The convergence of motion sensors, GPS, electric vehicles, big data, radar, laser scanning, computer vision, and artificial intelligence is hastening the arrival of autonomous vehicles (AVs)—cars that drive themselves. Experts predict they will make up 75 percent of road vehicles by 2040. Whether AVs will have a benign, neutral, or negative impact on society and the planet is unclear.
How cars are owned and utilized today could not be less efficient: They are driven 4 percent of the time. If mobility comes to be viewed as an on-demand service—rather than private ownership of expensive, two-ton assemblages of steel, glass, plastic, and rubber—the material savings would be immense. The U.S. auto fleet could decline by 50 to 60 percent. But it would require a massive cultural shift.
There are other potential advantages. For starters, AV concept models are smaller and more aerodynamic. In dedicated lanes, they can form platoons and draft, as cyclists do in a peloton. Autonomy is likely to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles because most trips are local and in battery range. Still, big questions remain: Will AVs be used for ridesharing or single occupancy? Will their convenience drive miles traveled up, rather than down?
Paradise and Iron: Breuer, Miles J., and Michael R. Page. The Man with the Strange Head and Other Early Science Fiction Stories. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008.
idea of self-driving vehicles: LaFrance, Adrienne. “Your Grandmother’s Driverless Car.” The Atlantic. June 29, 2016.
AVs…by 2040: Newcomb, Doug. “You Won’t Need a Driver’s License by 2040.” Wired. September 17, 2012.
$2 trillion per year; 4 percent of the time: Zimmer, John. “The Third Transportation Revolution: Lyft’s Vision for the Next Ten Years and Beyond.” The Road Ahead (blog). September 18, 2016. https://medium.com/@johnzimmer/the-third-transportation-revolution-27860f05fa91.
700 million parking spaces: Chester, Mikhail, Aprad Horvath, and Samer Madanat. “Parking Infrastructure and the Environment.” ACCESS Magazine 1, no. 39 (2011).
Electrics…[vs.] gasoline-powered vehicles: Sims, R., R. Schaeffer, F. Creutzig, X. Cruz-Núñez, M. D’Agosto, D. Dimitriu, M.J. Figueroa Meza, L. Fulton, S. Kobayashi, O. Lah, A. McKinnon, P. Newman, M. Ouyang, J.J. Schauer, D. Sperling, and G. Tiwari. “Transport.” In Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
Thomas Frey [on] driverless-car era: Frey, Thomas. “128 Things That Will Disappear in the Driverless Car Era.” April 5, 2016. Futurist Speaker (blog). http://www.futuristspeaker.com/job-opportunities/128-things-that-will-disappear-in-the-driverless-car-era/.
injuries and auto-related deaths: Ramsey, Mike. “Self-Driving Cars Could Cut Down on Accidents, Study Says.” Wall Street Journal. March 5, 2015.
Automobiles and trucks…emissions: Sims et al, “Transport.”
U.S. auto fleet would decline: Strauss, Steven. “As the age of autonomous vehicles nears, why are policy wonks focused on the past?” Los Angeles Times. November 6, 2015.
“third transportation revolution”: Zimmer, “Revolution.”
100 million more people…in American cities: Kotkin, Joel. The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. New York: Penguin, 2010.