Robot Cars

  1. Robot taxis are the end of private automobile ownership
  2. Car companies are in an arms-race to get there first!
  3. Human driving illegal, and other implications
  4. A nicer night out
  5. Could robot-cars make traffic 5 times worse?
  6. We’ll get a third of the city back!
  7. The end of the fuel ‘chicken and egg’ Catch-22.

1. Robot taxis are the end of private automobile ownership

“Have we reached peak car?”  asked The Guardian (April 2015), measuring the impact of suburban shopping saturation and the effects of the online shopping lifestyle. We simply drive less car km’s per person, period. But the biggest change will be car ownership. Imagine catching a taxi, but not having to pay the driver’s salary: just paying for a short hire of the equipment and some electricity. It might cost less than 10% of today’s human-driven taxis! Newsflash: all car companies are starting to take the robot-taxi model seriously!  They see the writing on the wall. It’s this simple — robot-taxis mean we’ll stop buying cars as products. Instead of a car that sits in a garage depreciating 95% of the time, we’ll just rent a super-cheap robot-taxi. It’s just hiring a piece of (very smart) equipment. This means:

“A robotic electric car could displace the usage of ten regular vehicles. This will also reduce the supply chain ramp-up burden. Instead of needing to make 2 billion electric vehicles, 200 million robotic ride sharing vehicles would have the same displacement effect. Only 80 gigafactories instead of 800 would be needed to generate the displacement effect,”

2. Car companies are in an arms-race to get there first!

If the private car ownership model is dying, surely a trillion dollar industry would see this coming and be putting serious money into robot-technologies. Being first is everything, as Facebook learned at the expense of Google+. It should be like an arms race out there. Are there any signs of that?

These are all the Corporations working on robot-cars (May 2017).


Don’t panic, of course if you’re a tradesman or other small business owner and you need to own your own vehicle for your business, you’ll still be free to do that. (I hope!) This is about the rest of us. Instead of driving in peak hour traffic, we’ll be snoozing, reading, or texting. And it will be so much safer and cheaper.

3. Human driving illegal, and other implications

Watch this piece by “The National” News (Canada).

Instead of owning cars, people will start to download transport apps. The app will probably be voice activated and have regular preferred settings, but at any time you should be able to choose:-

  • Is it a regular booking to work? If so, what car to public transport mix are you using? Will the car take you to the train every morning? Will it be collecting you the other end of a lovely ferry ride? The app will help you plan your trip just as Siri or Google Maps already can – but with more options now that a robot-taxi can flexibly fill in any gaps.
  • Will you car-share for an even greater discount? Will there be a regular local robot bus company doing a regular route for the cheapest ride, or a mini-bus responding to daily bookings by the most efficient algorithm?
  • The size of vehicle. Single passenger, or a large club going out to a function?
  • The type of vehicle: will you be accompanying lots of groceries home, or supervising some furniture delivery?
  • What level of luxury? Is it a special occasion and a stretched limousine is required?
  • Range anxiety is solved by robot-taxis. First, a robot-taxi company like Tesla or Uber or Apple would be trading in reputation. They’d want the best battery kit on the market.  Second, if a robot taxi did run out of power on a trip, a freshly charged taxi would quickly collect you and complete your journey. You would probably be home before the service van could collect the dead car. That’s the end of all ‘range anxiety’ right there!

4. A nicer night out

The other implications are also pleasing. I’ll quote straight from Templetons: (even though he seems to focus on spending time in the car itself, where I’m imagining time on the train with a short car trip either end). We’ll spend time in the car, rather than waste time.

As indicated, Americans drive some 2.4 trillion miles each year and spend at least 50 billion hours doing it. (This latter number is my own very rough estimate.) A robocar may eventually approach a level of mobile comfort similar to a train, with a nice seat, a wide desk, internet, a computer/TV and phone. This turns those hours into more productive, comfortable hours. At the national average salary of $37,000 per year (SSA) for a 2000-hour work year, I rate this time as worth roughly one trillion dollars per year.

