Every day I drive to work on my own. And every day when I’m stuck in a traffic jam, I look through the window and think “look at us, all alone in our cars… what a bunch of idiots we are!”. I’ve had my driving license for 11 years now and I always enjoyed driving… until now! I’m sick of driving!!! It’s time to move on to the next generation of cars: let’s get a self driving car!
Too many cars
Since the creation of cars, they totally changed our lives, suddenly the size of the world shrunk! We could pack a bag, throw it in the car and just drive for hours and hours to explore and discover the world! It must have been an amazing feeling of freedom for the people who knew the world before and after. But like plenty of things we created, we over-exploited it and we became dependent. Now there are more the 1 Billion vehicles on the planet!
Every day, there are millions of kilometers of traffic jams all over the world. We lose our time in the car, going from one place to another, getting stuck for hours. On average, an American spends around 12 days driving each year, and 5 days stuck in traffic! What a waste of time! One of the reasons to explain those traffic jams is obviously the number of cars on the road. Nearly 66% of driving trips are done by drivers without a passenger. How many people work at the same location and live close to each other? Quite a lot I’m sure! So there are some huge efforts to be done here to favorize carpooling or public transport.
What about money? If there is one thing we are sure to lose money with, it’s a car! Buy a brand new car, sit and drive out of the car showroom, as soon as you cross the gate you already lost 10% of its value! And another 10% by the end of the year! Plus insurance which costs a fortune, and fuel obviously! The first time I bought a new car (a beautiful Citroën DS3 Sport!), I did some maths: 300€ per month of loan repayments + an average of 200€ per month of fuel + 1000€ of insurance per year (sport car & under 25, not a good mix) = 7000€ in one year! And all that for what, for something like 2 hours per day of use… well because yes, 95% of their time, cars just wait somewhere for us! There is obviously something to improve here, why own something – pretty expensive – that we barely use!?
And of course, there are the environmental issues to take into account. All these cars need fuel, and as the majority of them use fossil fuels, the impact on the environment is huge. Reducing the number of fossil-fuelled cars on the road would have a big impact and is a key to solve the climate issues we are dealing with.
How to improve the situation?
Innovation and technologies can be massive assets to improve the situation which has already lasted too long. On a small level, we can see the rise of applications which can help:
- BlaBlaCar: probably the most known carpooling application in the world, this French startup totally revolutionized the practice. I have been using it myself for years now – as a driver and as a passenger – and it’s simply brilliant. As a driver, you have part of your trip paid back and you are not alone for hours listening to the radio! I have met plenty of interesting people over the years. As a passenger, a trip is usually way cheaper than with any public transport, and again, traveling on your own is not always fun.
- DriiveMe: the last couple of years, a bunch of applications to rent your own car have emerged and again the concept is great. As I said before, most of the time our cars are parked. Why not rent your car to someone who needs it! Again, it’s a win-win, you can get some money back, and the person gets a car for cheaper than ever.
The community around these kinds of apps has been massively growing over the past 10 years. However, I don’t think it has reached it’s full potential yet. People are getting used to sharing a car for long journeys, but for the daily short trips, there isn’t a perfect solution yet. Also, there is a
generation mentality issue here. For a lot of people, it’s impossible to give away their car to a total stranger, and just to have a stranger getting in (my dad finds the idea totally crazy!). But I believe things will change… I mean 10 years ago, who would have let a stranger sleep in their home? And now, look how big AirBnB has grown. Strangely, people seem to find it more normal to let someone in their home than in their car (I still can’t imagine having someone staying in my apartment looking at all my stuff).
The perfect couple
I believe innovation and technology are going to solve the issues. Not with apps, the impact is too small and will take too long. The real game changer is going to be the association of two innovations which together will revolutionize the world: Electric cars + Autonomous cars.
