33 ways driverless cars are on track to change American life

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July 29, 2019
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33 ways driverless cars are on track to change American life

The average American spends 52 minutes a day behind a motor vehicle with their eyes glued to the road, according to AAA. That could all change very soon; self-driving car technology is rapidly progressing, and Tesla is expected to release an update to many of its existing cars allowing for complete autonomous control as soon as this year. 

The downstream effects of this automotive revolution will shape the future of American society in many fields, from emergency response to urban planning; and the technology created alongside these vehicles, to assist processing their data and enabling vehicle-to-vehicle connections, could affect several other sectors. The most common theme is the transition of car ownership from everyday Americans to larger ride-sharing companies, given that self-driving technology will reduce the fare for a private taxi significantly enough that personal car ownership could drop 80% by 2030, reports think tank RethinkX. 

Many Americans are excited about this change. Freeing up your hands from the steering wheel and your eyes from the road could allow you to get a head start on work, catch up on the latest TV, work out during your commute, or sleep during an extended road trip. Urban workers could move further out into the suburbs, getting larger homes for their dollar, since commutes would be less stressful. Algorithms may reduce traffic by better allocating vehicles, and the emergency response times of ambulances could decrease significantly. 

However, many Americans are also anxious about the looming specter of automation taking their jobs and leaving them nothing. For taxi drivers, long-haul truckers, and other professional drivers, the widespread use of self-driving vehicles will lead to massive layoffs, forcing them to find another field of employment. The new field may create jobs, like monitors for the self-driving fleets, but it’s tough to see a future where the millions of professional drivers in America are all made better by the change. 

To help cut through the noise, Stacker has detailed how driverless cars will affect 33 key industries, as outlined by analytics company CB Insights. Read on to find out which food company is already designing vehicles that will cook your food en route, and how driverless cars can help you exercise your way to the office. 

You may also like: 25 stunning advances in artificial intelligence

#1. Airlines

Air travel is one of the biggest carbon-generating activities that Americans regularly engage in. One long flight from the U.S. to Asia can produce as much carbon as the average global citizen produces in an entire year. It’s much easier to shift the U.S. grid to renewable sources than it is to design electric airplanes; batteries are simply too heavy, as a sample of jet fuel contains 43 times the energy of a battery that weighs the same amount. With the presence of autonomous cars, long journeys become more appealing since the time you’d normally spend keeping your eyes on the road can be spent working, catching up on the latest show, or getting some rest. Airlines will have to compete by lowering prices or increasing the efficiency of their gas-guzzling airplanes. 

#2. Auto dealerships

As the memory of manual driving fades from memory, so too might the practice of private car ownership. Without drivers or gas costs, ride-sharing fleets will be able to offer rides for much less than they currently do, since there’s no driver to pay. That’s why one think tank believes that private car ownership will drop a staggering 80% by 2030. Obviously, this reduction in purchasing would hurt auto dealerships, as the ride-sharing companies would likely make mass purchases directly from the vehicle manufacturer. 

#3. Auto parts

Have you ever seen the undercarriage of a Tesla? Take a look at this slide’s image. Without a complicated internal combustion engine, the overall need for auto parts is drastically lowered. If it’s true that we’re heading toward a car-free future, it won’t be the average American’s responsibility to repair the car, anyway. Electric cars such as Teslas have no need for oil changes or regular tune-ups, saving time and money (but hurting auto repair shops across the country). 


#4. Auto repairs

If private car ownership does become largely a thing of the past, auto repairs won’t be the responsibility of the average American. In fact, if the technology is advanced enough, they might not be anybody’s problem. According to a recent study, a whopping 94% of all car accidents were caused by human error.


#5. Brick and mortar retail

Experts disagree on the effects of autonomous driving on brick and mortar retail. Some argue that driverless cars present a great opportunity for local stores. For example, ads could be shown on in-car entertainment systems, since the driver’s eyes don’t have to be on the road. Local food delivery service fees will also be low, and your groceries or gadgets can arrive much sooner this way than being shipped from a faraway warehouse. Others aren’t convinced, and claim that it might be faster in the future to order from Amazon, thanks to a fleet of constantly driving cars and airborne drones. 


#6. Cybersecurity

Americans will have to trust the safety of autonomous cars before use becomes widespread. One of the dangers of a self-driving car is the possibility of a hacker taking control of the vehicle and kidnapping its passengers, or causing a crash. Even in current cars, collision-avoidance systems can be hacked to cause a sudden break or turn the wheel. Self-driving car manufacturers will need to invest significant resources into securing vehicles from hackers, a practice which may lead to innovations in the cybersecurity sector that can be shared with other industries, like banking and user data storage. 

