The future is beginning to look more and more like a scene in iRobot where Will Smith is told it’s too dangerous to take control of his own car. Some people are alarmed when confronted with the fact that driving may be something that we tell our grandchildren we used to do, and few hobbyists might only be doing in their spare time in isolated facilities. With the vast benefits and increases to productivity that driverless cars will bring, autonomous driving has gone from Hollywood fantasy to sheer inevitability over the past five to ten years.
A very common objection to this surge in driverless technology is that it isn’t safe. While making the technology perfect in every single unique circumstance is a feat that likely won’t be achieved anytime soon, the technology doesn’t need to be perfect. It simply needs to be better than you. According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, 37,000 people in the U.S. and 1.3 million globally die each year as a result of car accidents. Those numbers are staggering and show the margin of error that autonomous vehicles have to work with. They don’t need to be perfect, but if they can eliminate more accidents than we cause as humans, with the technology only improving every year they will soon become the leading way that we get around.
Labor costs are one of the highest expenses corporations are faced with, and with the potential disruption of the transportation industry, the potential gains from automation are enormous. This is why almost all the major automakers are rapidly pursuing this technology. Non-car manufacturing companies like Uber and Lyft have already implemented strategies to eliminate the costly labor costs associated with their services. Uber recently struck a deal with Volvo to have 24,000 of their automated XC90 SUVs on the road sometime between 2019-21. Many people are terrified that their jobs are going to disappear and they have a right to be terrified. Automated trucks alone are likely going to displace as many as 7 million truck drivers in the United States, and some estimates say 1 in 7 jobs in the U.S. are in the transportation industry. Instead of the fear-mongering and panic that currently exists, people need to embrace the change now and start preparing for this disruption. When Henry Ford built the first automobile did we bury it in fear of all of the horse-related industries going out of business?
An economy can only achieve long-term growth based on increased levels of productivity. On top of the ample savings that automakers and the transportation industry are going to reap, how much more productive will we be as individuals who no longer have to drive? According to a study done by the Harvard Health Watch, the average American spend 101 minutes driving per day. If even 10% of that time is utilized for productive purposes instead of violently swiping right on Tinder or scrolling aimlessly through Instagram, we will be witnessing an unprecedented increase in productivity and growth.