Also, rather than starting and finishing your outing fighting for a spot in an ugly concrete car park that stinks of urine, your robot car will chauffeur you to the loading bay directly outside your cinemas. Then when you bump into friends after the movie and want to go to that special restaurant, you don’t have to walk all the way back to the carpark to collect your car. Get your phone out, call a taxi, and off you go.

5. Could robot-cars make traffic 5 times worse?

If we all own a robot-car and send it on multiple errands without us during the day — like having your own Personal Assistant pick up the dry cleaning or groceries — traffic could increase 5-fold! What do we do about that? Quick answer: price discounts for car sharing and hiring a mini-bus.

 6. We’ll get a third of the city back!

As we have seen repeatedly on this blog (and the National News video above repeats), car-parking destroys city planning. Car parks take up about a third of all central business districts in American cities, spread the buildings and businesses and people further apart, are inefficient and expensive, and destroy walkability. They create cities built for moving cars, not moving people. Robot-taxis will invalidate the car-parking business model. Instead of manually driving into town and parking in a disgusting concrete jungle that stinks of urine in the ugly stairwell, we will be dropped in luxury in the loading bay outside our destination. Our cars will then drive off to Uber up some more passengers and earn us money. Or maybe we didn’t own the car in the first place and it was a robot-taxi or Uber we hired off someone else.

Just as ice-haulers were put out of business by the invention of the fridge, city car-parks will be put out of business by the robot-taxi. There may still be robot-taxi charging carparks, but these will be outside the more expensive real estate of the Central Business District, or could be deep underground somewhere. Parking towers and vast open parking lots will be a thing of the past. This will return a third of city real estate to developers. With a third of the land returned, we can convert those ugly car parks into homes and eco-apartments and businesses. This in turn raises the population density to the point where even robot-taxis will not cope with the traffic. Walkable, social neighbourhoods can replace traffic and isolation. It will raise the density of city cores, house more people on less land, and eventually require a new subway.  I love the irony that super-robot cars could create demand for more subways. It’s not about eliminating the car but domesticating it, so that it cannot push its individualistic and isolating suburban town plan on us. We can have the best of both worlds: real walkable neighbourhoods using state-of-the-art subway systems and the convenience of a robot-car when you really need it.


7. The end of the fuel ‘chicken and egg’ Catch-22.

You know the ‘chicken and egg’ problem — no company wants to build a hydrogen highway because there are no hydrogen customers, and no customers want to buy a hydrogen car because they is no hydrogen highway yet. The companies don’t want to lose a billion dollars building infrastructure that may not get used, and the customer doesn’t want to invest $25,000 in a car that may not have a fuelling infrastructure. The robot-taxi solves all this. The car company has guaranteed customers hiring their vehicles on an as-needs basis. The customers are making a spot-decision about hiring a car for the next 14 minutes, not buying one for the next 14 years! We will not care what the car runs on or how it was recharged.

Scenario: a busy afternoon. The new robot-taxi has a range of 300 km and a group calls it on their phone. The taxi turns up, the party climbs in, and off they go. They notice it’s a new model, but don’t really even care if it has a new charging port or runs on hydrogen, they’re too busy in a gaming contest on their phones. The new robot-taxi reaches its 150km range, and advises that it is now out of range and just pulling over so they can climb into the next cab, and they’ll be getting a 10% discount for the inconvenience. Last year’s model on the regular infrastructure takes them the rest of the way.

Robot-taxis mean everything is just so flexible, from houses not needing driveways or garages any longer to cars working together to get people where they want to go. Not only that, these cars are going to be working or recharging 24/7. They’ll burn out in a year or two, and so society will have a constant turnover of vehicles. In other words, we’ll always be hiring the latest thing! But if a company decides to change their charging plug, they can do it bit by bit maintaining coverage of the entire area as the new cars gradually replace the old.  You won’t care. If anything goes wrong, another taxi will be along to serve you. Indeed, one city might have a few different companies running any number of different charging systems and it could still work. We’re just hiring that car for that trip. Chances are, some combination of robot-taxi and train will take you were you’re going.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s