Self-Driving Will Fundamentally Change Cars, Roads, and Lifestyle
New technologies should not be thought of in isolation. Many implausible technologies have a dependency on a coming development that will make it inevitable. I am nursing a methodology of two-pronged futurology developments. We can generally predict the future in the realm of things that require 1 big change, but a combination of 2 or more changes can lead to a conclusion that is not at all obvious before-hand. So let me use this link to state the obvious that self-driving cars will lead to a witch’s brew of changes which will all be primed to combine with other Black Swans and cause enormous upheaval.
Self-driving and electric cars are going to have tons of strange effects on society
Electric cars will be good for the planet and autonomous vehicles will reduce the number of road accidents. That much…
The primary source is much better researched, although the points are the same in both. But something seems missing along a common pattern. Look at this quote, which sums the articles well:
if parking goes away, road capacity increases by, perhaps, several times, and an on-demand ride is the cost of a coffee, then one needs to start thinking much more generally, not just about cars, trucks and roads but cities, land use and real-estate
We outline tremendous catalyst for changes… and then what? Is there something enormous at the other side of this? There’s a human-level story, and also a multi-component extrapolation that I feel like are just not making the cut.
This is but a feeble effort to draft a version of some of those 2nd and 3rd order effects.
We Will Let Cars into Our Living Rooms
“Garages are absolutely stupid and useless” — said basically everyone in 2030. Consider the average age of homes today, and it becomes trivially apparent that houses will still have garages (because homes from 2017 are still standing). But garages ignore the basic reality of self-driving cars. You don’t step into a car and start it up, you get picked up by a car!
Garages optimize for convenience, but it’s and outdated form of convenience that has become a hindrance by 2025. Instead, homes of the 21st century must optimize for the convenience of being picked up. You don’t need a dingy concrete space for a car to lay dormant, but you don’t want to stand on the street like a doofus. Better to have the car come straight into the house.
There is also a luggage component to this, because leaving the house takes preparation that is intensified when you can’t use your car like a locker. So think of a staging area of your stuff so that your person can be ready to hop in right when the timer on the wall reaches zero (because there will be a net-connected timer to show this). Instead of leaving the house, you’ll just hear the door open, the car will come in, you’ll get in (shouting desperate goodbys), and the car will back right back out to continue the trip.
But let’s not also forget — we will welcome cars into our office buildings too.
Cars Will Have Doors all Along the Side
Buses are also so 20st century. Buses are physical entities optimized to increase the convenience of collecting tolls. In the age of Uber and Lyft, this makes absolutely no sense. In the 21st century this design will be openly mocked. Instead, self-driving cars will need to optimize loading efficiency as well as various degrees of privacy demanded by riders.
For this, you need limo-like doors. Loading efficiency is more consequential than it sounds. I’ll go into that now.
The Hub and Spoke Model Come to Your Town!
Uber uses only 1 car to take you from one place to another. This is poor efficiency. Better to take more people in a single ride, but even this isn’t enough because this results in making detours for getting people to diverse destinations within a local area. Gas use is also best to cram a TON of people into a single vehicle. If you consider something like LA or DC with hyper-urbanization in effect due to lifting the constraints of congestion, then you would just bring back congestion because of the sheer outrageous volume of people being moved. So mass transit in the form of apex-vehicles becomes a fundamental reality. But there’s also the simultaneous possibility of increasing transfer efficiency with precision rendezvous timing.
So the bottleneck becomes the slow and unreliable humans. Best to open the doors for them, and place them right next to the next door they need to get into. This is the transit system I envision. The logistics will look like the modern airline hub-and-spoke model.
Urban density will increase, but if congestion is getting solved, then that really means that suburbs increase in density. No, these aren’t cities like NYC that we’re talking about. We’re talking about a few select cities transforming into a 1-to-2 story psuedo-urban sprawl going for 100 miles in all directions.
We don’t yet have a grasp on what this looks like or what its implications are. Also add into this a revolution of hyper-commuting made possible by mega-freeways that may allow even faster top speeds on high-capacity buses and people might even commute overnight. This would dramatically increase the reach of an individual for where they work or learn.
This means more open spaces, more modular construction techniques, and a much greater reach of the ordinary individual geographically on a regular schedule. Social consequences of this will be severe, but hard to put into words.
The Subways will Die
Major cities will find that they now have a new public transportation system, but it happens to be on the surface in already-existing roads and is vastly superior to the inflexible rail-based transit systems.
Short Haul Planes will be Scraped
Airport security doesn’t appear to be going away, so self-driving car offerings will strangle routes that don’t cover a major fraction of a continent. After all, you could get a sleeper car with a relatively large amount of space (at least compared to planes), so this will be ideal for most things short of cross-country trips.
Virtual Worlds will Grow in Importance
Not having to drive will liberate a great amount of time, so what will happen with that extra human time? Obviously something big, but there are constraints, notably of being confined to a small space. The digital world, however, will still be open to people.
The Workday may Extend Into Our Commute
Might as well tack on a few extra hours to the standard 40-hour work week. In the new world where we’re headed, all workers will be partially remote during the period in which they’re riding to and from work.
Trip Algorithms Gain Great Political Power
Money is where consumer feet are. To whatever extend we employ the hub-and-spoke model of transportation (which we absolutely will to a great extent), there will be opportunities for consumers to spend. However, transfers can be easily moved from one place to another, and this decision carries economic leverage.
…like, a lot of economic leverage.