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A New, Crazy Future with Autonomous Vehicles

Thought Leader
By Dave Nelsen, @DaveNelsen

According to my Internet research, Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” I also discovered that Lincoln said, “The problem with quotes on the Internet is that you never know if they’re true.”

Anyway, the coming age of self-driving vehicles got me thinking about that aspect of the future and how we might contribute to creating it.

For example, if my car is driving me home from work, is there any reason that I can’t enjoy a glass of red wine during the trip? Duh, no! As such, somebody needs to invent a car-based wine cave. Well, not a cave per se; more like a fridge. Even good red wine is awful if exposed to temperatures over 100 degrees. You know how hot a car can get when parked in direct sunlight.

Wait a second. Autonomous vehicles don’t need to park, at least not in traditional garages or parking lots because 1.) the vehicles will be in operation most of the time, not just two percent as they are today and 2.) they will travel to more cost-effective parking areas (what I’m now dubbing “pausing areas”) outside of cities.

Remember how John Paulson, of Paulson & Co., made gazillions of dollars by predicting the housing crisis and then betting against the sector? It’s time to short-sell parking garages. Soon they’ll be worth less than the land they’re built on. Contact me if you have a strategy.

Back to my car-based wine cooler. If I own my car (a big ‘if’), no problem. My perfectly chilled wine will be there when my car picks me up. All good.

Continuing the fantasy that I will still own a car, I’ll put it into the Uber / Lyft / Mavin / Waymo / Apple pool so that it can earn money for me when I’m not using it. When people find out it’s got a wine cave, my rating will rocket to five stars.

Anyway, the coming age of self-driving vehicles got me thinking about that aspect of the future and how we might contribute to creating it.

In the more likely event that I don’t own a car, how will my wine get into my Lyft at the appointed hour? There needs to be a service for that! While we’re at it, why should I bear the cost of UPS or FedEx delivering my Blue Apron meal packages directly to my home?  Free delivery … right! We all know it’s actually baked into the price. Just get the ingredients for tonight’s dinner into the trunk of my ride. I’ll get it home.

Interestingly, my chance of an accident on my way home will be orders of magnitude less than today (humans are bad drivers; computers are not). As such, we need to short auto body shops, auto insurance companies, life-flight helicopter services and ambulance-chasing lawyers. Hey, I’m starting to really like this future.

And have you ever thought about this? Because of slow reaction time, humans must maintain a two-second distance between cars. Do the math. An hour has 3,600 seconds, so each lane on an interstate highway can handle at best 1,800 cars per hour (3,600/2). No wonder we’re always stuck in traffic. Computers can react in microseconds, but for fun, let’s say they’ll need 100,000 microseconds of separation (AKA 100 msec) between vehicles. Yes, speed becomes a factor in the calculations, but by my math one lane on the highway might soon handle 36,000 vehicles per second. Goodbye traffic jams.

Not that travel time will be a big issue if you’re a knowledge worker. Essentially, our commutes will vanish. Today, we think of a commute as our time getting to and from work. Once our vehicles are piloting themselves, we can start working as soon as we climb in. The drive time will become almost irrelevant. I’ll work from 8 AM to 5 PM and be home from 5 PM to 8 AM. Commute time: zero!

So where will I want to live? Proximity to the office becomes almost irrelevant. As such, will the Millennials reverse course and begin moving back out of the cities? Eight ball says, “Yes.”

While we’re at it, what’s my vehicle? For any given ride, I can request anything I like. On date night, I think I’ll have a Tesla. Otherwise, maybe I’ll go Chevy Volt. Indeed, nobody needs to own a car.

In fact, I bet there are many of us who would enjoy riding in 1965 Mustang convertibles, so somebody needs to run a fleet of those. We’ll also need a fleet of Model Ts, and a fleet of 1957 Ford Thunderbirds. So somebody needs to build a kit to retrofit older vehicles for autonomous navigation.

Oh, by the way, you know that three-car garage you so badly needed when purchasing your current home? Soon that’ll make you look like a caveman, used in the gender-neutral sense of course (“caveperson” just doesn’t do it for me). It’s time to start redesigning your garage as a proper man cave, used in the gender-specific sense.

Those are just a few of my predictions about our autonomous vehicle future. Now, let’s go create it!