Do you know what buzzword gets more attention than EVs in the car world nowadays? AI – or self-driving cars. Not with quite the same sentiment though. We have pretty much adopted electric cars by now, but AI… Let us just say it is not without controversy.

One camp of people claims how amazing driverless cars will be for everyone. They would help the transport economy, reduce inefficiencies, and also accidents. Then there is the opposite opinion of people, whose jobs will just cease to exist.

With all that said, I bet that most of us do not comprehend how big the change will actually be. Its ripples may affect industries we have not even considered. Well, how about we consider them now? Join me in figuring out how self-driven cars will transform the future of mobility!

How far away are self-driven cars anyway?

We have been hearing about the driverless cars for quite some time now. Yet the progress does not seem too tangible currently. According to Elon Musk though, driverless cars will start taking over as soon as 2020.

But why should we just trust someone, who obviously has skin in the game? We should instead explore the progress of AI cars by ourselves. Luckily, experts have already determined 5 levels (well, actually 6) of automation. Shall we take a look?

  • Level 0: No automation – These are your regular everyday cars.
  • Level 1: Driver assistance – Here the car will help you with some functions, but will not handle anything on its own. For example, if you hit the brakes, it can press them a little harder if you are not slowing down quickly enough.
  • Level 2: Partial automation – At this stage, the vehicle can take over some of the major functions of driving. It can accelerate for you, and steer to some degree. However, you still need to monitor it at all times. You are also responsible for safety reactions (e.g. breaking).
  • Level 3: Conditional automation – Such cars have many more sensors and can account for safety-critical functions as well. The driver starts giving up the majority of control. Some manufacturers have expressed concerns that Level 3 is problematic. That is because it is not a huge step up from 2, yet may render the driver too careless.
  • Level 4: High automation – At level 4 the vehicle can handle most situations on its own, except for the most dynamic ones, such as merging into the highway or traffic jams.
  • Level 5: Complete automation – This is the ultimate stage where no driver is necessary. With level 5 automation we will all be passengers. There will be no need to know how to operate a vehicle. This is the level that Musk claims is going to come as soon as 2020.

I am not entirely on board with such optimistic predictions. However, looking at the autonomy levels I understand AI cars are a matter of “when”, not “if”. Though 2020 may not be the year, most conservative predictions do not stretch it farther than 2025. Not too long of a wait, is it? So change is coming. It is time to see how!

Driverless cars and the disruption of air travel

Parallels between planes and AI cars seem a bit dumb right now. After all, a plane only takes 2 hours to travel the same distance that a car covers in 10 to 12. But what if that advantage gets less clear?

Even now a 2-hour flight may actually take up to 6 hours of accumulated travel time, not accounting for delays. Then you have checkups, baggage claim, and risks associated with that. Is that preferable to driving for 12 hours? It still may be, yet with self-driven cars the game changes.

Instead of having an entire schedule around a flight, you can hop in a driverless car whenever you want. You can work in it, take a break, enjoy the countryside, or sleep. The 12 hours will not be lost then. And you will not be exhausted by driving. Can you see how the picture shifts? All of a sudden short-distance flights become much less appealing.

Oh, did I mention that with a whole grid of autonomous vehicles they will move faster too? Self-driving cars stop traffic jams altogether. No gridlock, no traffic lights, no slowdowns. Your previously 12-hour drive may actually be 7 or 8. What other industry can that disrupt?

No more railroads

To say that train transportation has been regarded favorably in recent years would be a lie. When was the last time you were on train? Have you even been on one for that matter? Most Americans consider railroads dead anyway.

Naturally, automation will go beyond the US. It will affect the world, and that includes places where trains usually thrive. Europe is quite big on them, so is Asia. This form of transportation has long been favored by students and city dwellers, yet it may be meeting its end soon. Along with some other things…

Bid farewell to car ownership

Another consequence of autonomous vehicles most people do not consider is the future of car ownership. We have to realize that we may be getting to a point where people will no longer own vehicles.

It seems a bit far-fetched, but the change has already begun around the world. Car ownership is down in general as things like vehicle subscriptions have popped up. Though even those may be gone when we just transition to a world of driverless cars.

If everything is AI-operated, we can just call a car via an app and have it pick us up within a couple of minutes. This is what Uber and Lyft have been working on for a while now. Without a need for a driver, they can focus on vehicles. And with EVs, fuel costs drop as well. In the end, you may be riding around without a personal vehicle and still pay less. This leads me to my final point!

The future comes quickly

Americans love their cars, they will not simply give them up… Right? Honestly, I think we might. I know collectors would still exist, but they will be the minority.

I doubt that anyone would stop you from buying a car per se, you just will not have an incentive. Who wants to worry about maintenance, having a garage, finding a parking spot, and so on? Especially when you could have freedom while also paying less. Sure, it will not happen instantly, though it may be a quicker shift than we think.

So far we have been considering the changes in a vacuum. I think that is a mistake. Such things tend to happen pretty much simultaneously. If this will not lead to a snowball effect, I do not know what will.

I can see how airlines will have to shift their strategies tremendously. They do not make much money on a flight-per-flight basis, and even a 10% drop in revenue will be catastrophic. That means fewer flights will be available. What will people switch to? Trains, buses? Doubtfully, as I have already pointed out.

There is a possibility where automated transport comes in the form of new-gen flying cars. They may fill the void of reduced airplane availability. Frankly, though, the coming changes are too vast to predict correctly. One thing is certain though – they will be here before we know it. Are you ready?

Are the coming self-driving cars a good change?

While we like looking at the positives, some people have their own concerns. When industries get disrupted, there is inevitable chaos afterward. It will take some time to stabilize things for sure.

This makes me wonder if such a quick transition is actually good for us. Perhaps we are not economically and psychologically ready for that change. But what do you think? Are you waiting for self-driving cars with eagerness, or are you concerned about them? In any case, the future will hit us, so we might as well start preparing for it!


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