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Self-Driving Car Predictions from the Experts

You don’t have to be paying much attention to come to the conclusion that our world is quickly moving towards vehicle automation and self-driving cars. Just take a look at the Google Trends graph below that shows interest in the subject as measured by related searches in Google’s search engine.

Many of the reasons for this may seem obvious, but in a world that might be filled with self-driving vehicles, you can also expect that there will be unintended consequences. We decided to ask more than 100 industry experts for their self-driving automated car predictions, and below you’ll find a discussion of what many of them had to say.

We want to start this blog off with one our more favorite predictions. This one came from Peter Brooks in California…

A bank robber will try a getaway in a self-driving car
Don’t think so? You probably wouldn’t think that someone would hold up a bank and insist that the money be transferred into their own bank account either, but these things happen. In a more general sense, we expect that many people will be arrested for crimes that they have committed because of the fact that they used an automated car.

Uber will replace all of its drivers with self-driving cars
This was the most common prediction from the industry experts (along with regular taxi drivers being replaced). Now that Uber is being forced to treat its drivers as employees rather than contractors (changing their tax implications), this will likely come down to a cost cutting game of numbers and profitability. When the financial analysts see the green light come on that says they will make more money this way, it will be hard to stop the beast.

Carpool Lanes will be turned into automated car-only lanes
This was actually a prediction that we made to start this survey off, but it has been echoed by many other industry experts. Alex Merkulov, CEO of 8sph.com took it a step further and pointed out that the speed limit in these lanes is going to be higher than other lanes… much higher. 120MPH was the number he liked. These lanes will undoubtedly require a different speed limit. Why? See our next prediction.

Automated cars will be programmed to NEVER break the law. This includes never exceeding the speed limit.
In order to avoid becoming a hazard on the highway, these cars really will need to have their own speed limit in their own lane as long as they are sharing the road with us humans. If you think that you are a huge fan of automated cars right now, just wait until you get stuck behind one on a winding country road.

Reduced municipal revenues from traffic tickets
As per the last prediction, cars will be programmed to obey the law. This could have devastating consequences on municipalities that depend on these revenues (this fine point was noted by the staff at dmv.com).

Delivery trucks will be capable of driving themselves, but unions will ensure that trucks will still have riders to hand deliver packages.
Those one comes right from Steve McCardell’s sci-fi book Darwood & Smitty and the Multi-World Agenda. The power of the union is strong… very, very strong. Ultimately, unions are not immune to being cut out of the picture, but they have a good reputation for preventing this and we agree that this will somehow be the case for the next 25-50 years.

There will be widespread motion sickness
It is tough to argue with this prediction. We might even suggest trying to buy some stock in a company that is positioned to help solve that problem. That prediction came from Romy Taormina at Psi Bands, and we’ll bet that if you offer enough money they will be happy to give you a piece of their action.

California’s high speed rail will become the new “Bridge to Nowhere”
We actually think that this is an understatement. The bridge to nowhere only cost about $400 million. California’s high speed rail has a projected cost estimate in the $68 billion dollar range. This one was from Jason Varden, a self-proclaimed futurist and guy who is probably smarter than the people who make big decisions in California.

Your driver’s license test will be drastically different
Drivers exams will change to test whether a person can handle the switch-over between autonomous and manual mode. Forget about parallel parking and the rules of the road. You will be taught and tested on your ability to spot hazards that your car might not be able to handle. This prediction came from John O’Dell, the Senior Editor at Edmunds.com.

Free transportation in ad supported vehicles
With no drivers needed, the cost of running any free courtesy vehicles will be reduced to the point that marketers will be willing to offer you free rides as long as they get to put their message in front of you. Thanks to Rob Flessner for this prediction (Co-Founder & CEO at govugo.com).

Homes will suddenly be worth much more due to the increased living area because unnecessary garage space will be converted to living space
With cars that can drop you off at work and then return home on their own to do the same for someone else in a family, households likely won’t need to have as many vehicles. This will free up space that can be used for other purposes. – Harry E. Keller, PhD from smartscience.net.

Climate change will be slowed
This can surely happen because of efficiency and the move to electric vehicles during society’s transition. Another reason this is likely to happen is because of the decreasing need for parking lots. These act as heat islands and this effect will be decreased. Automated vehicles will also be able to travel closer together safely at high speeds; increasing fuel efficiency because now they can draft each other to reduce wind resistance.

Your car insurance will be cheaper… much cheaper
In fact, Metromile has already put together an insurance model to plan for this. For a 20 year old female that lives in a city like San Francisco and drives 12,000 miles/year, she would save about $1,000/year in car insurance; knocking the annual cost down to only about $250. That cost really just considers the fact that your car can still be broken into or vandalized. It’s possible that liability insurance won’t even be required anymore!

No more driving around the block xx times looking for a parking spot
Your car will let you out as close to your destination as possible, it will park itself, and it will come get you when you are ready. Sorry valet attendants, but your services will no longer be required.

Self-driving cars will cause accidents that humans could have avoided
We’re not just talking about the “growing pains” that we all expect to see at first. Have you ever seen someone getting ready to do something stupid and so you gave them some extra space of beeped your horn in anticipation? Self-driving cars won’t be able to look at all of the subtle things that an astute driver might notice which allow them to prevent an accident.

Unfortunately, it might get worse than that. We anticipate that the naysayers who are against automation will have their opportunity to say “I told you so”.

