Robot Cars

  1. Less cars, better cities — the rise of the car plan
  2. Robot taxi service
  3. A nicer night out
  4. 90% less cars to build?
  5. Robot cars are almost here
  6. Nicer cities

1. Less cars, better cities – the rise of the car plan

“Have we reached peak car?”  asked The Guardian (April 2015). People are realising that using public transport in city living can be efficient, save money, and create a car-free lifestyle. For instance, do I really want to buy a new car at $30 000 just to watch it sit in a car park and depreciate 22 hours a day? That’s what the average car does 91% of the time. It sits there. That is an enormous investment in energy and materials and money locked up in a machine that just sits around most of the time.

If robot taxis become vastly cheaper because there’s no salary to pay (sorry taxi drivers). The cost of taxi fares will drop dramatically. People will be less anxious about adopting a train based way of life as New Urbanism creeps around more city centres. Companies building automated self-driving robot cars are starting to brainstorm how to dominate a totally new market: the era of robot taxi-cabs! As The Guardian explains above, we are driving less car-kilometres per person as economic and lifestyle factors reduce our need to drive. But this is about to accelerate as we are on the verge of a revolution in transport, where car companies start not to sell us cars as a product but instead sell transport as a service. Sadly for truck and taxi-cab drivers, this means unemployment. They face economic extinction as real as the ice-haulers faced with the invention of the fridge, and Kodak film labs faced with the invention of the digital camera.

2. The robot taxi service

But have no doubt that the transport-as-service model is possible.  If robot-taxis can cut cab-fares down to 10% of today’s fees, we could see a major revolution on our hands. Instead of owning cars, people will start to download transport apps. They’ll be able to choose:-

  • The size of vehicle. Single passenger, or a large club going out to a function?
  • 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-cab 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 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?
  • Will you buy a car for your own special use, but sometimes rent it out to the robot-car-market, a robot version of sometimes driving for the uber-market?
  • Range anxiety and robot cabs? A robot cab company (like Ford, Tesla, Uber?) would be trading in reputation, and so would have the most expensive long-range batteries on the market. If a robot cab did run out of power on a trip,  a freshly charged cab would just collect you and complete your journey. You’d probably be home before the service van could recharge the dead car. That’s the end of all ‘range anxiety’ right there!

3. 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 cab, and off you go.

4. 90% less cars to build!

The best bit? Far less infrastructure is required! The supply implications are enormous. As Next Big Future says:

“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,”


 5. Robot Cars are almost here!

6. Nicer cities

The aesthetics of our cities could change. Why have a skyline littered with ugly concrete carpark skyscrapers? Car parks are so tall because they have to make us pedestrians feel comfortable as we walk from the car to the lift. Electric cars are only half our height. They’ll drive themselves into a charging bay, charge up, and then drive out to collect us from our shops or cinemas or restaurant or work. Service technicians might have to scoot around on low bikes if checking for problems, but generally, people just won’t bother going into anything as mundane as a ‘car-park’ any more. Eventually the carpark skyscraper will become an oddity of history, and future generations might ask why we ever put up with something so ugly in our cities!


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