I’d venture to guess that most of you reading this blog have used technology in some way to help us navigate our cars around town or make transportation from one place to another easier – from Google Maps or other online maps services (MapQuest, anyone?) to Uber or Lyft. Or you may have already started to get excited about the possibilities for self-driving cars. Perhaps you’ve watched the YouTube video on Google’s Self Driving Car Project or heard the news that Uber has partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to create the Uber Advanced Technologies Center to move this technology forward faster. No matter what your experience is with these technologies, you have probably sensed that there is a significant shift happening in the world involving transportation and consumer habits.
What does widespread adoption and acceptance of companies like Uber, or apps like Google Maps, mean for the future of transportation? And how will these technologies change how individuals and groups can safely, efficiently and happily get from point A to point B? The answer to these questions will ultimately define the future of transportation in the coming decade.
Services like Uber have been made possible because of the confluence of a number of factors: improved camera technology, street-by-street mapping, ecommerce and the ever present, always connected smart phone. The same will be said about self-driving cars as they ultimately represent a higher and higher percentage of cars on the road. Companies like Google are putting a tremendous amount of resources into getting the self-driving car right. While it may seem scary to give up control of the steering wheel to a computer, the reality is the self-driving car will be more self-aware, since it will be equipped with a 360-degree camera and it won’t be distracted by talking on the phone or handing an item to a child in the back seat. The car will recognize impending danger faster than a human, will use heat signatures to identify living things that have the potential to cross its path and it can’t panic or over correct in times of stress. In fact, Elon Musk believes that one-day human-driven cars will be outlawed, as they will be thought of as too dangerous.
A Transportation Future that Empowers All
These cars seem perfect for a new fleet of on demand taxis, shuttles and buses. Fewer cars on the road that are aware of each other means that accidents will likely decrease. We can imagine these cars in our cities, suburbs and neighborhoods, but what about the great potential for the developing world? Can this transform the way in which hundreds of millions of people move from point A to point B?
Like all new technologies and advancements, those individuals with the financial means will be the early adopters and will initially define what the opportunity means. Uber has expanded from young upwardly mobile Silicon Valley technology professionals getting around San Francisco to teenagers being shuttled to piano or soccer practice in cities around the country. This is a natural evolution of adoption as services like Uber become more mainstream and are accepted as the natural way to navigate a city. When this happens, we will begin to see a market form. There will be competitors, third-party applications and after market products that will help create new companies. In this not-so-distant future, the self-driving car will cross the chasm from the early adopters to the early majority. Prices will come down and these services will be accessible to the masses.
These cars of the future will revolutionize individual transportation, public transportation and the sharing economy of groups like Uber and Zipcar. Imagine how empowering it will be for those who have lost their ability to drive to be able to take themselves to work, and then take their children to soccer practice, with a quick stop at the grocery store on the way home. Existing services for these individuals is typically binary, where they get assistance from another individual or a support van takes you from point A to point B. Owning a self driving car will provide a new level of freedom and control.
The market will drive innovation, spur new industries, lower the cost of transportation, reduce carbon emissions, increase road safety and increase the opportunity for more people to move throughout their communities. Yes, people will be nervous – there is often anxiety around ambitious new innovations – and there will be bumps in the road, but the benefits will prove to be too great to stop us moving toward what will be a safe and interconnected world.