Future Vehicles To Provide Paradigm Shifts: Mobility, Infrastructure, Land Use & Lower Costs

COST Commentary (updated 2-10-2015): Below is the reference to a series of BBC reports and a short CNN report on autonomous, self-driving, or driverless vehicles, depending on an author’s name preference. Following these, is an Article by Zack Kanter, Entrepreneur and Futurist, with a thoughtful vision and predictions of the impact of autonomous cars. Finally, there is the summary of a CATO Institute Policy Analysis paper by Randal O’Toole regarding “Policy Implications of Autonomous Vehicles.”

There are hundreds of articles/reports about these vehicles over the past 5 years of their presence on roadways and many U-Tube videos of these vehicles in operation. While, automomous vehicles may not unfold exactly as described here, there is a very high probability they will continue to be developed, phased into operation and become a reality for a major portion of vehicles within the next two decades.

These vehicles are approved for operations in California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada and in the District of Columbia. Also, Texas is working on a law to allow their operation. Google’s driverless fleet is approaching one-million miles on roadways.

Testing of self-driving vehicles is approaching one million miles on roadways. Google and several major automobile companies are designing and testing vehicles. To date, there has been one roadway accident for Google self-driving cars in which a car with a driver ran into the rear of google vehicle while stopped for a stop signal.

Estimates regarding the entry of self-driving vehicles into general public use vary from the end of this decade, 2020, to sometime before 2030. Their mass use would result in many potential benefits: fewer accidents and deaths, approximately doubling the capacity of highways and substantially reducing the cost of mobility.

Related benefits of self-driving vehicles are to provide many people with physical or age disabilities the major benefits of private vehicle mobility; a major reduction in the use of high priced land, such as Central Business Districts, for parking because self-driving vehicles can park in remote, less expensive areas; the potential reduction in vehicles required per family because commuting vehicles can return home for other family use during the work period; the potential shared use of vehicles as vehicles, which would normally park for the day, may be used as “for hire” for such services as Uber and Lyft and earn money while not in use by the owner; major reductions in vehicle accidents and deaths (some project 30,000 fewer annual deaths); and, the potential significant reduction in gasoline powered vehicles as many autonomous cars are projected to be electric powered.

This “paradigm shift” in mobility can also result in major reductions in the use of taxpayer subsidized public transit and dramatically reduce the use of very expensive transit such as light rail.

Austin must fully consider the implications of this, and other, rapidly advancing technologies in its transportation planning for the future. Otherwise, billions of tax dollars can be wasted and result in a disconnect between now and the future. Nineteenth century transportation solutions will degrade future mobility, reduce citizens’ quality of life and diminish social equity.

England’s BBC has produced a series of video and written reports regarding the technology, operation and preparation for the arrival of autonomous cars. These will provide readers with a good understanding of the implications and benefits of this major, new technology. The text article, “Driverless car review launched by UK government” is the first entry on this BBC page.

Google’s fully functional driverless car is adorable

By Heather Kelly, CNN
updated 5:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014

A working prototype of Google’s self-driving car has cameras and sensors, but no permanent driver controls.


Google debuted its new, fully functioning driverless car prototype
The round white car still includes temporary manual controls for a back-up driver
While cute, the vehicle still has many serious issues to address before it can hit public roads

(CNN) — Google’s new driverless-car prototype is downright hugable.

The company unveiled its latest self-driving vehicle on Monday, and it looks like a cartoon koala crossed with a smart car wearing a fez.

Unlike the mock-up car Google first shared in May, this version is fully functional. It even has real headlights. The round, white and gray car is designed without permanent driving tools like a gas pedal or wheel. However, to comply with California state law, there are still removable, temporary controls for the required “safety driver” — a real person who needs to be in the car and ready to take over in an emergency. The goal is to eventually remove any interior controls so that passengers can take a nap or knit while the car does all the work.

Google’s self-driving car team will continue to test the vehicle on a private track in California, where it works its way around traffic lights and mock construction zones. Google has said it’s interested in launching a pilot program for the cars in the coming years.

When the tech company first started experimenting with self-driving technology, it modified existing cars, like a Toyota, Audi and Lexus, by adding multiple cameras and sensors and an onboard computer. Now Google has moved on to making its own car from scratch. The car’s dome-like shape is optimal for giving sensors the widest field of view.

A car could help put people’s minds at ease about the controversial technology. Before self-driving cars can start ferrying us to work, companies need to figure out ethical issues (does it hit a deer or crash into the median?), improve basic driving functions, and work with governments on legislation to allow driverless cars on all roads.

Google is just one of many companies developing driverless car technology. Universities and major auto manufacturers such as BMW and Mercedes are working on similar vehicles. Google hopes to have its version on the road by the end of the decade.

How Uber’s Autonomous Cars Will Destroy 10 Million Jobs and Reshape the Economy by 2025

Commentary By Zack Kanter @zackkanter, Entrepreneur and Futurist, Personal Blog, January 15, 2015. Note: The blog article contains full footnotes

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.

ALSO READ: Mystery Van Could Be Apple’s Entry In Effort To Develop Driverless Vehicle
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. 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.” Both Google and Tesla 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, which is an astonishing waste considering that the average cost of car ownership is nearly $9,000 per year. 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. The impact on private car ownership is enormous: a UC-Berkeley study showed that vehicle ownership among car sharing users was cut in half. 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.

And current research confirms that we would be eager to use autonomous cars if they were available. A full 60% of US adults surveyed stated that they would ride in an autonomous car , and nearly 32% said they would not continue to drive once an autonomous car was available instead. But no one is more excited than Uber – drivers take home at least 75% of every fare. It came as no surprise when CEO Travis Kalanick recently stated that Uber will eventually replace all of its drivers with self-driving cars.