Challenge #1 Overcoming the Psychological Barriers

Our friend Kyle Lindsey (who also took the award for the Best Vehicle Reviews blog of 2015) pointed out that one of the biggest challenges will be selling the concept to the majority of the public for the simple reasons of safety and the ability to trust the car.

This isn’t the first time that our society has faced a challenge like this. This is an issue of accepting automation in a place where safety, convenience, and familiarity are huge factors. Believe it or not, there was a time when elevator deaths were a common occurrence in the lives of Americans and many people were downright scared of the automation of elevators. Even the airplanes that we fly in are largely capable of flying themselves at this point, but our society seems to have gotten over this fear without much issue. So how easy is it to overcome these fears and premonitions?

Have a listen to the podcast embedded below from NPR’s Planet Money, titled “The Big Red Button”, which does an outstanding job of breaking down the psychological elements at play here and describes how they have been dealt with in the past.

Challenge #2 The liability

We already have lots of cars that have advanced features like Volvo’s pedestrian detection braking system. Tesla is already installing autopilot hardware into their vehicles, although the software is not yet utilizing these features. The largest hump to get over when it comes to full-automation is not technological, but rather financial. Once a car company says “trust us, the car is safe and you don’t need to pay attention anymore”, they are essentially volunteering to take on huge amounts of liability that they don’t currently have. If there is anything that can prevent self-driving cars from becoming a daily reality or at least slow their implementation, it’s going to be money.

Challenge #3 Vehicle Replacement Rates

In the auto industry, we deal with replacement rates. This implies that even if ALL news cars sold were self-driving, the old cars would still be on the road and they would be on the road for a very long time.

As long as real people are driving their cars, this will present a challenge to automated cars because it is much tougher to program a person to drive properly than it is to program a computer. For example, right now Google is learning to deal with the fact that most people don’t actually come to a complete stop at stop signs. This can result in automated cars getting stuck at stop signs because they just don’t have the chutzpah that it takes to drive in our country.

Challenge #4 Snowy Weather

This could be the deal breaker. It’s unlikely that a self-driving car will be able to handle snowy conditions better than a human. The sensors just won’t be able to see & define the road easily, and they won’t be able to identify changing conditions ahead easily either.

What is coming next?

Well, we are solving problems here, so what are the worst parts of driving? Those of you who live or commute in a city will likely agree that traffic jams are at the top of the list. How about someone who is playing on their phone that doesn’t know the light has turned green? It’s tough to argue that these are things we all could not do without.

We expect that this will be solved by cars that have “traffic jam mode” and “stop light mode” built into their capabilities, and these will be the first real automated cars to be accepted and produced widely. With these features, the liability for manufacturers is decreased because of the low speeds that are typical in these situations, and the technology will also be more reliable in these scenarios and thus require less fine-tuning and development.

The boldest prediction with the best odds…

With so much anticipation, discussion, and interest, self-driving cars seem to be a forgone conclusion. We agree, this WILL probably happen eventually. Not all of these predictions will come true, at least not exactly as they have been written about here. But what if we we’re in Las Vegas and we were looking at the odds of these predictions and getting ready to make a bet? What would be the best bet with the best odds compared to the actual probability? Well, because of the way that odds are set by bookmakers, it’s likely that the best payout and highest expected long-term value would be on this prediction…

We Will Never Have Fully Automated Cars As the Norm

Why? It could be because of money, safety, fear of hacking, widespread incidents, politics, unions, wars, lobbyists, the introduction of personal rocket ships delivered by little green men who traveled through a wormhole from Vega, or maybe, just maybe, the fact that driving is fun for many of us and people won’t want to give that up.

Additional thanks to others who made noteworthy contributions here.

Larry Vaughn, CEO of Cabforward.com
Rick Anglada, Lt. of the New Mexico State Police (ret.), Chief of Police for the Taos Police Dept. Taos, NM (ret.)
Eric Daimler, PhD from SkilledScience.com
Alex Brisbourne from KORE
Craig Fitzgerald, Editor in Chief of Bestride.com
Paul A. Eisenstein, Publisher of TheDetroitBureau.com

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2 responses to “Self-Driving Car Predictions from the Experts”

  1. Harry Keller says:

    If the high-speed rail is DOA, then so will Elon Musk’s Hyperloop also be. Yet, automated cars do not make the trip from LA to SF significantly faster. They Hyperloop will and at a very low cost. Automated cars will enable such forms of transportation because you won’t have to worry about having a car when you arrive at you destination.

  2. Harry Keller says:

    I would bet against the odds. We have repeatedly seen predictions that are way off in both directions. Consider 50 years ago and predictions about mobile communications and flying cars. I’m betting that autonomous vehicles are in the mobile communications category.

    Why? Because of money. We have over 100 million drivers in our country alone. They’re going to save tons of money. The future Ubers (along with Hertz and others) will make a bundle here. Sure, the losers (taxi companies and so on) will fight it. The time required to cycle those old vehicles off of our roads will be long.

    These new cars may well have new sorts of accidents, but they will be much fewer than those of human drivers, orders of magnitude fewer.

    The greatest impediment to the change will be the human psyche. This was beautifully illustrated long ago by Walt Disney in a cartoon showing the Jekyll and Hyde mentality of Mr. Driver and Mr. Walker. The feeling of power and independence from getting behind the wheel must be abandoned. It’s like getting us to abandon our guns.

    I predict that, as with guns (but in reverse), most autonomous vehicle success will take place on the coasts in more densely populated areas. Wyoming may never see them, and they’ll be happy with that.