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Cars IV

128 Things that will disappear in the driverless car era


I started writing this column while I was in Manila, Philippines for a talk with UnionBank, one of the most innovative banks I’ve ever come across.

Driving across Manila is often a painful experience with far too many cars locking up all possible arterials, and nowhere near enough money to redesign and build the needed infrastructure. But this is not unique to Manila.

As I’ve traveled around the world, I’ve run into equally bad traffic in Istanbul, Rotterdam, Los Angeles, Seoul, Mexico City, San Francisco, Rome, London, Beijing, and Mumbai. In fact there are literally thousands of cities where bad traffic is a way of life.

Car companies have become very good at selling vehicles but few countries have anticipated them being this good at it.

A study by Morgan Stanley showed that the average car is only used 4% of the day, making cars an astonishing waste of resources. If all cars were to be on the road simultaneously, we cannot even imagine the chaos that would ensue.

For these reasons I’ve become enamored with the coming autonomous car era where many of today’s problems get solved. However, going through the transition will be anything but smooth.


Making the Transition

There’s a significant difference between a driverless car and a fully autonomous vehicle. We already have a number of vehicles on the road today with driverless features, but that’s only a small step towards the no-steering-wheel type of driverless car many are imagining.

As we move further into the fully autonomous car era, we also need to understand the distinction between “user-operated” and “completely driverless” vehicles. Because of regulatory and insurance issues, user-operated fully autonomous cars will come to market within the next five years, while complete autonomous driverless autos will remain further off.

Even though both Google and Tesla have predicted that fully-autonomous cars, the kind that Elon Musk describes as “true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep, and wake up at your destination,” will be available to the public by 2020, that’s not the full story.

First generation vehicles like these will come with a variety of regulator issues and technical problems few can anticipate. But as with all early stage technologies, each of these problems will be dealt with as they arise.

In addition, being available and being commonplace are also many years apart.

While we are entering a game-changing transition period accompanied with a never-ending stream of industry hype, most of the changes listed below will happen after 2030.

Somewhere in the 2030-2035 timeframe we’ll begin to see highways designated as “driverless only,” allowing vehicles that can be switched into driverless mode.


Fleet Ownership and On-Demand Transportation

Imagine stepping out of your house 15 years from now and using your smartphone to summon a driverless vehicle. Within 2-3 minutes a driverless vehicle arrives and whisks you off to work, school, shopping, or wherever you want to go.

A form of on-demand transportation is already happening with companies like Uber and Lyft. If we eliminate the driver, costs will plummet.

Once the technology is perfected, on-demand transportation companies will crop up in most metropolitan areas with large fleets of vehicles poised to meet consumer demand.

As car companies come to grips with a future that has fewer cars in it, they will begin changing their business model. Rather than charging for each vehicle sold, they will partner with fleet managers and charge for every mile the car is driven.

In a move to strengthen their financial position, car companies will begin to reduce the number of dealers, middlemen, and finance costs. This will put large fleet owners in an unusually influential position regarding car design.

Over time, riders will place far more emphasis on features like ingress and egress, riding comfort, and entertainment options, placing far less emphasis on things like car brand, style, color, and efficiency ratings.

Since the idea of fleet ownership and on-demand transportation tend to break down in rural communities, early use cases will spring up first in large metro areas.


Major Industry-Wide Changes Ahead

Over the coming decades, a number of industry-wide “epiphany moments” will cause business leaders to rethink the true scope of impact.

Early adopters will include Gen Z young people who will never feel the need to get a license and pay for insurance as well as Baby Boomers who don’t want to loose their freedom.

Adding to the early user list will be poor people, both legal and illegal immigrants, folks with DUIs, teenagers too young to drive, the directionally impaired, people who have lost their insurance, and many more.

Keep in mind these are changes that will take place over the next couple decades. In some cases we will see a car industry version of Blockbuster Video where all physical stores disappear. While some will disappear completely, others, like travel agencies, will be reduced to a small fraction of their former self.


Double Checkerboard

Over the years I’ve developed a brainstorming technique called the “checkerboard” as a way to generate new ideas. It’s a very simple technique where I start with eight categories and list eight items in each category, enough to fill all 64 spaces on a checkerboard.

When I’m feeling extra creative, I’ll generate enough ideas to fill two checkerboards – 128 of them.

Below are a number of these lists to help you grasp the sea change ahead in the transportation industry.

Driving Jobs that will Disappear – The job of driving a vehicle is one of the most common jobs in the world today. Most of these will evaporate over the coming decades.

1. Taxi drivers
2. Uber & Lyft drivers
3. Delivery (FedEx, UPS, USPS) jobs
4. Courier jobs
5. Bus drivers
6. Truck drivers
7. Valet jobs
8. Chauffeurs and limo drivers

Other Jobs that will Disappear – Along with driving vehicles, the transportation industry has a huge number of supporting roles that will also vanish.

9. Road construction flag people
10. Drivers-Ed teachers
11. Defensive driving schools
12. Traffic analysts
13. Car licensing and registration
14. Drivers test people
15. Rental car agents
16. Crash testers

Specialty Vehicles – Virtually every vehicle that requires a human operator today will find itself competing with an autonomous version sometime in the future.

17. Forklift drivers
18. Lawnmower operators
19. Snowplow operators
20. Water truck drivers
21. Fire truck drivers
22. Water taxies
23. Ambulance drivers
24. Trash truck drivers

Farm and Equipment Vehicles – Agriculture has continually been on the forefront of innovation. Entering the driverless era will be no exception.

