Looking Ahead to 2017 & Beyond: Autonomous Cars
If there is one thing I am most disappointed about concerning where we are right now with our current state of technology I would have to say it would be in the area of cars. Don't get me wrong, there is all kinds of cool technology that is built into cars these days. What I am talking about is the primary technology behind cars and how we use them. Neither have really changed all that much since the technology of the gasoline powered four-cycle engine was combined with that of a horse drawn carriage in 1880. The cars you and I drive today nearly 140 years later are still using this basic technology. To make things even more disappointing, we are still for the most part using our cars in much the same way too...as personalized transportation devices to get from one place to another. Unless you live in a large city a car is pretty much a necessity, and that is just truly sad. Driving is one of the most dangerous things we do each day, yet I bet you almost never pause when getting in your car to think that you just might die in a horrible car crash in just a few minutes. So why are we still stuck using cars like this today?
I'm sure the answer to my question is complicated and honestly I don't even care what the answer is. All of this will soon be a thing of the past. It won't happen this year and maybe not even the next, but within the next 2-3 years technology will forever change personal automobile use. The revolution that is on our doorsteps right now has the potential to change our lives more drastically than just about any other technology we have seen yet (think big, like electricity and the industrial revolution big).
In a few years learning how to drive a car and getting a driver's license will no longer be the norm. We won't have to take the keys away from our elderly family members and those elderly family members won't have to worry about being stranded in their home with no way to go anywhere. The average american is going to have to figure out what to do with the extra money they will no longer be throwing at 140 year old technology just to transport themselves to where they need to go. Cars will be built run almost continuously, because they will be fully autonomous and can be called to your side within just a few minutes to take you anywhere you need to go parking will be a thing of the past. When the car you just called is done with you it moves on to the next customer...no need to park. Think about it. Every single parking lot out there will in just a few years become a waste of space. Your garage will be empty. There will be an entire industry around converting garages into useful living spaces. And last but not least we will have an even bigger problem to think about...organ donors. Yes, this is a thing.
Today there are 35,000 people killed on American roads each year (this is just a sick number if you really think about it, just sick and totally preventable) and car crash deaths make up 20% of our current supply or organs for transplant. What an amazing future problem to have, 35,000 less people per year in the U.S. will die. Gun related deaths is a popular topic for people to focus on, but in 2015 13,286 people were killed in the U.S. by firearms. Gun violence is a tougher problem to solve with technology because we haven't yet invented a way to make every gun on the planet dissappear (and even if we we could that would only save 13,000 U.S. lives every year while autonomous car technology exists and has the potential to save 35,000 U.S. lives a year). Oh, I'm sure we will still have car accident fatalities especially while we still have cars on the road driven humans. But eventually car crashes will happen about as often as commercial airline crashes.
I'm ready for this future. Right now I spend about 2 hours a day commuting back and forth to work and taking kids to school. I would much rather spend that time reading or doing something productive while the vehicle does the driving for me (and in a way that is infinitely less likely to get me killed). Forget the Jetsons and flying cars...bring on the on-demand autonomous vehicles!