It’s the end of the car as we know it

When you compare their safety record to that of human drivers, autonomous cars win hands down. But the biggest hurdle is, without doubt, the culture change that such vehicles will bring


Owning and driving a car is an important milestone for most people. Many fantasise about driving a dream car, sun rays reflecting on the bonnet and their hair flowing in the wind. But in the coming decades, this image might be relegated to the old Hollywood movies since it is very different from what the future has in store for us.

A few years back, people considered the car a precious possession, but today, it is becoming a service thanks to the rise of the self-driving car. These autonomous or driverless cars are vehicles that use a combination of sensors, cameras, radar, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to travel between destinations without a human operator.

To understand how they would work, imagine you need a car. All you have to do is to click on the app and summon the car you desire:

If you want to go to work but you’re not in a hurry, a shared vehicle should be enough. These collect other people in your area and drop them in different places along the way. Since the AI is optimising the route, you are guaranteed to arrive in time.

A private car might be more appropriate if you need to rush, but it would be more expensive. These cars could also have an office mode with a desk, allowing the user to work on his laptop, attached to a power source with a broadband internet connection.

When you have clients visiting from abroad or going on a date, and you would like to impress, a private luxury vehicle would be appropriate. These will chauffeur you and your host from one place to another, wait for you if needed and provide all the comfort you need.

If the children need a lift for their private lessons or social activities, the app can summon a small vehicle. These cars will have onboard entertainment such as movies and video game consoles.

Children can enjoy themselves throughout the trip. Furthermore, satellite tracking and video footage will keep parents informed and guarantee that their child reached the intended destination.

Moving large objects across different locations will also be much easier. Irrespective of whether it is a table or an entire bedroom, all you have to do is calculate the van’s size and summon it. The van will be waiting behind the door in no time. When done, it is released, and it moves on to its next customer. Since these vans typically require permission to park and unload,  the system will automatically liaise with the Local Council System and obtain the required permits. Furthermore, if traffic management officials are required, it will also take care of all the necessary arrangements.

Of course, such a system will integrate with other means of transport as well. These vehicles will have the latest bus, train, ferry, and plane schedules to ensure that their passenger arrives at the interchange in time. If the person needs to access an area restricted for vehicles, the system will automatically ensure that a scooter or autonomous electric wheelchair is in place to take the customer on the next stage of his journey.

The possibilities are endless, and so are the benefits. The fact that the vehicles are driverless means that the passengers are guaranteed absolute privacy. Thus, they can easily schedule private meetings during the commute. The inside of the car will also change into a conference room when needed.

Remember, passengers do not need to face forward (unless they feel carsick); there are no dashboards apart from the information panels. So even our typical idea of what constitutes a car will change.

The route chosen by the system is always the most optimal, and since the AI is constantly in touch with the control center, it can quickly preempt bottlenecks along the route (such as those caused by accidents) and devise an alternate path in good time. The car is always ready for use.

One can also pre-set the desired temperature, thus ensuring that the vehicle is usable in the scorching sun or the freezing cold. Finally, when the car reaches its destination, the passenger exits, and leaves. The hours spent looking for parking located miles away and in pricy parking lots will become a thing of the past.

Furthermore, the savings in the cost of owning a car are astronomical. The insurance which car owners pay (irrespective of whether they use a vehicle or not) won’t be needed, and considering that they will not own the car, there is no wear-and-tear either. Since the car is never parked, there are no parking charges, and we’re not even factoring in the time wasted to find a parking spot.

Notwithstanding this, people are still wary of self-driving cars. We’ve heard various accounts of cars killing people and countless episodes of lifesaving rescues by these vehicles.

When you compare their safety record to that of human drivers, autonomous cars win hands down. But the biggest hurdle is, without doubt, the culture change that such vehicles will bring.

So let’s introduce them gradually, ensure passengers’ safety, and let people get used to them before ushering in the autonomous vehicle revolution.

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