Self-driving cars aren’t years away, they’re here.
On Tuesday, Waymo, the self-driving car division of Google, announced that they began deploying robot vans in the Phoenix metro area a few weeks ago. The company has been operating its autonomous vehicles in Arizona without a safety driver — or any human at all — behind the wheel. In a few months, they will pick up actual passengers using a ride sharing app.
Soon you will be able to summon a self-driving car to take you to your workplace, radically changing your commute. There are many practical consequences, for example, you might need one less car in the family, so you can convert part of your garage to living space. You won’t have to be worried about the expense connected with car ownership, e.g., monthly payment, gas, and tune-ups. And your employer won’t need as big a parking lot, since more and more employees will be picked up and dropped off by these autonomous vehicles.
But the question I’m wondering about is, how will this affect people’s behaviors? I have some guesses.
First, the whole concept of commuting will change. Instead of dreading a daily commute full of traffic delays and road rage, it will be filled with new free time. This will enable people to do more things like read, watch television programs, take a nap, or play a game. Or it could expand your work hours, allowing you to participate in a video conference, or work on docs or spreadsheets.
Either way, the time that was used for driving will now be available for other activities, which could result in people willing to work further from home. If you could work or relax in comfort, why not have a 60 or 90-minute commute? Many people may actually prefer that, as personal time is one commodity that has a finite supply.
Outside of the workplace there are many more considerations. You will be able to have a drink with dinner and not worry about driving home, send your kids to after-school activities and have them picked up, and send grandma home after Thanksgiving dinner knowing she will arrive safely.
Robot cars will change our society, in and outside of the workplace. And it’s not “someday.” It started about three weeks ago.