March 11, 2016 - 22:33

Why Self-Driving Cars Are About More Than Who Is Driving

9 obvious and less obvious things that self-driving cars could fundamentally change

That one of Google’s self-driving cars was responsible for an accident on public roads for the very first time also didn’t go unnoticed to the news and social media last week, and one thing that I’ve thereby noticed is that many people appear to not yet understand the whole deeper relevance of autonomous cars. Focusing on the fact that they can drive by themselves and that there are taxicabs and trains as an alternative if they couldn’t, many don’t understand why the industry is investing so much in those projects.

Thus, I’ve decided to create this list with some less obvious aspects that self-driving cars could fundamentally change, also beyond the usual stuff like that they are way more secure than we human drivers. Of course the majority of people certainly understands that it’s about more than just ‘who is driving’, but I think it’s interesting anyway for everyone to try and think on the one hand side more openly about this rising technology, as well as about a few more concrete ideas what changes might come with it, perhaps even touching science fiction to a certain degree.

(Please note that this is a completely creative article, I’ve not made research on what’s really possible or worked on, and I have not any special knowledge about self-driving cars, cars in general or the technology behind it.)

1. The obvious stuff

One of the most referred to advantages of self-driving cars is their vast superiority in terms of security in comparison to human drivers. Computers are capable of processing thousands of parameters simultaneously, they drive without emotions, without tiredness or illness and they don’t get distracted, e.g. never ever will a computer feel the urgent need to answer a text message instead of focusing on the street while driving at maximum speed on the highway.

2. It’s less about you not having to drive but about what you could do instead

Of course there are plenty of people who enjoy driving, but I’m convinced the big majority of commuters for example would much rather like to use their time more efficiently every day. With the car driving for you, you could do anything while you’re getting from one place to another, from eating lunch to doing work, catching up with the news or your friends status updates or even sleep, for example on a long trip (this using scenario would also reduce drive times enormously)!

Trips with friends or the family could in fact become much more social (and maybe a bit less exhaustive for parents with no adult occupied driving), possibly giving the drive to the destination a whole new role.

3. A self-driving car can also drive and do stuff without anybody in it

Maybe a bit more futuristic, but this is a good example of something that a self-driving car can do that you very clearly couldn’t also do instead: drive itself without you or anyone else in it!

From finding a parking lot itself after letting you off at your destination to refueling itself while you’re at work and being right back when you want to get back home - there are many very basic examples of things that your car could do alone, mostly making things more comfortable for you and saving lots of time.

4. One car for the whole family

Once you’ve reached your destination, a self-driving car could drive other people around, e.g. driving back home to pick up the next family member or person wanting to take advantage of it.

Driving routes multiple times and driving so much without anyone in it might be very fuel consuming and in that regard inefficient, but one single self-driving car could greatly be used by a whole group of people if it didn’t have to stay with the first person who used it, enabling a whole new level of car sharing within the own family.

5. The same commuting options for everyone (including children and drunk)

Not everyone has the privilege to drive and thus get most quickly and independently everywhere today, but from blind people to otherwise handicapped, older people, or even children, once the technology will be ready, all of them would have the same transportation options as everybody else thanks to self-driving cars.

And it’s not just people who cannot drive for physical or other permanent reasons today, also for example drunk people could take advantage of self-driving cars, not only making the roads more secure, but also making things like going out enormously more comfortable. Also people who would today lose their driving license for some time would then just have to drive autonomously.

6. Economic advantages that human drivers most likely won’t be able to compete with

Moreover, it’s also not just about you personally thinking that you could drive just as well instead, but autonomous driving would also be a huge opportunity for economic purposes. Having to choose between human drivers and self-driving cars, it’s not hard to imagine that businesses will be among the very first to extensively go all-in with this technology.

From taxicabs to logistics companies or transportation on factory sites, I guess the majority of companies might even already do it for cutting human jobs alone, but there are actually even many more economic advantages to it than just that:

Unlike human employees, self-driving cars could drive all the time and around the clock. Routes could be planned more efficiently and easily without having to take into account that an employee also wants to get home eventually or might have a problem standing still for hours on the dumbest place on earth and then continue working from one moment to another (or that he will cost the company money for that :D). And not at least, companies would of course also benefit of the overarching advantage of self-driving cars being their superior security and reliability, meaning less accidents and mistakes.

Self-driving cars are simply vastly superior economically, and in the very great majority of jobs, I don’t think human drivers will be able to compete with them. Naturally, losing jobs is always a bad thing, especially in as drastic numbers as can be expected being caused by self-driving cars. But there simply seems to be no way out of this. Maybe put in a more relatable scenario, of course you can also already call a taxicab today if you don’t want to drive, but would you rather choose the human driven one, or the one that - in exchange for just a less personal experience - would cost substantially less, perhaps just a fraction of the first?

