Recently I read this interesting post about the hummingbird effect: how in some cases one change clearly and intelligibly lead to change in other, unrelated area’s. Sort-of like the butterfly effect, but traceable. For me, it also nicely describes what I feel every time I’m thinking about the self-driving car concept: What will happen when they become reality?
Let’s imagine there are self-driving cars: autonomous vehicles that can transport people and goods, navigate complex traffic situations, avoid accidents etc. Originally we may still imagine these self-driving cars as similar to our ‘old’ cars, but then without a steering wheel. Yet when I start to reason this through, I think very little will remain the same.
First of all, once we can avoid accidents through software, cars can do away with many of their safety features. Bye-bye airbags, extra steel, crumple zones etc. We could design a car that is much lighter, smaller and probably more efficient. Basically a chair in an aerodynamic box, with motor and battery hidden in the wheels.
Then, if you think about optimizing the system, quickly cars will start to talk to each other: negotiating priority, optimizing traffic flow or improving safety. Wait, perhaps cars could even start teaming up to form mini-trains to save energy! All this has immediate effect on the roads too: we’ll need much less space, since cars can be much closer together. Traffic lights, signs or even streetlights are no longer needed: the car will negotiate crossings, bring it’s own route and traffic information and of course has an infrared camera. Oh… and I’m sure we’ll speed up… human reflexes are crazy slow compared to a computer, so why stick to 100 KM/H? I’m sure we can go faster… much faster!
This ‘car’, if we still call it that, of course doesn’t have to be our own: we simply use one if we need one, much cheaper ultimately, and you can scale up and down depending on your need. Commuter-pod for one or vacation-pod for six-with-luggage?
And these are only the effects in the direct area of car and transportation. Second and third order effects may be in ‘in-car entertainment’, in design of our cities (no more parking?), our stores, our logistics, … just imagine…