Len Epp, Tech Crunch:
One of the things I find most surprising about discussions concerning the advent of automated vehicles is that, besides predictable worries about the disappearance of jobs that currently require human drivers, there is a serious, and boring, lack of imagination. Most people seem to think the world will be the same as it is now, except that our cars will be driving us around. In this scenario, the main difference between now and then is that we’ll have more spare time to look at screens, since we’ll just be sitting there, instead of focusing on the road and giving the finger to people who slow-turn left when there’s only a short time to catch the green arrow.
The truth is quite the opposite? — and a hard truth it is — for those invested deeply in the status quo. For one, it will mean an end to personal car ownership, except in rare circumstances. From the user’s end of things, this means you will just summon a car with your phone, and it will take you where you’re going. Since you won’t own the car, you won’t care what it looks like or what’s under the hood, which means that cars will become a lot more uniform in design, as well as cheaper, safer and far cleaner and more efficient. There will be no more corner gas stations and no more main street mechanics’ shops or oil change outfits, since everything will be managed, as it were, at a bulk rather than an individual level of service delivery.
From the owner’s end of things, fleets of cars will be owned by companies. This doesn’t just mean automated Uber. To pick just one example, companies like Walmart will almost certainly let their robot cars drive you to and from their stores for free, as will their competitors. Assuming huge efficiency gains are met, it’s even possible that municipalities will get in the game, and cars will eventually be a part of public transportation. And that’s just the start.
But here’s the thing no one seems to be talking about: When cars and trucks are all automated and talking to each other to coordinate their movements, it will open up the possibility for many new types of moving robots and services to emerge, including “vehicles” that have no space for humans whatsoever. In the following sections I’ll set out just a few of the possibilities.