Last week we discussed how self-driving cars will shake up the automotive industry. This week, we investigate how these cars will change our everyday life as they enable us to change existing practices and develop new ones. Even though change may occur slowly at first, since fully autonomous vehicles are still a long way out, more people will be able to travel more, and they will find new destinations.
The arrival of ever smarter cars with varying degrees of autonomy will shake up the automotive industry, but it will also change everyday life to a great extent. That is, history teaches us that faster, cheaper, or more comfortable modes of transport lead us to travel more and to seek new destinations. Autonomous cars will most probably show similar effects.The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has defined five progressive levels of autonomy, ranging from basic driver assistance features to full autonomy. On this scale, current commercial systems, e.g. Tesla’s Autopilot, classify as Level 2, but they already bring significant benefits to drivers, such as safety and comfort. These benefits will not change the mobility patterns radically, but they are likely to let more people drive more often. This will happen especially when legislators embrace the new technology and, for instance, allow younger drivers to acquire a driver’s license and stretch rules for the disabled.Higher levels of autonomy assume that drivers can really take their eyes off the road and engage in other activities. In levels 3 and 4, drivers will still regularly be called upon to take over control, but in the meantime, they will be able to work, surf on the Internet, or watch a movie. Estimates as to when these cars will be available range from two years (e.g. Tesla) to as much as 15 years. Before mass deployment, small series will probably be deployed in specific niches such as airports, gated communities, or very progressive cities. Such early applications may also include motorsports (e.g. Roborace) to demonstrate technological capabilities or consumer-oriented experiences (e.g. fun rides, re-enacting famous car chases from movies, the AV as a gaming device).Full autonomy for the masses will bring radically new consumer practices. These will range from new in-car activities (e.g. media, shopping, work, sleeping) to new leisurely destinations. New communities may even form as people will choose their home location on the basis of other criteria than commuting time. Some may even choose to live some kind of a new nomadic life along the lines of the #vanlife trend. Ultimately, the meaning of these vehicles will change from mere cars to a wide variety of mobile units with distinct purposes that support altogether new practices.