#7. Data centers and internet infrastructure

As America races to adopt 5G technology, which will bring the fastest-ever internet speeds to mobile devices, autonomous vehicle manufacturers are likely to integrate that technology into their cars. Autonomous cars are capable of logging terabytes of data per day, since they will likely record the outputs of the many cameras and sensors that power the self-driving system. Building a next-generation network infrastructure that can deal with this demand, likely using the 5G standard, will be a huge project for any companies that deal with data centers. 

#8. Deliveries

If you’re fortunate enough to own a self-driving car in the near future, you’ll likely find much better uses for it than letting it sit in your garage or office parking lot all day. Your car will be able to pick up deliveries, or drive other passengers around, earning you passive income. With autonomous vehicles and drone technology, the delivery companies of the future are already gearing up for this new world of getting you your items faster than you can click “add to cart.” 

#9. Driving schools

What driving schools? With so many collision-related fatalities averted every year, the “drivers” (really just passengers) of the future might sneer at those crazy enough to endanger everyone else’s lives by driving manually. Though some people will surely continue driving manually, driving school won’t be a shared experience among America’s teens anymore. 

#10. Elder care and childcare

With autonomous cars, elders who suffer from slower reflexes or reduced eyesight will still be able to use vehicles to get around. This could reduce time spent in elder care facilities and shift labor away from driving aides. For children, autonomous buses could lead to bus drivers losing their jobs, and young teenagers may have more freedom in getting around, no longer needing to depend on rides or wait until they’ve gotten their license. 

#11. Energy and petroleum

Many futurists tie the proliferation of autonomous vehicles to electric vehicle infrastructure. It makes sense: if cars are going to drive around 24/7, it’s good that they’re not releasing an extraordinary amount of carbon. It’s important to note that the technology needed to run a self-driving car takes a lot of power as well. Modernizing the electric grid and putting electric vehicle chargers all over the country is a big project, but one with massive returns when it comes to slowing climate change and the economic gains of autonomous vehicles.

#12. Fast food

If you think fast food is fast now, wait a decade. With companies like Postmates, DoorDash, and UberEats already bringing food straight to your door, autonomous vehicles will only make that process quicker. This could hurt the locations that already exist near highway gas stations or those that rely on the drive-through window. They’ll have to adapt to the new app economy, since fewer motorists will make impulse decisions to grab a coffee, burger, or ice cream cone. 

#13. Fitness

Believe it or not, autonomous vehicles could eventually become moving gyms for workout enthusiasts who hate being sedentary, even in a vehicle. Specially designed straps, harnesses, and other equipment can allow the passenger to get some exercise during the trip

#14. Food preparation and delivery

Food delivery, as you may imagine, would change much in the line of other delivery services. With much more efficient roads and no human drivers, your food would get to you faster and cost less to transport. Food preparation is another story; some companies are developing robots that can cook your pizza while it drives to your house. 


#15. Global nonprofit work and disaster relief

Many charities spend time figuring out how to optimize their work in order to stretch every philanthropic dollar. Nonprofits that work in areas with poor infrastructure, delivering supplies and aid, can save money on hiring human drivers and making sure they have food, water, and shelter, and send an autonomous vehicle to deliver supplies instead. In addition, autonomous vehicles can be outfitted to act as mobile hotspots in emergency situations where normal communications would be affected, such as blackouts or infrastructure damage. 

#16. Health care

As mentioned earlier, America loses 40,000 motorists to fatal car crashes every year, with millions more injured. With the safety that will one day come with a largely autonomous fleet, health care expenditures will go down, emergency rooms will be less crowded, and America could save hundreds of billions in damage and health costs. At a time when people will call an Uber instead of an ambulance to save money, the possibility of a self-driving emergency response force is enticing. Perhaps cars will be programmed to make room for emergency vehicles more efficiently than the current wailing siren approach. 

#17. Home improvement

As of 2017 data from the federal government, 63% of homes in the U.S. have a garage or carport. If car ownership becomes a thing of the past, many homeowners may be interested in converting that space into offices or spare bedrooms to rent out via one of the many online platforms available. 


#18. Hotels

It’s entirely possible that the self-driving cars of the future will look very little like current cars, which are designed around the comfort of drivers who need to keep their eyes on the road. As mentioned, cars of the future may have exercise equipment. They may also have seats that fully recline and resemble beds, for longer rides, and tinted windows to keep out the sun. Customers choosing to sleep in their car during a long journey could cut significantly into the profits of roadside motels. 

#19. Insurance

Car insurance may have been the first thing you thought of when you clicked on this article, and with good reason. With fewer car accidents—remember, around 94% of all car accidents are caused by human error—insurance policies will have to adapt. The consumer might also shift from the present-day car owner to the autonomous ride-sharing companies of the future. 

#20. Interior design/manufacturing

If car ownership does fall precipitously, so too will the idea that each car has to be approximately the same. Sleeper cars can be designed for long-distance journeys, exercise cars can be outfitted for those who want to work out during their commute, entertainment cars can have big television screens, and health care cars can assist those with special health needs or emergencies. Companies currently designing the interiors of cars or manufacturing those components will have to adapt their output for the new reality. 

