate.


Week 4

9 Cars That Are Almost Self-Driving

The time when we can sit back and tell our car where to drive itself is getting closer every day. Self-driving cars (also called autonomous vehicles or driverless cars) promise new levels of efficiency and take driver fatigue and inattention out of the safety equation.

We’re on the cusp of a transportation revolution, where driverless cars become an essential mobility option. It won’t happen overnight, but self-driving vehicles and changes to our transportation infrastructure are coming sooner than you might think.

Self-driving cars require sophisticated suites of sensors, backed by advanced software that can interpret massive streams of data in real-time. While there are several barriers to the adoption of self-driving technology, automakers are making strides to quickly bring elements of the technology to the road. Pushing harder than anyone is Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, whose advanced products have forced other automakers to rapidly develop their own self-driving technologies.

Fully autonomous cars are currently undergoing testing in several areas of the country, but none are yet available to the general public. There are, however, several cars available that feature some level of autonomous operation. On the next slide, we look at the levels of autonomous driving. Then we’ll look at some of the vehicles available today with self-driving technology.

The article above does not contain any commentary on driverless technology or any of its impact on the economy and society. The importance of this article comes from its compilation of the different car manufacturers that have driverless currently on the market. It shows the ratio of tech company car models in the market, and surprisingly, it takes up a large proportion of the driverless car market. Furthermore, the level of sophistication and autonomy of these tech companies’ cars are way above those of traditional car-manufacturing giants like BMW and Mercedes. Most of these traditional car-manufacturers are only able to sell autonomous cars that have basic capabilities of cruise control, parallel parking, and lane-switching. Hence, it goes to show the potential of tech companies to play a huge role in the future of transportation, and may even potentially merge/acquire traditional car-manufacturers.

上面的文章没有包括任何与无人驾驶技术或其对经济和社会的影响有关的评论。 这篇文章的非常有用因为文章里汇编了目前市场上所有不同汽车制造商的无人驾驶汽车。 数据显示了高科技公司车型在市场中的比例,数据出人意料地占据了无人驾驶汽车市场的很大比例。 此外,这些科技公司的汽车复杂程度和自主性远高于宝马和奔驰等传统汽车制造巨头的水平。 大多数传统汽车制造商只能销售具有巡航控制,平行停车和车道切换基本功能的自动驾驶汽车。 因此,它显示了科技公司在未来交通运输中能发挥巨大作用的潜力,甚至可能潜有并购传统汽车制造商的可能性。

28 Industries Other Than Auto That Driverless Cars Could Turn Upside Down


Fast food, real estate, hotels, and airlines — many large industries will have to shift their strategies in the wake of driverless cars.


It’s all but a certainty that autonomous or driverless vehicles will be widely used in the United States at some point over the next two decades. Already, over two dozen major corporates including Google, Apple and Mercedes Benz are hard at work building their own self-driving vehicles. Tesla’s Model S already includes an autopilot mode where the car drives itself on highways.

Clearly tech and auto companies stand to gain, but many other industries could face serious upheavals unless they are able to adapt to the many changes self-driving cars will bring to the market.



Observers believe driverless cars will make automobile transportation a whole lot safer, and McKinsey predicts they could reduce US auto accidents by 90%. While this might save insurers money on payouts in the near future, demand for insurance will ultimately decrease as risks of a car crash drop. In anticipation of this shift, some insurers are rolling out usage-based insurance policies (UBIs), which charge consumers based on how many miles they drive, and how safe their driving habits are.



Fewer accidents will also mean fewer trips to the body shop. On top of that, mechanics’ traditional expertise will become less valuable as cars become more connected and software-dependent. This information could give drivers more transparency into the repairs they actually need, and allow them to calibrate preventive maintenance and avoid more expensive repairs down the line. For instance, the startup Zubie offers real-time diagnostics to owners of connected cars, allowing people to know what’s wrong with their engine before they bring their car in for inspection.



Driverless automobiles will reduce demand for truckers, taxi drivers, and other driving professionals. Instead, telematics technology — the use of telecommunications to facilitate communication and gather data from vehicles — will allow taxi and trucking companies to manage their self-driving fleets so that they provide services and run their routes with optimal efficiency. Humans will still be needed to manage these systems. Already, driverless trucks are being used to move iron ore at mines in Australia, and the Canadian energy company Suncor Energy is working to automate its own trucks in a process its CFO estimates will take 800 human drivers off its drilling site.