A Columbia University study suggested that with a fleet of just 9,000 autonomous cars, Uber could replace every taxi cab in New York City – passengers would wait an average of 36 seconds for a ride that costs about $0.50 per mile. Such convenience and low cost will make car ownership inconceivable, and autonomous, on-demand taxis – the ‘transportation cloud’ – will quickly become dominant form of transportation – displacing far more than just car ownership, it will take the majority of users away from public transportation as well. With their $41 billion valuation, replacing all 171,000 taxis in the United States is well within the realm of feasibility – at a cost of $25,000 per car, the rollout would cost a mere $4.3 billion.


The effects of the autonomous car movement will be staggering. PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that the number of vehicles on the road will be reduced by 99%, estimating that the fleet will fall from 245 million to just 2.4 million vehicles.

Disruptive innovation does not take kindly to entrenched competitors – like Blockbuster, Barnes and Noble, Polaroid, and dozens more like them, it is unlikely that major automakers like General Motors, Ford, and Toyota will survive the leap. They are geared to produce millions of cars in dozens of different varieties to cater to individual taste and have far too much overhead to sustain such a dramatic decrease in sales. I think that most will be bankrupt by 2030, while startup automakers like Tesla will thrive on a smaller number of fleet sales to operators like Uber by offering standardized models with fewer options.

Ancillary industries such as the $198 billion automobile insurance market, $98 billion automotive finance market, $100 billion parking industry, and the $300 billion automotive aftermarket will collapse as demand for their services evaporates. We will see the obsolescence of rental car companies, public transportation systems, and, good riddance, parking and speeding tickets. But we will see the transformation of far more than just consumer transportation: self-driving semis, buses, earth movers, and delivery trucks will obviate the need for professional drivers and the support industries that surround them.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists that 884,000 people are employed in motor vehicles and parts manufacturing, and an additional 3.02 million in the dealer and maintenance network. Truck, bus, delivery, and taxi drivers account for nearly 6 million professional driving jobs. Virtually all of these 10 million jobs will be eliminated within 10-15 years, and this list is by no means exhaustive.

But despite the job loss and wholesale destruction of industries, eliminating the needs for car ownership will yield over $1 trillion in additional disposable income – and that is going to usher in an era of unprecedented efficiency, innovation, and job creation.

A view of the future

Morgan Stanley estimates that a 90% reduction in crashes would save nearly 30,000 lives and prevent 2.12 million injuries annually. Driverless cars do not need to park – vehicles cruising the street looking for parking spots account for an astounding 30% of city traffic, not to mention that eliminating curbside parking adds two extra lanes of capacity to many city streets. Traffic will become nonexistent, saving each US commuter 38 hours every year – nearly a full work week. As parking lots and garages, car dealerships, and bus stations become obsolete, tens of millions of square feet of available prime real estate will spur explosive metropolitan development.

The environmental impact of autonomous cars has the potential to reverse the trend of global warming and drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Passenger cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans account for 17.6% of greenhouse gas emissions – a 90% reduction of vehicles in operation would reduce our overall emissions by 15.9%. As most autonomous cars are likely to be electric, we would virtually eliminate the 134 billion of gasoline used each year in the US alone. And while recycling 242 million vehicles will certainly require substantial resources, the surplus of raw materials will decrease the need for mining.

But perhaps most exciting for me are the coming inventions, discoveries, and creation of entire new industries that we cannot yet imagine.

I dream of the transportation cloud: near-instantly available, point-to-point travel. Ambulances that arrive to the scene within seconds. A vehicle-to-grid distributed power system. A merging of city and suburb as commuting becomes fast and painless. Dramatically improved mobility for the disabled. On-demand rental of nearly anything you can imagine. The end of the DMV!

It is exciting to be alive, isn’t it?

Note: Below is a Summary of the full Policy Analysis.


Policy Implications of Autonomous Vehicles

By Randal O’Toole, September 18, 2014

Partially autonomous vehicles that can take over some driving functions, such as steering and speed control, are on the market today. Highly autonomous vehicles that can drive themselves in most situations should be available for sale in less than a decade. Fully autonomous vehicles that won’t even have an option for a human driver will be available within a decade after that.

Such autonomous vehicles will transform the 21st century in the same way that mass-produced automobiles transformed the 20th. Auto travel will become safer. Congestion will decline if not disappear. People who can be productive rather than endure the stress of driving will look at travel in an entirely new way. Eventually, mobility will be available to everyone, not just those who have a driver’s license.

Considering the technology available today and what experts think will be available in the near future, Congress and other policymakers should consider the following steps:

Congress should stop funding expensive and obsolete rail transit projects, which will have no place in a future likely to be characterized by widespread sharing of self-driving cars.

Congress should end the mandate for states and metropolitan planning organizations to write long-range transportation plans, as planners cannot predict the effects of autonomous vehicles and are likely to instead impose obsolete systems and designs on their regions.

The National Highway Safety Traffic Commission should not mandate that vehicle-to-vehicle communications be installed in all new cars, as such devices will rapidly become obsolete, while voluntary devices in the form of smart phones that can use vehicle-to vehicle applications are already in use by more than half the adult population.

State and local governments should focus on maintaining existing infrastructure and making cost-effective improvements, such as dynamic traffic signal coordination, to alleviate today’s safety and congestion problems. The best thing state and local transportation agencies can do to prepare the way for autonomous vehicles is to cooperate in the development and use of consistent road striping, sign, signal, and similar standards that can be read by autonomous vehicles.

By reducing congestion, autonomous cars may lead to a revival of inner cities, but by reducing the cost of travel, they may also lead to more rapid exurbanization. Cities and states should not try to restrict either trend.

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