#21. Internet service provision

Self-driving vehicles will need to communicate to one another. Perhaps one will spot an accident, and redirect other vehicles to alternate routes. Perhaps the cars will need to yield for an ambulance. The debate over which vehicle-to-vehicle communication system is necessary is technical and complicated, but it will likely involve cars communicating with cell towers, perhaps using the new 5G standard. Whichever method is implemented will have downstream effects on all mobile communications. 

#22. Litigation

If private car ownership is phased out, litigation, like insurance, may be shifted to ride-sharing companies instead of the individual passengers. If a self-driving car gets into a collision with a manual-drive vehicle, its range of sensors may be able to give detailed information about the causes of the crash, assisting in settling any lawsuits. Existing cybersecurity laws may also have to be updated to deal with the threat of hacking self-driving cars. 

#23. Media and entertainment

Data from AAA shows the average American drives about 52 minutes every day. With self-driving vehicles, that’s 52 more minutes that can be taken up by entertainment and the ads that come with it. Think of in-flight entertainment, which offers movies, TV shows, and games along with detailed information about your flight speed, location, and arrival time, as an early model for the possibility of in-ride entertainment. 


#24. Military operations

The U.S. military already utilizes scores of flying drones for reconnaissance and attack missions, all without endangering Air Force personnel. Self-driving land vehicles will similarly be able to carry out surveillance missions, assist in remote attacks, and deliver supplies to needy areas, something the military is actively pursuing

#25. Oil change shops and car washes

Teslas don’t need oil changes, and it’s probable that the electric, self-driving vehicles of the future won’t either. Plus, without personal car ownership, owning expensive vehicles and keeping them clean as a status symbol could go out of style, which could also lead to the closure of car washes nationwide. 

#26. Parking garages and lots

In the near future, when self-driving and manual-driving cars mix on the road, there won’t be any need to keep your self-driving car in a garage. You can send it out to pick up packages and groceries or loan it out to be used as a “robotaxi” ride-sharing vehicle (a feature which Tesla hopes to roll out soon). This will cut down on the parking space necessary at train stations, on city streets, and in parking garages. In the future, these spaces can be repurposed into building denser, greener, and people-friendlier urban environments. 

#27. Professional drivers and trucking

Self-driving cars coming for the jobs of long-haul truckers and taxi cab drivers is an understandable fear, especially given the widespread anxiety towards the impending effects of automation. Luckily, the thousands of horse-and-buggy drivers found work after the invention of the automobile, and America’s economy has grown significantly since massively revolutionary technology was introduced earlier this century. It’s likely that these workers will be able to find other jobs in the economy, perhaps even managing fleets of self-driving vehicles. 

#28. Public transportation

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave American transit a grade of D- the last time it came out with its Infrastructure Report Card in 2017, due to a $90 billion rehabilitation backlog and clogged transport systems across America. If self-driving car trips, especially carpools, become cheaper and easier than taking mass transit, expect cities to adapt to the new normal. Less-costly commutes could lead to more urban sprawl and suburban growth, which would reshape metropolitan maps across the country.

#29. Real estate

Less-costly commutes for ordinary Americans can shift residential density away from urban areas and further out into the suburbs. This massive shift in property values has implications for urban tax policy, public school populations, and even political representation. 


#30. Rescue and emergency services

Could wailing sirens one day be a thing of the past? It’s always been an effective, if inelegant, way of communicating between drivers that it’s time to yield to an ambulance or police cruiser. With computer-based vehicle-to-vehicle communications, the efficiency at which cars can move out of the way, and the speed at which emergency vehicles can move safely, will increase, which will assuredly save lives. Self-driving vehicles will also be able to assist those stuck in dangerous zones without endangering any human drivers. 

#31. Ride-hailing

Apple, Google, Uber, and other tech giants are betting on self-driving vehicles to revolutionize American life, slowly but surely. For those companies themselves, the costs of ride-hailing will be shifted from paying drivers to being responsible for their own autonomous fleet’s upkeep and insurance, but the potential benefits, from fees to advertising opportunities, are astronomical. 


#32. Traffic enforcement

Who will be responsible if two self-driving cars get into an accident? The passenger wasn’t driving, and may not even own the car: Should the burden fall to the manufacturer, the software programmer, or the ride-hailing platform? These questions will need to be decided; luckily, traffic violations should be far less common, and self-driving vehicles will be able to quickly react to the rare accident, preventing traffic buildups. 

#33. Urban planning

As mentioned before, the popularization of self-driving cars will make commutes easier to bear for the average American, which could shift many people further away from urban centers and into the suburbs. As a result, however, the car traffic in the city could increase. Cities will need to optimize for the elevated traffic, though they could get rid of more parking spaces as the self-driving fleets stay in perpetual motion. 

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