If the technology is ready, there’s no reason why self-driving cars should be holden back or forbidden. Such moves would deeply interfere with the open market and might have a very big negative impact on the domestic economy as it would hold back one of the perhaps biggest revolutions worldwide of the coming years.

7. Mobile self-service vehicles

One more important aspect to understand is that a self-driving car doesn’t have to look like one that was designed to be driven by a human. While the last point focused on the plain advantage of having a computer drive instead of a human, industries would also be able to replace the driving seat and steering wheel with whatever they want - in the context of transportation most likely more space for whatever is being transported.

But I think it’s especially the service sector that could come up with very creative (partly game-changing) ideas and take much more interesting uses out of this: Things like automated delivery machines or things as simple as candy machines already exist today, it’s the automated mobility that is missing. But once self-driving cars are a reality, mobile self-service constructions could be utilized by companies for all kinds of purposes - for pizza delivery or food delivery in general, newspaper stops, kiosks, small stores, and much much more, perhaps even many ideas not yet conceivable today.

8. Self-driving cars as the first socially accepted mobile robots in use in public

Going even further with this idea, such constructions could even be interpreted as the first kind of mobile robots finding their way into our society.

What might make this more clear could be to think about specialised self-driving vehicles all equipped for different certain purposes, for instance a - the technology of normal big cars could of course also be applied to other, smaller vehicles - self-driving mobile barrier that would drive itself to accidents. It might sound very silly or strange at first, but what else would this be than a form of a robot, except that it’ll most likely not be named that way? And the very same argument could also be applied to the self-driving self-service vehicles, as well as even the normal personal car letting its owner off and finding a parking lot itself, both being also just forms of robots as well.

Driving according to the clear and understandable rules made by humans could lead to those “robots” being rather well-received by the public, with relatively small intimidation, and being allowed to drive on the roads made for humans would give them enormous mobility and thus capability right from the start as they would be able to utilize our already very expanded road network (as well as this would also lead to even less intimidation).

This appears to be a very possible scenario how robots could find their way out of factories and laboratories and into our society rather soon, and also one of only very few scenarios I can imagine robots moving themselves in a such extensive manner being quickly accepted by the general public.

For centuries people have imagined robots finding ways into our society and everyday life one way or another, but even if this might be the way that it’ll actually happen, I think this great shift could actually go by rather easy. Of course they would catch a whole lot of attention in the first few years after hitting the roads, but being specialised for certain tasks and services, not looking like humanoids but rather like tuned up cars, and with their purposes understandable for everyone, I don’t think they would notably be recognized as robots by the general public.

9. Next-gen street and traffic systems designed for self-driving cars

Lastly, even though I think I’ve given a few good examples how self-driving cars could deeply transform our society and many aspects of our lives, the basic task of driving would in all those scenarios basically stay the same. However, with self-driving cars more and more populating the streets and perhaps becoming the norm over the decades, I’m not sure how long our driving rules made for humans might actually withstand.

Today’s self-driving cars aim to imitate the way humans are driving, but new driving rules made for self-driving cars would allow the technology to fully utilize and accelerate their possibilities. And also besides being freed from driving conventions made for human drivers, there are more ways self-driving cars could set themselves apart from human driving capabilities - they could for instance handle much higher future driving speeds, or employ next-gen, complex street systems specifically made for them, e.g. a crossing where the cars from all sides would constantly drive, being all adjusted to one another.

I think this is the very most futuristic point on this list, and it might be questionable if the car system wouldn’t rather be replaced by new forms of vehicles at this point instead of introducing new traffic systems for self-driving cars (though such new systems might very likely still also be based on the same old road network). But the idea that self-driving cars could actually drive completely different and in better new ways than they’re teached and allowed to is interesting either way.


Of course everything I’ve said is plain speculation and represents the more successful scenarios this technology could follow. The progress in this field could also suddenly stagnate for a variety of reasons, laws only allowing self-driving when a human is in the car to intervene could be active for too long and this as well as public protest could also completely hold back car-“robots” and similar advances for way too long.

Nevertheless there are a lot of reasons to be excited and I think the potential in so many and so varied fields is too huge for this technology being hindered or not gaining traction.

Making the streets way more secure, redefining mobility, revolutionizing economical transportation, and perhaps even forming whole new industries and leading to robot-like systems quickly becoming part of and being accepted in our everyday life, I think there are a whole lot of reasons self-driving cars and their technology are much more than just an alternative to human driving.

What do you think about this? Are you hoping for your car doing all the bad stuff like handling full streets and finding a parking lot for you in 10 years? Could this actually be the way for robots gaining an extensive number of tasks in our everyday life? And should Google perhaps think about teaming up their self-driving cars and robotics projects? :D


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March 11, 2016 - 22:33

Why Self-Driving Cars Are About More Than Who Is Driving

9 obvious and less obvious things that self-driving cars could fundamentally change

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