The hotel industry’s future looks very different to its present. Already, the big chains have been searching for a way to appeal to younger travelers, who have increasingly sought out lodging alternatives like AirBnB when vacationing. The proliferation of driverless cars will cut into another big portion of hotels’ customer bases: those who opt for a single-night stay at a roadside motel while driving from one place to another. Audi VP of brand strategy and digital business Sven Schuwirth has predicted that 20 years from now, many of these motel customers will instead choose to sleep in their driverless cars.


Cross-continental car trips don’t appear to be on the horizon anytime soon, but domestic and short-haul flights face a significant threat from self-driving cars. Once autonomous vehicles make car travel more convenient, many people will choose to take an on-demand car ride for shorter trips instead of going through the many hassles of air travel. As Audi’s VP Schuwirth explained, “Your car wakes you up at four o’clock in the morning, picks you up and drives you autonomously the entire way from Munich to Berlin. You can sleep, you can prepare for your meeting, you can call your friends and family, do whatever you want and you enter Berlin in a very relaxed mood.”



Not only will there be fewer accidents, but smart driving software, like brake assists, will put less wear-and-tear on cars, necessitating fewer replacements. By 2030, PwC predicts that electronics will account for 50% of automobile manufacturing costs, up from one-third today. Meanwhile, traditional parts manufacturers will likely face competition from more technology-focused companies like Nvidia, which has been tapped by several automakers to help build the computers needed for cars to make their own driving decisions.



It will be very interesting to see how self-driving cars change the game for ride-hailing companies like Uber, which is said to be considering its own autonomous car fleet, and Lyft, which is partnering with General Motors to build its own fleet. Though Uber has been able to wipe the floor with traditional taxi companies, it’s unclear whether it will be better at producing cars than major auto manufacturers like BMW, or even tech companies like Google that have spent more time working on self-driving vehicles.

Uber wouldn’t have to pay drivers anymore in a driverless future, but it likely would have to shoulder the costs of owning its cars — a burden presently held by third-party contractors. Nonetheless, the company will maintain a major structural advantage over rivals that don’t have vast troves of navigation and ride data to pull from. Plus, it’s entirely possible that the hardware aspect of driverless cars will quickly become commoditized, since the cars will be less dependent on mechanical components than they are presently (see #6, above).



Why wait around for a bus that will drop you off five blocks from your destination when a driverless car can show up at your doorstep immediately and take you exactly where you want to go? Without drivers, on-demand ride-hailing will be even cheaper for consumers, especially if fleets allow for on-demand carpooling similar to uberPOOL.

These fleets will be able to service out-of-the-way locations that are presently ignored by fixed-route public transportation, a fact that will allow more people to move to the suburbs without sacrificing all of the mobility we associate with urban living. Without drivers, Zipcar cofounder Robin Chase has predicted on-demand ride-hailing will will be cheap enough for consumers to replace the fixed-route public transportation that today leaves many areas under-serviced. She told The Transport Politic“…buses, shuttles, minivans, school buses [will be] all gone.”



The need for long-term parking will decrease considerably as driverless car fleets move continuously between the various places they are needed. According to McKinsey, these fleets could save 61 billion square feet of unnecessary parking space in the US alone. In some major American cities, parking spaces take up one third of the land, and owners of these spaces will either reshape them in a way that creates value in a driverless world or sell their properties to someone who will.



70% percent of McDonald’s sales reportedly come through the drive-thru window, making the company and fast food companies like it extremely vulnerable in a driverless world. In self-driving cars, people will simply input the coordinates of their destination, reducing the chance that they will decide to take a detour for an impulse food purchase. Food stops will be determined more by choice, mood, and quality — less by convenience. Additionally, fast-food restaurants located near highway exits will take a hit, as people will stop for gas less frequently when they are being transported by a driverless fleet whose cars may refuel while they are not being used.



Researchers from the University of Michigan concluded last year that driverless cars will lead us to consume more energy than we are currently, as the ease of use will encourage us to take more trips (electric vehicles will still tap the grid for power). However, the already interrelated shifts toward electric and autonomous vehicles like Tesla’s Model S do suggest that there could be a depressed demand for gasoline itself. A great deal of the infrastructure for self-driving electric cars is still nascent (e.g., networks of charging stations). This transition period will give oil and gas companies an opportunity to figure out how they fit into the new energy ecosystem.



It’s not just parking garages — the ripple effects of self-driving cars will require the entire real estate industry to undergo a large-scale reimagination of how it allocates space. Bloomberg’s Noah Smith says faster and easier commutes will shift residential property value from properties in urban centers to those in surburban areas. In commercial real estate, spaces currently predicated on human drivers will be converted to other uses. For instance, PARTNER Engineering CEO Joe Derhake has suggested that there will no longer be a need for gas stations to be located on busy street corners to attract people’s attention or for industrial space to be located near ports to help truck drivers.