25. Tractor drivers
26. Combine operators
27. Swather operators
28. Bailer operators
29. Sprayer operators
30. Horse trailer drivers
31. Grain truck operators
32. Automated fruit harvester operators

Construction Equipment Vehicles – Road construction and repair is a huge industry that will eventually be taken over by unmanned bots and drones.

33. Crane operators
34. Road grader operators
35. Earth movers
36. Street sweeper operators
37. Backhoe operators
38. Trencher operators
39. Cement truck operators
40. Fuel truck operators

Car Sales, Finance, & Insurance Industry Positions – As we move from owned to shared vehicles, much of the transportation economy will also disappear.

41. Auto sales – new and used
42. Account managers
43. Auto auctions
44. Credit managers
45. Loan underwriters
46. Insurance agents and sales reps
47. Insurance claims adjusters
48. Insurance call center agents

Miscellaneous Jobs to Disappear – We often forget how embedded our transportation culture is in today’s economy. Here are a few more of our soon-to-be-forgotten professions.

49. Traffic reporters on the news
50. Sobriety checkpoint people
51. Auto industry lobbyists
52. Stoplight installers
53. Pothole repair people
54. Emission testers
55. Road and parking lot stripers
56. Night repair crews

Vehicle Features that will Disappear – The inside of cars will look radically different once the driver is removed from the equation.

57. Steering wheels
58. Gas pedals
59. Talking GPS
60. Dashboards for drivers
61. Spare tires
62. License plates
63. Seatbelts
64. Odometers

Vehicle Repair – Consumer-Facing Businesses – A significant portion of today’s retail and service industry is related to transportation. These too will begin to fade away.

65. Roadside assistance
66. Auto repair shops
67. Body shops
68. Tow trucks
69. Glass repair
70. Auto locksmiths
71. Transmission repair shops
72. Auto part stores

Vehicle Maintenance – There are a number of businesses that keep our cars operational and looking good. These too will dwindle over time.

73. Gas stations
74. Car washes
75. Oil change businesses
76. Detail shops
77. Tire shops
78. Brake shops
79. Emissions testing
80. Alignment shops

Driver Related Issues that will Disappear – Because of all the things that can go wrong in today’s congested traffic, many other issues will also disappear.

81. Road rage
82. Fender benders
83. Car theft
84. Getting lost
85. Lost cars in parking lots
86. Driving tests
87. Traffic stops
88. Crash test dummies

Parking Related Things – With cars today only being used 4% of the average day, we’ve had to build a massive parking infrastructure to accommodate both the long-term and short-term storage of unused vehicles. These will all lose their importance over time.

89. Parking lots
90. Parking garages
91. Parking tickets
92. Valet services
93. Parallel parking
94. Parking meters
95. Charging stations
96. Handicap parking

Courts/Justice System – In an autonomous vehicle era, most police departments will shrink to a fraction of their current size.

97. Traffic cops
98. Traffic courts – lawyers, DA, judges
99. Driver licenses
100. Patrol cars and officers
101. DUIs and drunk driving
102. Sobriety checkpoints
103. The boot
104. Road rage school

Highway Related – Future highways will not require near as many safety features.

105. Traffic jams
106. Traffic signs
107. Traffic lanes
108. Speed zones
109. Road stripes
110. Weigh stations
111. Mile markers
112. Guardrails

Highway Repair – While we will still need to repair roads in the future, repair activities will no longer be a major impediment to the flow of traffic.

113. Traffic cones
114. Road closures
115. Detours
116. Stoplights
117. Pilot cars
118. Flag people
119. Merge lanes
120. Night lights for late night road repair

Traffic Laws – Traffic law has grown to become a significant portion of the justice system penal code.

121. Speeding tickets
122. Failing to stop at a stoplight or stop sign
123. DUIs – driving under the influence
124. Reckless driving
125. Driving in the wrong direction
126. Passing in a no passing zone
127. Unsafe lane changes

Driver profiling – In our autonomous future, every car will be driven exactly the same way, so ageist, sexist, racist and regional driver prejudices will cease to exist.


Final Thoughts

The privilege of driving is about to be redefined.

Elon Musk has predicted, over time, that lawmakers will decide that driving a vehicle is far too dangerous for humans, and most people will be outlawed from doing the driving themselves.

Following close behind autonomous vehicles on the ground will be a wide array of autonomous vehicles in the air including flying passenger drones. Even though it will be many years before “droning to work” will become a common form of transportation, we will eventually get there.

Many are already thinking about the systematic loss of jobs coming when drivers are deemed unnecessary. The part that’s receiving far less attention is the huge number of new jobs that will replace the ones going away.

Here is just a quick sampling of

  • In-car “ride experience” designers
  • Operators of fast food drones that will dock with moving cars
  • Traffic flow analysts
  • Traffic system planners, designers, and monitors
  • Automated traffic architects and engineers
  • Driverless operating system engineers
  • Luxury vehicle designers
  • Traffic transitionists and impact minimizers

Car designers today spend the vast majority of their time trying to optimize the driver experience. After all, the driver is the most important part of the ownership equation.

As we enter the “driverless era,” the focus will shift to the passenger experience. Fancy dashboards displaying dazzling amounts of information for the driver will become a thing of the past as riders fuss over on-board movies, music, and massage controls.

Some fleet owners will offer car experiences that are more conversational in nature, pairing socially compatible riders in a way to maximize conversations and improve the social environment. Others will stress the benefits of alone-time, offering a peaceful zen-like experience for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of work-life.

As we navigate our way towards a safer, more efficient society, we still have a few bumpy roads to go down before we see the light at the end of the tunnel.

As I’ve said many times, driverless cars will change transportation more dramatically than the invention of the automobile itself. I’m hoping this will help you understand why.


By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Epiphany Z – 8 Radical Visions for Transforming Your Future


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