I have spent quite a bit of time lately thinking about autonomous cars, and I wanted to summarize my current thoughts and predictions. Most people – experts included – seem to think that the transition to driverless vehicles will come slowly over the coming few decades, and that large hurdles exist for widespread adoption. I believe that this is significant underestimation. Autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2025 and have a near monopoly by 2030, and the sweeping change they bring will eclipse every other innovation our society has experienced.
They will cause unprecedented job loss and a fundamental restructuring of our economy, solve large portions of our environmental problems, prevent tens of thousands of deaths per year, save millions of hours with increased productivity, and create entire new industries that we cannot even imagine from our current vantage point…
The transition is already beginning to happen. Elon Musk, Tesla Motor’s CEO, says that their 2015 models will be able to self-drive 90 percent of the time.1 And the major automakers aren’t far behind – according to Bloomberg News, GM’s 2017 models will feature “technology that takes control of steering, acceleration and braking at highway speeds of 70 miles per hour or in stop-and-go congested traffic.”2 Both Google3 and Tesla4 predict that fully-autonomous cars – what Musk describes as “true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination” – will be available to the public by 2020.
HOW IT WILL UNFOLD
Industry experts think that consumers will be slow to purchase autonomous cars – while this may be true, it is a mistake to assume that this will impede the transition. Morgan Stanley’s research shows that cars are driven just 4% of the time,5 which is an astonishing waste considering that the average cost of car ownership is nearly $9,000 per year.6 Next to a house, an automobile is the second most expensive asset that most people will ever buy – it is no surprise that ride sharing services like Uber and car sharing services like Zipcar are quickly gaining popularity as an alternative to car ownership. It is now more economical to use a ride sharing service if you live in a city and drive less than 10,000 miles per year.7 The impact on private car ownership is enormous: a UC-Berkeley study showed that vehicle ownership among car sharing users was cut in half.8 The car purchasers of the future will not be you and me – cars will be purchased and operated by ride sharing and car sharing companies.
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