Will the public ever go along? When?
At the Consumer Electronics Show last week, BMW allowed CNBC to see its self-driving technology in action, taking its Series 5 car for a test drive — or perhaps better said, the car took a CNBC reporter out for a spin.
As part of its autonomous car experience, BMW aggregated public data on traffic lights in Las Vegas so countdowns were available on the cloud dashboard, sharing a space in the central console where a radio would be. This feature could be a commuter’s dream: It tells the exact second a light would turn red, yellow or green. Once the car hit the highway, a blue button switched the car into a fully autonomous mode, gliding to a speed much steadier than one a human driver would maintain.
Liberated from the burden of having to keep one’s eye on the road, passengers can do a range of other tasks, including making dinner reservations.
The next destination would be picking up an Amazon package on the way back to the original start site. This cloud, which is supported by Microsoft and Amazon, will be available to consumers starting in March.
While in the car going over 50 mph on the highway, the engineers riding along showed what else a passenger could do while in the fully autonomous mode: watch a movie, gesture control to the cloud to have the car read information out to me or even make dinner reservations.
As a movie turns on with Amazon Prime on a console in the backseat, the sun roof closes and lights dim into a cinema mode that reduces the glare. By gesturing to the center console, passengers are also able to receive information about locations they are passing.
While the car did drive itself, it was hard for CNBC to break from the impulse of holding the wheel, or just watching the road—somewhat to the dismay of the BMW engineers accompanying the passenger.
BMW, like other carmakers like Ford, has said that autonomous cars will be in production by 2021. While that may sound too close to believe, the technology is well on the road to reality.
Evaluating Mass-Adoption Timeframe
It is illogical to assume consumers will not want such features. But will mass adoption happen by 2021?
Yes, and no. Mass adoption will likely take a few years for individual households. But the value of vehicles without self-driving technology will immediately plunge.
All these cars people have been buying recently will be nearly worthless in six years. And in three years people will realize this and be reluctant to buy cars without such technology.
Trucking Big Bang
Businesses will adopt much sooner. Truck companies will be the first to implement. As soon as national regulations are in place, millions of long-haul truck driving jobs will vanish within a year. This could happen as soon as 2020.
Taxi and Transport Services
Uber, Lyft, and others will quickly compete with airport transportation services.
Insist on a “real” driver? OK. More than likely the real driver won’t even drive. Instead, he will sit in the car and let the vehicle drive. For that service, you will pay a hefty fee.
The need and desire to own vehicles for those who live in big cities and seldom escape will plunge. Unlike trucking, the falloff will be more gradual.
But eventually, city dwellers will realize it makes little sense to own a car. Uber, Lyft and others will take over.
And instead of spending $90 trillion to make cars obsolete in cities as Al Gore ridiculously proposed, the free market will take care of it for him.
Spending $90 trillion on nearly anything would add to carbon.