I am a huge Tesla fan, what this company and its founder Elon Musk (blog post coming later about him) are doing is simply amazing. They made electric cars sexy and desirable (look at the Tesla Model 3 waiting list!!). And by doing that, they gave a good kick in the ass to all these old-fashioned car companies who now have to react. So everyone is now trying to do beautiful long-range electric cars that people actually want to buy. Just look around, we can see more and more every day, and with the Model 3 coming out soon, it’s just going to get better and better.
That will improve the environmental issues. But to solve the “too many cars” issue, the answer is self driving cars. Why? Well if a car can drive itself anywhere, what’s the point of it staying parked for hours when it could just drive someone else around! Suddenly if a car starts to be used 95% of the time instead of the other way around, they could be used by plenty of people rather than just one. The effect would be quick, we wouldn’t need so many cars on the roads!!
What the future could look like…
Imagine a world where we don’t need to own a car. Cars are owned by service companies like Uber. Need to go somewhere? Just grab your phone and order a trip from one place to another. Indicate what time you need to get there, and wait. Later, you receive a notification telling you a car will pick you up at a specific time and the price of the trip. Based on your trip and the time, the car calculates how long it takes to go where you want to go. It then optimizes its trip based on other bookings to pick up other people on the way.
Sit, have a chat, finish your night, do some work, watch a video or play a game, you can do whatever you like! And because all the cars around are autonomous and can chat with each other, they all optimize their speed and trip so there aren’t any traffic jams! You don’t need to be focused on the road anymore and waste your time. When you arrive, get out, and it’s done!
With a sufficient amount of cars and parking spots to charge them, everything would go smoothly. The number of parking lots would be dramatically reduced so we could rebuild parks in cities! And it would not take long to have a dynamic charging system, where cars would not need to stop any more (for instance induction through the roads plus solar panels on their bodies). As they would be electric, the greenhouse gas emission would drop significantly. And imagine how much money we would save if we only paid for a car when we actually used it!
Sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it?
… But it’s not for tomorrow!
I believe we are not too far from this to happen. My generation (I’m turning 30 years old this year) will probably see it! Technology is nearly ready. All the Tesla produced now have self-driving capabilities. And pretty much every car manufacturer is working on their own autonomous cars.
I think there are three issues we need to solve before the expansion of self-driving cars:
- People’s mentality: we are so used to own a car so it will be hard to get over this idea. Owning a car means being autonomous and independent for most people (remember when you got your driving license… I bet you thought “FREEDOM!!!”). But I believe this will change quickly, people realize it’s expensive, and we can already see a change with more and more leasing.
- Insurance: there is a tricky issue if a self driving car crashes, who is responsible!? For a while, self-driving cars will require human intervention (on the Tesla, you need to have your hands on the wheel for instance). In this case, the “driver” should be responsible. But what will happen when they won’t need us anymore? Well, I believe it will be the other car’s fault, the one with a human driver. Nowadays, most of the car crashes are due to us: drunk drivers, sleepy drivers, racing, etc (more info here)… Studies (this one for instance here) say that accidents will decrease by 60% to 90%. So when there will be only self-driving cars on the road, it should be the end of road accidents. Not totally, obviously mechanics will never be 100% reliable, but things will be way better!
- The trickiest one, imagine: a car is driving with a few people inside when someone crosses the road. The algorithm detects the person and the only way to avoid them is to get off the road… where there is a huge cliff, meaning the car would be destroyed and it’s passengers with it. Which decision should the car take? Which life to save? This is impossible to answer, to be honest. I thought about it a lot, and I have no clue how engineers are going to answer this question because there is no objective right solution! This could remain a problem and potentially prevent 100% autonomous cars to expand and take us anywhere without our intervention.
I really hope I will be able to see the world where cars and transportation changes in my lifetime. For decades in science-fiction movies we always dreamed about flying cars, but I believe we still have plenty of things to do and improve on the ground first. If I have to bet on someone to disrupt this market and start this revolution, it would be Tesla and Elon Musk. I will soon write a full post about him as I reckon he will leave a permanent footprint on our history.
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