Saturday, September 01, 2012

Self-driving cars

Sunset in Wyoming
I hate driving.

Not because I'm bad at it; like the vast majority of Americans, my driving skills are far above average. I just find it tedious and boring.

This summer we went on a bike trip in Colorado, and then did a big, 2,500-mile car trip through Utah, Idaho, Washington and Wyoming.

Some of that driving was interesting, with stunning scenery zooming by. But most of it was tedious and boring. We did it partly because I think long, boring car trips are a rite of passage for kids; I certainly remember being eleven years old, stuck in the back seat of the cars for hours on end, driving into the night and then staying in a boring hotel room.

My grandkids might never have the experience of being bored in the backseat of a car and having to deal with a tired and grumpy parent that has driven ten hours since breakfast. It looks like self-driving cars will happen in the next ten or twenty years.

I want to rent a self-driving RV for my next big road trip. I'd start my trip after dinnertime, tell it where I want to eat breakfast, and then sleep through all the boring, tedious driving.

I think self-driving cars will have big, unintended consequences. Maybe multi-hour commutes will be no big deal, and suburbs even farther away from city centers will be common.

Maybe weekend homes 8 or 10 hours away will become a lot more popular; sleep on the way there Friday night, sleep on the way home Sunday night.

They should be really bad news for airlines and high-speed rail, especially if special, "robot driver only" very-high-speed highways are built. If they make people fly less, they should be good for the environment-- although I expect the fuel saved from less flying will be balanced out by people travelling more overall.

Maybe we'll see lots of retired people becoming nomads, spending their money on gasoline instead of hotel rooms, spending nights in their Robobagos on the road, driving at 42 miles an hour in huge groups to get better gas mileage...

PS: the driving-skills-above-average sentence is just there to catch people who post snarky comments before reading to the end of the post (yes, I know that sentence cannot be true).


Sean said...

I think self driving cars will actually be bad news for the auto industry as well. What does your car spend 90% of it's time doing? It just sits there. With self driving cars, Google could operate a taxi service.

Order a ride online, pay with your phone, and have the nearest available Google Taxi pick you up. When you get dropped off, the taxi could go straight to the next person who ordered (and is near). I doubt there will even be much reason for most people to own a car. The taxi system could also be used for carpooling. You could split the cost if two strangers are going from the same area to the same area.

Shared cars means that all the maintenance, insurance and gas costs can be distributed and each person can pay for what they need. A win for the consumer, not so much for the car manufacturer.

Gavin Andresen said...

Excellent comment! I've been tempted to use ZipCar as the "occasional second car" for our family, but reserving ahead and walking to where they're parked make that not so attractive.

I bet shared cars would be a win for the environment, too (fewer cars manufactured, less resources used).

The Automobile Industrial Complex has huge influence over politicians, though (your local car dealer almost certainly donates to, and knows, your local congress-critters). It'll be interesting to watch what happens...

Chris Wilmer said...

Couldn't agree more! Especially with all of the security measures these days for flying!

Also... hello!

Dan said...

Your mother said it wasn't so boring for the kids when you got the speeding ticket in wyoming..

Anonymous said...

"like the vast majority of Americans, my driving skills are far above average."

Deluded narcissist much? Go to Europe, any capital, and drive stick. Then you'll see just how deranged you are.

Cicom said...

Busted! Read articles entirely before you comment! Ha ha!