A driverless car ecosystem? (Or, the West is the best; get here and we’ll do the rest)
Remember Tad Donaghe, and his thoughts on driverless cars? (I shared some of his thoughts in a previous post.) Well, Tad’s been doing some more thinking, and he has shared some more thoughts in Internet Evolution. His post, “The Age of Affordable Luxury Travel,” talks about – well, I’ll share his post in a minute, but first let me describe a recent personal experience.
I loaned my car to a family member for the weekend recently. Since that person lives in Irvine, this involved driving down to Irvine, having the person drive me to a Metrolink train station, and taking the train back to the Inland Empire. Despite the wide expanses in southern California, and despite the fact that this was a suburb-to-suburb trip (rather than suburb-to-downtown or vice versa), I was able to make this work – with some difficulty. I left work several hours early that day because if I had left work at the usual time and driven down to Irvine, there would not be any available train connections to get me home.
What does this have to do with driverless cars? I’ll get to that.
Back to “The Age of Affordable Luxury Travel.” Donaghe does not live in an outer suburb of southern California. He lives in the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area. So if Tad wants to go to Los Angeles, what does he have to do?
He could take a plane, which would involve getting to the airport a couple of hours early, going through security, sitting in a cramped plane for an hour, arriving at the beauty that is LAX (DISCLOSURE: I live near Ontario Airport; we are not happy with LAX at the moment), and then navigating your way to wherever you want to go. And, as I’ve already noted, it’s not easy to use mass transit to get around southern California.
So let’s say Tad doesn’t want to take the plane. He could drive his car from Arizona to southern California. For those who are not familiar with the southwestern United States, that is a pretty desolate drive. I’ve never taken that particular route myself, but I have taken the driving route to Las Vegas, in which an otherwise nondescript place such as Baker, California becomes a relative paradise. I assume Blythe, California is similar.
At this point my European friends are asking, why doesn’t Tad just take a train from Phoenix to Los Angeles? Well, Europeans (and even some Americans) may not be aware that the western United States includes a whole lot of empty space. Unlike the Boston – New York – Philadelphia – Baltimore – Washington corridor, trains are not economically viable here.
Enter Tad’s driverless car. Yes, a driverless car can be expensive, but it’s a lot less expensive than laying some high speed rail track from Phoenix to Los Angeles. And, with a driverless car, you can go anywhere. If Tad wants to go to Ontario he can do that. If Tad wants to go to Rancho Santa Margarita he can do that. If Tad wants to go to Watts he can do that.
You’ll note that Tad’s title references affordable luxury travel. In Tad’s scenario, the driverless car is not stand-alone.
You inform your smartphone that you need a restroom, and in less than 15 minutes, an indicator lights up telling you that relief is near. Another self-driving robo-car has been dispatched from a third-party service; it pulls up behind your car and then, with precision only available to modern robotics, there’s a light shudder as this new vehicle docks with yours.
In Tad’s vision, the docking cars are not limited to restrooms and vending machines. Perhaps a mobile Gold’s Gym could pull up to you. Or maybe a mobile Starbucks. And of course, since futurists often don’t anticipate the adverse effects of their actions, perhaps the docking car could be a drug dealer or a mobile bordello.
I personally have some questions about whether the economics of this would work, but as I said before, it’s cheaper to have a fleet of driverless docking cars than it is to lay high speed rail across the desert.
And Loren Feldman may disagree and have his concerns (for example, what if a disabled person is in the driverless car, and the driverless car system fails and the disabled person can’t do anything about it?). But Google does have some political influence, at least in the western United States, so it’s more than likely that someone will be able to experiment with a driverless car service in the future.
I have my concerns about robo-cars as well – certainly along the same lines as Loren’s concerns, but only at the initial outset of the revolution.
My article presupposes that the revolution has already come and the technology has matured. It will be a while before everyone is comfortable with the thought of not being able to control their robo-car.
As for illicit black/gray market docking services, I thought about that as well. Also imagined a new breed of gypsy who live their entire lives only rarely ever stopping. If energy becomes cheap enough, why not?
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