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33 ways driverless cars are on track to change American life

  • 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. 

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