It is my personal belief that the impending arrival of autonomous road vehicles (driverless or self-driving cars) will transform society.
I don't think that any society is ready for this 'paradigm shift'. Not even partially ready. If we were we would be viewing the development of our urban centers, parking requirements, transit plans etc. in a very different way to what we are currently.
Most people simply don't realize quite how dramatic the change will be and how soon it will arrive.
Yet this technological tidal wave is bearing down upon us and we are continuing on, business as usual, whilst the time for a proactive response is fast running out. Yes, really; time is short. Google have indicated that their self driving car technology could be in public hands by 2017-2018. We therefore only have maybe four years to plan for this eventuality.
This blog will seek to address some of those impacts and raise awareness of just how transformative this new paradigm might be. The more that people are aware of how things might change, then the greater chance that they might choose to do something about it.
The focus of the blog will be the impacts of autonomous vehicles, but the background to this rapidly evolving story is the technology revolution that is happening so fast that it is almost impossible to keep up with it. This development of technology is occurring at an exponential rate, which means that the rate of change isn't constant, but it is accelerating.
There are major trends within the technology revolution that are relatively easy to spot; the key one for this blog topic is automation of everyday tasks. With autonomous vehicles this is essentially the creation of a robot that will do the driving for us.
The key to the automation of the driving task is not the mechanics of the vehicle itself, not even the sensors that it uses to perceive the world around it. Those items have been in use for many decades and we already have off-the-shelf version of vehicle parts and sensors such that many undergraduate university courses have students building their own version of 'smart vehicles'.
What is key to the autonomous vehicle is the development of an artificial intelligence operating system which uses information from the sensors to determine how to safely negotiate the vehicle from its origin to the destination chosen by the operator of the vehicle. Ultimately the operator doesn't even have to be in the vehicle, or anywhere near it.
The new paradigm will occur when these vehicles can operate unmanned. At this point the autonomous vehicle can do work by carrying people and goods and make money for its owner. In a capitalistic society following free market principles the ability to make money by simply owning an autonomous vehicle will prove attractive to many individuals, businesses and government organizations.
As an individual reading this in a developed country there is a good chance that you already own a vehicle, or are expecting to own one in the next four years. My advice to you is to consider the fact that Google have been discussing the possibly of retro-fitting existing vehicles and that if you plan carefully you can minimize what you spend on transportation and maximize your benefits.
Future blogs will go into more detail and identify areas many of the other areas of impacts and how we might respond.