Guest Post: Thoughts on Self Driving Cars By Keith Oppel - Twitter: @MistaKeets
As I am sure you have seen, we are reaching a point where there will be a major disruption within the automotive industry: the self driving car. From an optimistic point of view, the automotive industry will continue as usual for a period of time (10 years? 20 years? maybe even 30 years or more). However, from a pessimistic point of view, the transition will have many unforeseen consequences.
First the good news for people involved in the automotive industry: the change can not possibly happen overnight. It will be a very slow process as the initial self-driving cars will be very expensive (as is the case for most tech when first introduced). Unless corporations fund (or governments subsidize) a major initiative to adopt self driving cars, I would imagine that for the next 10 to 20 years at least that business will continue as usual. Some rich people will have fancy self driving cars, and everyone else will continue to buy regular cars. Some may ask "what if the car companies stop making regular cars?". My viewpoint is that where there is a demand, companies will produce product to meet the demand. Many people like to drive cars, so the pattern will continue. This will also continue to drive the after market of cars (used cars, wholesale cars, etc).
The self driving car, while a nice concept, also has the potential to create a dystopian future similar to what people read about in science fiction novels. Imagine for a moment a world where only the upper class can afford the self driving cars, and these same upper class use their wealth and political influence to obtain roads/highways/freeways which are to be used only by self driving cars. The American government in particular would enjoy this idea, as they could charge a toll for these roads.
This also creates the potential for yet more class warfare. Rich people on toll roads with self driving cars, safe from these so called "dangerous people driven cars" , while everyone else (lower class in particular) continue using regular cars....abandoned technology on poorly maintained roads (as possibly the government would put more resources into the self driving routes). In a world already highly divided by class/race/religion...this is not good.
Where does this leave people who can not afford the self driving cars, especially if we get to the point where General Motors or BMW stops making cars that have a self driving feature? The used car market. What happens when big auto abandons support for older cars? I believe people will get creative. I can see a future where aftermarket car parts are made by 3d printers. Some people however will view this as a side effect of the self driving car market. One group will want the future, the "safe" self driving car with all it's convenience. Another group will rebel against the concept, and do whatever they can to keep their regular car going so they can continue driving.
Based on the article from Vox.com that has recently being going around relating to DMCA and what car companies will do about the software in current modern cars, copyright law also comes into play when considering the future of the car. My take is that copyright will not stop people. The younger generation having very little regard for copyright is my main basis for this thought. People (in particular the young) will find a way to circumvent car software and do as they wish. Perhaps a new kind of auto mechanic? Time will tell. This idealism could also be applied towards self driving cars: people will find a way to bypass future software if it gets to the point where there is no self driving mode. Illegal steering wheel modifications for the car of the future? Possible startup idea right there.
A final thought (and this may be the one you find most interesting): the Third World. At this time the pros and cons of a self driving car is a very first world problem. As you know, people in various developing nations can not even afford a regular car, much less a self driving car! There are many countries that do not even have a good infrastructure for regular self driving cars (or public transit, but that is another matter entirely). I suppose where I am going with this is if America/EU/Japan/China start adopting self driving cars, there should still be a HUGE market for selling used cars in places like the Philippines, Africa, and various parts of South America. Suddenly an out of reach "regular" car could become affordable in the developing world. Perhaps all of the used cars of America will end up being sold in places like Cambodia and Honduras? Again, only time will really tell. Affordable used cars also can be used for job creation/economic growth. Somebody would of course need to create more infrastructure to handle additional cars on the road.
Labels: self driving cars