The average American drives 46 minutes each day, and without having to keep their eyes on the road, they’ll have plenty of time to consume news and entertainment. Broadcasters will compete to provide video content that travelers will be able to consume without risking their safety. For advertisers, it will also create a huge opportunity to present riders with location-based ads for nearby goods and services.

As telecom O2’s head of research and development Mike Short told The Drum last year, “In the future, we will have more screens in cars. If you don’t have a driver, those screens are likely to be there to add to passenger information, passenger safety, and give you better real-time mapping. This in turn means that the screens might carry some adverts alongside that relevant information.”


Smiling delivery guy in vehicle

Uber has already started disrupting restaurant deliveries with UberEats, but self-driving cars will forever change the fortunes of countless delivery people. When users can program their empty, driverless cars to fetch pizza, laundry, mail, groceries, and more, the need for dedicated delivery folks will decline sharply. When a customer’s empty car can just roll up to Domino’s and an employee can gently place a large meat-lovers and order of crazy bread inside, there’ll be less of a need for delivery people driving from house to house.



As drones and autonomous cars begin taking over delivery, the location of brick-and-mortar stores may begin to matter less. Users could order from their favorite restaurants regardless of location and have autonomous vehicles do the fetching from farther afield; no more worrying about a shop’s delivery radius. Additionally, stores may also see less incidental, walk-in traffic from people just noticing them while driving or walking by. Convenience, in terms of proximity to residential areas or city centers, etc., may start to matter less when people can just slip into a driverless car and read, chat, and sleep instead of devoting energy to the act of driving, possibly making them more open to visiting farther-flung shops and restaurants.


a shot of cars at a car dealership

With fleets of autonomous vehicles to hop in and out of, whether made available by car companies or through ride-hailing companies, more and more riders may abandon traditional car ownership models. It was suggested on stage at the CB Insights Innovation Summit that car ownership may switch to a subscription model of some kind, wherein the rental company provides a vehicle and all maintenance for one fee. The driverless car’s unique features and convenience may lead customers to seek on-demand usage models instead of committing to buying a car for their family’s exclusive use. And even in cases where people do decide to buy cars, the increased efficiency of a driverless car that doesn’t monopolize the time of a dedicated human driver may lead to an increase in one-vehicle households.


an image of an auto technician repairing a tire

As vehicle ownership and maintenance moves to fleet owners and away from individuals as a result of autonomous cars, the responsibility for maintaining those vehicles will switch over to the fleets as well. Oil change spots, car washes, and even rental outlets will all vanish as fleet owners focus on their own facilities or other solutions to handle these needs.


an exterior shot of a hospital

One much-touted possible benefit of a properly-functioning, mature driverless car model is increased safety. A connected driverless car network would theoretically be largely free from accidental collisions. As a result of decreased collisions, the healthcare industry could lose approximately $500B annually.


image of driving instructor and student near a car

While not as sizable a market as healthcare, auto sales, or insurance, the world’s driving schools will largely disappear as the ability to manually operate a car transitions from a necessary skill to a hobby. It’s even been suggested that driverless cars will work so well together that the greater threat is humans taking advantage of their orderliness. A shift away from licensing can already be seen in the sharp decline in millennials getting licenses.


town planning

Most modern cities were and are being built to cater to the needs of cars. Subways and elevated trains can sidestep the restrictions of surface roads, but highways, bridges, and tunnels are designed with copious human drivers and cargo vehicles in mind. Autonomous cars will change how these roads are used. A linked network will be able to seamlessly let vehicles in and out of traffic in an orderly flow. Traffic signals will be redesigned and possibly eliminated in many situations, as autonomous cars will be able to take turns at higher speeds and move around each other more smoothly. Thought leaders warn that improved, more effortless travel could lead to increased urban sprawl as people stop prioritizing the convenience of proximity to city centers.


Managing V2V – aka vehicle-to-vehicle communication – presents new concerns around wireless data exchange. Comcast recently mentioned V2V-related communication concerns in an argument for eliminating the 2015 net neutrality rules, telling the FCC that “prohibitions on paid prioritization [of faster internet] may actually stifle innovation instead of encouraging it” because autonomous vehicles demand instantaneous data transmission. Many European carmakers, on the other hand, have lobbied in favor of non-DRSC LTE-Vehicular (LTE-V) communication, in which cars communicate to cellular towers over LTE. With LTE-V still in the mix as a possible channel for V2V down the road, there will likely be a future in which internet service providers adapt their offerings to the driverless vehicle space.


