Earlier last week, I retweeted an article detailing Uber’s first attempts at putting an autonomous vehicle on the roads of Pittsburgh to test their technology. While it’s still in need of more innovation and fine tuning, we have come a long way and we will surely see driverless cars hit the roads nationwide within the next decade. To supplement that, an article came out detailing the bold predictions of Lyft’s Co-Founder and President, John Zimmer; he said that private car ownership will “all but end” in 2025. To throw more ideas into the mix, here is a short excerpt from Elon Musk’s “Master Plan, Part Deux” written on July 20th, highlighting a different idea for the future of self-driving cars:
“You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you’re at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost. This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla. Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.”
With all these different ideas and speculations about the future of this industry, a lot of questions popped up in my head, some of which I’ve attempted to answer.
How do we prioritize safety in autonomous Ubers and Lyfts?
One of the articles mentions deep learning, and how this will play a major factor in helping cars adjust to these random situations that are hard to plan/prepare for at the beginning stages of development. This will definitely help solve this problem, but it will take some time. I propose that until that time, there should be a manual override feature for the passenger, so if there is an unforeseen circumstance on the road, the rider can take over and get the vehicle back on track. Companies can then collect this data about what occurred and why the override needed to happen, and better prepare the vehicle for a similar circumstance the next time.
What happens when a driverless car gets into an accident with a car with an actual driver inside?
One of my huge concerns has been liability and how to deal with accidents. Then I realized this: With the 360 degree sensors and cameras, that isn’t even an issue. The sensors should store all the data about the ride, so it can literally paint a 360 degree picture of what happened, and will clearly point out who is in the blame. If for some reason the self driving car is the reason for the accident, the company that owns it should be held liable.
What is going to happen to insurance?
I think personal car insurance is going to become obsolete, especially in crowded cities. If what Lyft’s President is saying is true, people in cities will not even own cars. That will reduce the amount of personal insurance needed, and increase the amount of insurance and protection that companies will need to provide to their riders and other drivers on the road. Insurance companies will have to start tailoring their services and offerings towards the companies in the autonomous car industry, so they can be protected if things go wrong. This brings up another question: How will companies like Uber and Lyft pay for these insurance policies? I figure that they can use the money they’re saving by not needing to pay physical drivers anymore.
What will car companies do? How will they adapt to this new market?
This is a very tough question that I really don’t know the answer to. If we move to fully autonomous vehicles, are we really going to want sports cars and high performing vehicles? I don’t think so. If we’re going the speed limit, and we’re trying to do other things in the car like watch tv or sleep, wouldn’t we prioritize having a safe, smooth, and comfortable ride? If we get to a point where no one owns a car and we’re always taking rides from Uber or Lyft, will we care what the car looks like? On top of that, for companies like Uber and Lyft, they’re probably going to only want electric vehicles since their daily costs are less than that of gas powered cars. So my prediction is that luxury car companies will have to focus less on sports performance and feel in the drivers seat, and transition into rider comfort, entertainment, and make sure all vehicles are cost efficient (which probably means switching to electric car production).
My Question for You
So what do you think about the two proposed futures outlined by Lyft’s President John Zimmer and Elon Musk? Do you think car ownership will become obsolete? Or do you think owning a car and being able to make money off of it is the future?
Regardless of what you side with, there is no doubt that autonomous cars are an inevitable part of our future, and we should all prepare ourselves for what that means.