Ken Grant offered a vision of the automotive future that was exciting and frightening at the same time.
Speaking at a Technology Forum of Delaware event this week, Grant made it clear that his views don’t necessarily reflect those of his employer, Wilmington-based AAA Mid-Atlantic.
AAA is coming to grips with a world that will one day look much different. Skeptics suggest big changes are decades away. Evidence suggests the time frame is much shorter.
Grant says the first signs of a new world are already in evidence as Google spinoff Waymo prepares to operate driverless taxis in Arizona. Coming soon are autonomous shuttles that will travel through office parks, downtowns and other areas with lighter off-peak traffic.
How will this work? First off, vehicles will need to be able to communicate with one another with a common system that will allow accident avoidance.
Vehicles talking to one another
You may no longer own a car. Instead, a monthly subscription will be paid that covers insurance, tolls, user fees, etc. Luxury car makers are already offering this option and Zipcar offers rentals in urban areas for residents who don’t need a vehicle every day.
The elderly may no longer face that painful time when the kids tell you that driving is no longer an option. Instead, a driverless vehicle will allow mobility and extend lives. Families could have more free time if a driverless vehicle can take little Johnny or Joanie to soccer practice.
Grant’s most startling statement comes from forecasts that claim driverless vehicles talking to one another could cut injuries and deaths from auto crashes by 90 percent.
Let that sink in. The effect on health care, accident lawyers, etc. would be dramatic.
Then again, driverless vehicles could result in massive job losses that cannot be offset by growth in tech jobs that will manage this system.
As for the thrill of driving winding roads, Grant says some routes might be set aside for car lovers. That thrill does not extend to your daily commute and the legions of lane weavers, tailgaters, etc. who make the trip to work a sometimes hair-raising experience.
The audience at the Tech Forum event worked to wrap their heads around this new world.
One obvious question involved the possibility of vehicle networks being hacked. Another is getting through the transition with competing systems, technologies, etc. Thousands of patents have already been filed, many from the world’s largest automakers and a battle will ensue.
Grant says similar challenges have been faced before when automobiles replaced horses.
Publicity over every mishap
Expect every fatal accident involving a driverless car to generate headlines. Never mind that the other 45,000 fatalities every year do not get the same amount of attention.
As the Q&A period wound down, one attendee was overheard talking about the possibilities.
That’s good news for Grant, who has seen a similar change of heart in previous conversations.
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