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. How will we get there? Ted Talk
  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 cabs! 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? As NBF reports:-

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. 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-rangebatteries 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!

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 cab, and off you go.

5. How will we get there? TED talk.

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?

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

As the National News video at the top says, robot-taxis will return a third of city real estate to us. When a robot-taxi does not need to park in your driveway, but can just drop you on your street, you can have your driveway back for more lawn. When robot-taxis can drive out of the city to recharge, car parks can be further away and underground. They can be far more efficient vertically, because the recharging floor can have lower ceilings now that no one is walking around in there. (Apart from the occasional technician that might get around in a low-riding bike and if a car breaks down in there, they’ll have a low riding sled that can collect the car). And once the car has recharged, it’s out of there! It’s not staying 8 hours or even overnight.

The density of our cities could change. With a third of the land returned, we can convert those ugly car parks into eco-apartments, raise the density of our city cores, house more people on less land, and create New Urban infrastructure and the demand for a new subway all in one hit!

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 fuel. The robot-cab-as-service solves all this. The car company already has guaranteed customers hiring their vehicles on an as-needs basis. The company just needs to figure out the most efficient technology to supply this, and can change car systems over gradually. Robot cars on the new charging or filling system will do what they can within the allowable range of their charging or fuelling infrastructure. If cars are limited one afternoon, they may even drive someone to the edge of their filling range, and then let the person swap robot-cabs into one on the established filling system. There would probably be an established discount if you have to car-swap on a trip. It will be that flexible.

Consumers are not making a decision about what car they’re buying for the next 14 years, but what car they are hiring for the next 14 minutes! Because we will just spot-hire the latest state of the art robot car, we will not care what the car runs on or how it was recharged. Think about what that means. Robot cars are expected to clock up so many miles they only last a year or two. They’ll always be running on the latest tech, and we’ll always be hiring the latest thing! So what kind of robot-electric will you hire? Will you care, as long as it is clean and gets you there on time, allowing a short nap in the meantime?  You’ll be too busy reading, talking, or snoozing. This is an essential point: if a robot-cab company decides to change their charging infrastructure over to some new plug or gizmo (or even hydrogen hose), does it mean all the car charging ports in America have to change? I can’t see any reason it has to. They can test it on a small fraction of their customers in one city. They’ll have plenty of cars on the existing network to pick up any problems. You’ll just jump in and hire that car that day, and may not notice anything different. If there was a charging problem and the new robot-cab breaks down, another will be along to serve you. Indeed, one city might have dozens of different companies running dozens of different charging systems or hydrogen hoses, and we just would not care one way or the other. We’re just hiring that car for that trip. Even the hypothetical hydrogen economy actually becomes easier when a company decides they’re going to wean off expensive lithium in a (hypothetical future) world approaching lithium limits. They’ll move to a model where they just produce the hydrogen they require in their warehouses the night before they need it. After all, all a hydrogen fuelling station needs is water and a power source! Nuclear has the EROEI to drive all this.

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