What will people do inside their cars, once they no longer have to drive them? Shanghai-based Yanfeng Automotive Interiors is one of many companies trying to answer that question. The company is developing concept designs for four different “modes” of ridership – including “meeting mode” (where the rear seats stow away and the front passenger seat spins around to face the rear) and “lounge mode” (more akin to a living room). Also, such considerations relate only to human travel – what about animals, or packages out for delivery? As companies that specialize in vehicle-interior design refine visions for how travel will take place in AVs, companies that manufacture vehicle interiors will also change what they produce.


With new forms of wireless communication come new security and data-protection concerns for technology companies to address. AVs can (and have) been hacked: Wired reporter Andy Greenberg chronicled his “real-life” experience driving with researchers who hijacked the systems of a Jeep Grand Cherokee during the ride, ultimately disabling the accelerator. Startups are innovating to keep AV cybersecurity risks to a minimum: Karamba Security, for one, has built a solution that protects a car’s externally connected components by identifying and blocking attack attempts.



With smoother traffic operations and fewer humans actually behind the wheel, cities will see their revenues from traffic tickets and other infractions drop sharply and a more limited needed for traffic enforcement officers to direct vehicles. In addition, there’s the the question of who gets a ticket if an autonomous vehicle breaks a traffic law: The car owner? The software maker? What if the car is used as part of a subscription service? On a practical level, there’s also the question of how will police interact with autonomous vehicles. Will every officer have the ability to forcibly disable a vehicle? Will they even need to? With a connected network, every vehicle will know of accidents, obstructions, and police/fire/rescue activities along their routes and be rerouted accordingly. This type of on-the-fly route changing could also help reduce response times for emergency personnel and save lives.


Automated cars could turn commuting time into gym time, as cars could be equipped with fitness equipment for riders to use in transit. “A self-driving vehicle could definitely make a great gym, because it’s rigid all over,” Marko Vujicic, an engineer at NPD Team, which consults with exercise-equipment manufacturers, told the New York Times. “That rigidity theoretically allows you to use every plane of the car against which to apply resistance. Your car becomes a full weight room on wheels.”


Autonomous vehicles will increase mobility for the elderly, allowing them to remain socially engaged and active without needing to drive. The need for human aides will diminish, as elderly people will be more able to live at home (as opposed to living in a care center) and won’t require a caretaker to drive them places. Driverless cars could also affect childcare, automating pick up and drop off for schools and daycares and providing a new means of transportation for children and teens too young to drive. Estimates suggest autonomous vehicles will alter the work of more than 570,000 childcare workers and 1.3 million personal care aides.


More than 60% of all occupied housing units in the US have a garage or carport, a number that goes up to 75% for construction units built in the last 5 years. With automation promising to slash the need to personally own a car, remodeling unneeded garage space could soon become a thriving industry. Homeowners will be able to repurpose garage space to extend their houses, up their property value, or even create space for renters or travelers using platforms like Airbnb. This will also create opportunities for designers and contractors focused on refurbishing garage space.


Driverless cars will alter the frequency and impact of car accidents — and the litigation that follows them. Currently, 94% of crashes can be tied back to human error: automation will decrease these accidents, leading to a decline in related lawsuits. When accidents do occur, connected cars will provide more accurate data about accidents and who’s at fault for a crash. Driverless cars will also likely shift liability from individual drivers to the companies that manufacture and own fleets of autonomous vehicles, potentially decreasing the demand for private practice lawyers while forcing car companies to expand their corporate legal departments.

This article mentions 28 possible negative impacts that the introduction of a level 5 driverless car might entail. However, I believe one of the more important points that the article makes is accountability of those cars. Without people in the car or without people in control of the car during a drive, accountability in the case of accidents can be a complicated issue. Lack of maintenance or patches to the driverless system could be to blamed for. It could have also been the result of faulty manufacturing. In these cases, litigation revolving around car accidents the involve driverless technology can be twisted in favor of certain parties who have the ability to do so, in particular those in power. Another important similarity to point out is the societal impact of many problems that come along with the driverless technology. Many industries will have a difficult time sustaining a workforce that could be replaced by a more cost efficient fleet of autonomous cars. Furthermore, manpower replacement is not the only issue. Demand of certain services will also drop, and hence, affect the demand for manpower in those certain areas.



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