Self Driving Vehicles: What’s in Store?

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.

My Questions

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.

9 comments

  1. rohansuwarna · ·

    Great work! I just read a piece on BuzzFeed which outlines safety and guidelines the federal government laid down for self-driving cars. I find this whole movement very intriguing since more and more taxi drivers will be out of work. 10 years ago taxi drivers were very popular and now they would be the third choice for users behind self-driving cars and Uber/Lyft. However, I agree that at first there will be a lot of scrutiny because of the safety involved with self-driving cars. Over time, they will most likely be the first choice for all drivers and car owners!

  2. Aditya, nice post. I Believe this transitions well from our in class discussions and the twitter #IS6621 news feed. Here are some of my opinions.

    I do not believe car ownership will become obsolete. I believe that a majority of people who own cars do it for the fact of what it represents: wealth, social position, job title etc.. People buy luxurious cars for the same reason they purchase vacation homes, boats, bigger houses. This is to have a new toy and show their achievements. If this wasn’t the case, People would not drive around in hunks of metal whose value depreciates drastically with added mileage. But we still do. The future of the car industry is allowing drivers to be able to own autonomous vehicles at more reasonable prices. Here is a list of many companies doing research into autonomous driving.

    https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/autonomous-driverless-vehicles-corporations-list/

  3. Great post and interesting insights. Good links, but where are the pictures?!?! Could have really spiced up the post.

  4. Super interesting post that raises a lot of great questions as we move closer and closer to having these automated cars in the future! I believe if safety and liability issues, these self-driving cars are really going to take over the world as Uber and Lyft CEOs have said. It really saves people time and convenience to be more productive and it will be a real disrupter in many industries. Another question to consider is what is going to happen to public transportation in big cities? Will people stop using it? Will it become cheaper? Will those who don’t have the money to afford using self-driving cars and take public transport benefit as less people will be on trains and buses?

  5. Great post, tackled a bunch of things I have been wondering about self-driving cars myself. Car ownership is the biggest concern for me; while I love the idea of having my car work to subsidize its own cost, I am also going to want to drive my own vehicle. However, I feel that no matter how well we can program autonomous cars to communicate with each other and anticipate other drivers, accidents will continue to occur until we are 100% self-driving. Having rational computer intelligence and irrational human drivers on the same roads will always cause issues, but thankfully at a much lower rate than at present. My concern is that, in the pursuit of public safety, driving your own car will become illegal. Do you think this is likely? If that time comes and everyone is in electric, autonomous vehicles, you’ll find me driving a V8 Dodge Charger that I keep hidden away, an outlaw.

  6. polmankevin · ·

    Aditya, awesome post. I think that I am going to side with Elon Musk on this issue. My thought is that our society values ownership way too much to forfeit that right to large corporations. I also think that people will become skeptical if companies like UBER and LYFT own all of the cars in a major city. Pricing concerns will rise to the forefront of the argument. Hopefully natural competition in the market will keep prices down, but it could be a dangerous marketplace if all local transportation (besides walking or biking) is shifted to the private sector. Either way, it seems like we are in for a cool future. Only another 20 years until we start living like the Jetsons.

  7. michaelahoff · ·

    This was super insightful. As for the insurance aspect of it, that has the potential to be quite dangerous, for if the self-driving car industry becomes consolidated, then Lyft, Uber, Tesla and other such companies may have increasing power over insurance policies, which may hurt customers.

  8. kdphilippi18 · ·

    Very interesting post. I would agree with Elon Musk’s plan. While I think owning your own car will one day be obsolete, 2025 is not that far away so for me I don’t think the car industry will change that drastically. I do believe, however, there will be major changes in the coming years. It makes sense that people would want to maximize the full potential of their car. As you mentioned, this would help make owning a car much more cost effective, but it could also help the environment. If less people had cars and more people shared cars, then it would reduce the amount of cars on the road. I wonder if the ability to earn money on your own car would increase or decrease the total number of cars?

  9. jagpalsingh03 · ·

    Solid post Aditya! I like how you laid out popular questions I think we all have about autonomous cars and gave us your thoughts. One question, thought, that I think is very important is, how do we sell this idea to the public? We all know that people do not like to give up their independence, especially when it comes to driving (aka senior citizens). Getting a driver’s license is essentially many people’s first real step into adulthood and driving symbolizes so much more than just being able to get from point A to point B. While all the logic dictates that self-driving cars are better for society in terms of efficiency, safety, and any other metric, they fall short of matching the symbolism, freedom, and fun of driving that our parents 1995 Toyota Camry had. How do we get the people to move past this?

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