Increased safety, reduced travel time, fewer emissions, and artificial intelligence! All these are just a few of the exciting features of the driverless vehicle’s future. Soon your car will be able to drive itself faster and safer, while you relax in the seat! Shocking right? The autonomous driving of a vehicle to a specific target in real traffic without the intervention of a human driver is just insane.
The reality of Self-driving cars may still be a way off, but they do seem to be an inevitable factor in our future transport systems. A survey conducted by Budget Direct Motor Insurance has revealed that over half of Australians think that autonomous cars are a dangerous idea and that they wouldn’t be used when they became available. But we won’t know the full repercussions of self-driving cars until they are actually in operation on our roads. One thing is clear that there will be long-reaching implications for all kinds of people and industries.
What’s the future of personal transportation? Well, you’ll likely be spending a lot less time behind the wheel, for one. Cars today already include many semi-autonomous features, like assisted parking and self-braking systems. And completely autonomous vehicles—able to operate without human control—are rapidly becoming more of a reality. You’re probably familiar with Google’s version, which has made headlines with its Google Chauffeur software, which the company hopes to bring to the market by 2020. Much of the autonomous technology used in Google’s self-driving cars are already found on the road. You may have seen commercials advertising the Volkswagen Polo’s automatic braking or the Ford Focus’ automatic parallel parking, which both build on the increasingly common use of proximity sensors to aid parking. Recent NHTSA research shows that approximately 94 percent of accidents are caused by human error. Alan Amici, a vice president of automotive engineering at TE says “Cars with advanced safety features and eventually, self-driving cars can significantly reduce the number of collisions.” The impact of this innovation can be far-reaching, including reduced demand on emergency response systems and reduced auto insurance and health care costs.
Two of the most talked-about self-driving advancements come from Google and Tesla. They take different approaches: Google is using lidar (a radar-like technology that uses light instead of radio waves) sensor technology and going straight to cars without steering wheels or foot pedals. Tesla has rolled out a software system called Autopilot, which employs high-tech camera sensors as a car’s “eyes” to some of its cars already on the market. The self-driving capability will add benefits to our whole society, such as providing transportation for people who are otherwise not able to drive because of age or physical impairment which seems both exciting and meaningful.
Many people worry that the development of self-driving technology will put taxi drivers and truck drivers out of work. What often gets missed is that self-driving technology companies are going to create plenty of jobs too. Most obviously, high-end jobs will spring up for engineers designing the necessary hardware and software. But there are also going to be jobs for workers further down the income spectrum, doing things like taking customer calls, cleaning and repairing cars, and updating the high-definition maps that cars use to move around. Talking about Waymo (which began as the Google Self-Driving Car Project in 2009) there is a good reason to believe that Waymo has no shortage of people helping its software understand and label the detailed three-dimensional maps Waymo vehicles use to get around. The process of making these maps is labor-intensive and many of these jobs may be outsourced to low-wage countries like India and China.
Also, the demand for taxi service isn’t static. Taxis account for a tiny fraction of vehicle traffic nationwide, even if you include new services like Uber and Lyft. A big reason for this is that they’re expensive and not very convenient outside of a few urban areas.
But drivers account for the majority of the cost of a taxi fare. So as self-driving technology matures, we can expect it to cost half or possibly even less than a conventional taxicab. Self-driving cars also won’t mind coming to your house a few minutes early and waiting until you’re ready to leave. In short, by making taxis cheaper and more convenient, companies like Waymo are likely to expand the taxi market significantly. This means that even if the amount of labor required per ride goes down substantially, the total number of jobs might go down by much less. If driverless taxi services become popular enough, total employment could even rise. The lower cost and greater convenience of autonomous deliveries are likely to make these services much more popular, creating additional jobs for building and maintaining vehicles, loading products into the vehicles, and handling customer calls and returns. With delivery times measured in hours rather than days, it will be far more tempting for people to let a robot deliver stuff to their houses instead of driving to the store!
Similarly, while trucks may be able to drive themselves a decade from now, someone is still going to be needed to load and unload trucks at each stop. Right now, this is often considered the job of the truck driver, which means, in the short run, we might see an abundance of self-driving trucks with a human being on board to handle the details of delivery at each stop. Eventually, we’re likely to see a shift to business models in which factories, stores, and other delivery sites need to have more people on hand to handle deliveries as they come in from fully automated vehicles. The overall effect on employment is hard to predict. The fact that bank-teller jobs continued rising during the ATM boom obviously doesn’t prove that new technologies never cause net job losses. But history makes clear that major new technologies like self-driving cars create a lot of new jobs even as they destroy a lot of others. And as companies get ready to launch commercial products, we are starting to see what some of those jobs will look like.
There is anecdotal evidence that start-ups are growing. Tesla has been building an autopilot feature since 2014, and both Apple and Google parent company Alphabet is developing their own self-driving car models.
Traditional automotive companies are also investing. Ford recently announced that the automaker plans to spend $4 billion on autonomous vehicles by 2023. General Motors will pour $100 million into self-driving cars, and Toyota launched a $2.8 billion self-driving car company in Tokyo.
To sum up, Self-driving cars will destroy a lot of jobs but at the same time, they’ll also create a lot. Increase in jobs in technological industries, work for engineers would increase in terms of hardware and software, increased jobs in several indirect ways such as maintenance of cars, cleaning & updating any faults in maps, etc. Various other jobs for technicians and customer dealing would substantially increase. Thus, though the jobs of drivers would be in danger with the coming of self-driving cars, many new job opportunities will spring up.