Taxi Driver: How Self-Driving Cars Will Change Your Life
Most people like the idea of robots handling life's drudgework, such as
vacuuming or
cleaning up nuclear waste
Senior living communities have been introducing robopets, which find loving acceptance among seniors with mild dementia. And robotics is helping those with serious mobility issues to walk again.
It was only a matter of time until we designed the ultimate "robot": a fully automated chauffeur that allows us to be asleep at the wheel, without inviting disastrous results.
Self-driving cars give the Beatles tune Drive My Car an entirely new meaning.
Putting People in Their Place: The Passenger Seat

Technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, cofounder and product architect of Tesla, Inc. (among other visionary companies), just announced his plan to repurpose these electric vehicles as robotaxis. Because he's not known for playing small, Musk intends to roll out one million Tesla taxis by 2020.

A cross between Uber and Airbnb, Musk's new service will enable Tesla owners to rent out their cars when they aren't using them, taking ride-sharing to the next level: ride-hailing.

While you're at work or at home, your Tesla can be out earning money for you. Musk predicts the cost of operating a robotaxi will be less than using current ridesharing services. And renting out your self-driving car can be akin to having an effortless second job, potentially earning a vehicle owner $30,000 per year, he estimates.
Changing Our Relationship to Space

Musk is also the founder of SpaceX, but while self-driving cars are changing our relationship to space, this has nothing to do with colonizing Mars — yet.

Taking us out of the driver's seat gives us both less and more control simultaneously. For instance:

If we're not navigating two tons of steel to our destination, we'll be free to use the ride as we would a train trip, with perks: on the metro, you can work on your laptop or tablet, text on your phone, listen to a podcast, etc.

But as a passenger in your own autonomous vehicle, or one you're renting as a robotaxi, you can use the car as your personal digital assistant, just as you would at home. Self-driving cars allow us to be fully connected consumers, saving time and energy for other tasks once we arrive at our destination.
Reimagining the Asphalt Jungle

"The fourth industrial revolution is underway," asserts Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of online learning startup Coursera. The hallmarks of this revolution are advancements in automation and artificial intelligence, which are creating a work/learning convergence. As more jobs become automated, high-quality retraining becomes paramount.

Perhaps as an urban planner. With the increase in self-driving cars, and especially robotaxis, parking will become passé. With less need for driveways, parking lots, or garages, urban design itself will transform.

A century ago, cars instigated a mass migration from cities to suburbs, necessitating an unprecedented investment in infrastructure, such as freeways. Will autonomous vehicles initiate a return to urban living?

One estimate predicts self-driving cars could eventually trim urban car usage up to a staggering 90 percent. Not only would cities become cleaner and greener; all that asphalt could be repurposed into parks.

Taming the Beast: Today's Horseless Carriage Saves Lives

Cars may not be horses, but giving an autonomous car the reins might prove even safer than a carriage ride in yesteryear. According to the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94 percent of car accidents are due to human error.

Since self-driving cars won't drink, speed, or text while driving, it's estimated that if 90 percent of cars on American roads were autonomous, accidents would fall from 5.5 million to 1.3 million annually, an incalculable preservation of human life.

In the new millennium, cars are also losing their longtime status as a coming-of-age symbol of independence. A University of Michigan study found the percentage of those aged 16-44 with driver's licenses has decreased significantly in the past few decades — particularly among the youngest group.

The percentage of 20- to 24-year-olds who had licenses in 1983 was 91.8%, dropping to 82% a generation later. In 2011, only 79.7% of those 20-24 years old had a license to drive; in 2014, it was 76.7%.

This means almost a fourth of young adults don't even know how to drive. But does it matter, as long as they have access to Uber, and the app? Self-driving cars are about to render a driver's license even more redundant — except, perhaps, as a useful form of I.D.

Getting Real About Real Estate

If we're not going to need parking the way we have in the past, it augurs major changes for the real estate industry as well. Widespread autonomous vehicle adoption would free up 75 billion square feet of commercial real estate now in use as parking lots — the equivalent of (wait for it) all office, apartment, shopping mall, strip mall and warehouse area in the U.S. today, combined.

That's a heck of a lot of physical space.

These parking areas might be repurposed as distribution centers for e-commerce businesses, as well as luxury malls that offer entertainment centers. Lower-end strip malls may go the way of the horse and buggy due to more disruptive, less costly delivery systems.

In terms of residential real estate, as noted above, the rate of suburban population growth has exploded since horses under the hood replaced horses with hooves.

But about a decade ago, the misery of spending on average an hour commuting each way to work began to reverse this trend, with Millennials moving back to urban areas. Autonomous vehicles could even out the real estate market by encouraging a suburban revival, while flattening sky-high city rents.

Then there's the self-storage industry. While many homeowners already use their garages as de facto storage units, parking their cars in the driveway or on the street, eliminating the need for home garages would also free up the 2.5 billion square feet of space currently devoted to self storage rentals.

Paving the Way to A Greener Future

Self-driving cars combine the best of all worlds: saving lives, time, energy, and real estate, as well as re-directing delivery, notes software architect and driverless car consultant Brad Templeton.

A board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit promoting digital rights and innovation, Templeton notes that a staggering 25 percent of energy use and greenhouse gases come from cars.

Eliminating petroleum-fueled vehicles and a corresponding uptick in shared, driverless cars will result in a healthier planet — and abundant resources that can be re-directed to other purposes.

And perhaps, with automated cars and a return to greener spaces, we'll finally have time to breathe. While being busy has become something of a status symbol (perhaps as a replacement for the fading car culture), there's nothing cool about working to burnout, which has become epidemic.

Instead, suggests Manfred Kets de Vries, a professor of leadership development and organizational change at the Paris-based Insead, "Do nothing with purpose." That is, do nothing — and own it.

Doreen Dodgen-Magee, a psychologist and author of Deviced! Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World, found that, surprise: daydreaming actually makes us more creative, and better at problem solving.

Now that technology has transformed driving into a walk in the park, let's take this literally, and enjoy our emerging sustainable future. On balance, it's a smart move.


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