Self Driving Cars in our Future
By Meredith , Jaxon and Melissa
A glimpse of self-driving reveals a creeping revolution
LOS ANGELES — Personal transportation is on the cusp of its greatest transformation since the invention of the internal combustion engine.
With the rise of self-driving cars, ride-sharing, traffic jams and environmental regulation, we may not even own cars in the future, much less drive them.
A glimpse of the coming revolution can be seen in the models debuting this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Hidden under hoods and dashboards are sensors that take the first steps toward self-driving cars. Already, cars can park themselves, slam on the brakes to avoid crashes and adjust steering to stay centered in a lane.(f)
But the disruption will go well beyond who is — or isn’t — at the controls. For a century, cars have been symbols of freedom and wealth. Passengers of the future may well view vehicles as just another form of public transportation, to be purchased by the trip or in a subscription.
Robot Driver At Your Service
Buying sexy, fast cars for garages could turn into buying seat-miles in appliance-like pods, piloted by robots, parked in public stalls.
“There will come a time when driving the car is like riding the horse,” said futurist Peter Schwartz.“Some people will still like to do it, but most of us won’t.”(a)
In the shorter term, look for companies such as Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Uber to compete with car dealers, taxi companies and even automakers. Automakers will find themselves fending off digital disruption. Google is already building a fleet of experimental self-driving cars.
Schwartz believes that California may dedicate lanes to self-driving vehicles within 10 years.
This transformation will change how designers style and equip cars, said Harald Belker, a former Mercedes-Benz designer. Belker now creates cars for science-fiction movies including “Iron Man 2” and “Total Recall.”
“You can have a two-seater where the passengers face each other,” Belker said.
Gasoline may give way to hydrogen, batteries or both — or some as-yet-unimagined power source.
Certainly, there are skeptics.
“You have to be careful about one of those predictions for the future that we will all be wrong about,”(f) said Beau Boeckmann. He is the president of Galpin Motors of North Hills, which owns the nation’s largest Ford dealership.
The automobile, Boeckmann said, is among the “few mechanical objects that people fall in love with.”
He believes there will always be people who want to own a car and drive it — though they are likely to take advantage of autopilot in heavy traffic and other situations.
James Lentz, chief executive of Toyota’s North American operations, also questions a future of completely driverless cars.
“You will still have people who have the passion for driving the cars and feeling the road,”(f) Lentz said. “There may be times when they want the cars to drive them, but they won’t be buying autonomous-only cars.”
People still will want to own vehicles for various needs, he said. Some might live in a rural area and travel long distances daily. Others might have a big family to haul around. Small business owners might need to transport supplies.
Horseless Carriage Had Doubters Too
In the short term, autonomous driving and communications functions will improve safety, Lentz said. Longer term, automation will act “more as a co-pilot” than a chauffeur,(f) he said, allowing the current generation of baby boomers to drive well into their 90s, longer than previous generations.
Skeptics, however, should consider the cynicism that greeted the horseless carriage more than a century ago, said Adam Jonas, an auto analyst with Morgan Stanley Research.
Then, he said, doubters asked: Why would anyone want to replace a horse "trustily pulling your comfortable carriage with an unreliable, oil-spurting heap of gears, belts and chains?”
Car Company Or Mobility Company?
The rapid application of computing power to transportation will open the industry to new entrants.
“We would be very surprised if technology firms like Google and Amazon or ride-sharing firms like Uber, Lyft and Hailo were not designing or manufacturing, either in-house or via contract manufacturing, unique vehicles over the next engineering cycle,” Jonas said.
Automakers that survive will shift most of their business to create transit companies, or to selling their vehicles to those who do.
“Selling us trips will be where the profits are — not making cars,”(a) said Geoff Wardle, who runs a transportation program at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
Car companies are just starting to wrestle with that prospect.
“New mobility, car sharing, ride sharing, what does that mean for us? We are thinking through that,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s chief executive. “We are thinking like a car and truck company, but we are also thinking like a mobility company.”
Currently, most cars sit idle, requiring storage, at least 22 hours a day.
“What else do we buy for so much money and then not use it?” Wardle asked.
The Emotional Bond
Meanwhile, increasing regulations both in the United States and globally are forcing automakers to trade performance for greater fuel economy and fewer emissions. As automakers adapt, its going to be harder to find a car that satisfies your dreams of being a race car driver.
Cars will slowly, steadily take over more of the driving, Schwartz said.
“You surrender a little control in stages,” he said. “You don’t have to make one big leap.”
Over time, the emotional link between car and driver — the basis of car ownership — will continue to fade away.
“The robot will take over,(a)” Wardle said. “In the end, people will think: Why am I even bothering to drive at all?”