First post in a five-part series about how transportation will evolve as an ecosystem
It will take 40 years for autonomous vehicles to replace human drivers across the world. Despite the hype and Tesla’s best efforts, it will not take 20 or 10 years, and definitely not 5. A full 40 years to complete this ecosystem-wide transition. 10 years from now, there will be some people riding in autonomous vehicles (AV) in some cities and regions, but it will take a lot longer for AVs to spread across the globe.
If you’re excited about autonomous vehicles and have been following the field in the last few years, there are probably a few things you seem to “know” — or have been told — already:
- Autonomous vehicles are just around the corner. By 2021, they will be all around us. In 10 years, half of all U.S. vehicles will be autonomous. After all, Astro Teller said so.
- No one’s going to own an autonomous vehicle. You will just hail them with your iPhone 11. They’ll arrive, operated by Uber or Lyft — whoever owns the market by then.
- Autonomous vehicles will solve all of our mobility issues, eliminate car collisions, and massively reduce congestion.
- Autonomous vehicles will transform cities — making parking lots obsolete, freeing up as much as 30% of city space, and allowing us after 100 years to reclaim our streets back from cars and ugly traffic.
These ideas and predictions are being widely advocated by technology enthusiasts, tech company executives, and self-described futurists. However, they are all the rage, without realistic substance. Below and with subsequent posts in this series I will try to convince you these concepts are aspirational and speculative at best — and likely help with recruiting — but in some cases are even just wrong.
What We Actually Know
Autonomous vehicles are coming. It may take five years until we resolve the key technological hurdles or it might take a decade, but there is no doubt that in coming years the technology required to safely navigate a vehicle within a well-defined region will be developed.
There is enough technological headway in the form of sensor and compute abundance, as well as ample investment deployed to make it a reality. Autonomous vehicles will have a profound impact on the human condition, on daily life in the city, and on the economy. The 40 years implications will be far and wide, impacting such disparate fields such as real estate, the alcohol industry, and health & wellness.
Since the dawn of time our society, our cities, and our economy were organized based on our available forms of mobility and transportation. It is not by chance that when you walk randomly around any major European city, eventually you will need to cross a major river.
The car transformed how we build cities brought us the suburbs and conquered the public space, with us humans left with small to non-existent sidewalks to claim our own.
We should expect the autonomy revolution to have an equally large impact on the human condition, on cities, on our way of life and our quality of living, as the boat, train and car had in years past. However, that impact will be complex and unpredictable.
Not Just Around The Corner
It took 40 years (1880–1920) for electric motors to replace steam engines and pulleys in factories, even though on day one it was obvious they’re a much better solution. It took 37 years (1886–1923) for cars to reach 10% of the US population (13M), 43 years to reach 20%, it hovered at or below 20% for another 25 years, and only after world war II, in 1948, a full 62 years after the introduction of the first car, did it start to grow beyond the 20% mark and become a hallmark of the post-war prosperity.
But more importantly, we need the time to logistically manage the transition. There is an entire ecosystem to consider, manage, and work towards a growth minded collaboration. Toyota, the largest car manufacturer in the world is producing and selling 10 Million vehicles a year. So does GM. No one can whip up factories to produce hundreds of Millions of vehicle a year, Especially If they believe in the projection that we’re about to reach ‘peak car’ and number of cars sold will go down over time. Not to mention this retooling of the mobility industry will cost a lot. As much as $5 trillion in the U.S. alone.
We are inspired by this exciting future that is within our grasp. We can see it and touch it with our fingertips. We will likely need a nice dose of patience in the coming years. Stay tuned for the next post about what we think will evolve with regards to ridesharing and road usage across the globe. For an early taste, look to my opinion piece in The Information last month.