Today’s drivers will become tomorrow’s passengers in self-driving cars (this is a concept car interior for a Renault SA EZ-Ultimo autonomous car in 2018). Americans spend about one hour a day driving and travel approximately 32 miles per day doing so, according to recent analyses . Collectively, this amounts to nearly 70 billion hours of driving time annually in the United States alone.
That is 70 billion hours of humans gripping the steering wheel, keeping their eyes on the road (hopefully!) and otherwise undertaking the heady and life-or-death task of driving a car.
Here’s a question to consider: what will happen to those billions upon billions of driving hours once we have truly self-driving driverless cars available?
Let’s unpack the question and see what answer might be revealed.
Advent Of Self-Driving Driverless Cars
I’d like to first establish the difference between fully autonomous cars, ones that the AI drives the car and for which there is no human driver involved (referred to as Level 4 and Level 5 automation ), versus the sidekick aspects of semi-autonomous cars that entail the augmentation or system aided support of a human driver (considered Level 2 or Level 3 ).
For the semi-autonomous cars, the human driver must still be present and alert, since they are expected to be actively immersed in co-sharing of the driving task with the automation.
I realize that you’ve perhaps seen YouTube videos of drivers that are napping or otherwise not paying attention to the driving task, doing so in a Level 2 or Level 3 car, and all I can say is that this is absolutely (stupidly, recklessly) wrong and absolutely a prescription for dire and untoward consequences. YOU MAY ALSO LIKE
In theory, the 70 billion hours of annual driving time would still be the same amount of driving time in any Level 2 or Level 3 car.
Sure, you might try to claim that the driving time is possibly not as taxing or arduous because you have the semi-autonomous tech that’s helping you drive, but nonetheless you are expected to be mentally and physically ready to drive the car at any moment in time. Thus, I’d assert that it is indeed bona fide driving time and there’s no cutting corners in terms of the hours involved.
In the case of truly autonomous cars, the amount of human driving time by definition should drop to zero.
That’s because there isn’t a human driver in a fully self-driving driverless car. The AI does all of the driving. This suggests that humans will only be passengers and no longer car drivers. Thus, today’s car drivers will no longer presumably be drivers and will shift their 70 billion annual hours into becoming passengers.
As an aside, if you are wondering about counting today’s passengers in conventional cars, they would still be counted as passengers in self-driving cars, so I don’t intend to add their hours of being inside a car into the number of hours of humans being inside self-driving cars. Essentially, I’m suggesting it nets out that if a passenger today is a passenger in a regular car, they will ergo be a passenger in a self-driving car of the future.
Herein I am focused on the change that is coming of human drivers that used to need to be attentive to the driving task and henceforth will no longer need to do so and will transform into becoming passengers.
Will Human Drivers Alter Their In-Car Time
One related matter is whether or not those human drivers will one-for-one switch to passenger hours or perhaps they might opt to spend either less hours or possibly more hours inside a car.
Here’s the logic.
A human driver today might be making some number of trips to cart around somebody else. For example, suppose you drive your kids to school each day. If that’s the case, and if a self-driving car can take your kids to school for you, there’s no need for you to go along. In that case, you aren’t going to swap that particular driving time into doing the same act as before, not even as a passenger.
You could then argue that the 70 billion hours of annual driving time might not directly become 70 billion hours of passenger time, and instead it might drop by a little or maybe a lot. Could it translate into 50 billion hours or maybe 30 billion hours?
Could be, but nobody knows as yet.
Alternatively, those human drivers might end-up increasing the time they spend inside a car.
Let’s pretend that you work in a downtown area and purposely live relatively close to downtown to keep your commute minimized, partially because you hate to drive. After self-driving cars become prevalent, you decide that you’d prefer to live out in the countryside, which will be easy to do since the AI system is going to deal with the driving act for you. You can nap in the driverless car during the commute.
If that kind of behavior arises, the 70 billion hours of driving time might leap upward in terms of being translated into passenger time. Maybe those drivers will take all kinds of longer trips or more frequent trips because they are relieved of the driving task.
Could it become 80 billion or even 100 billion hours converted into passenger time?
Yes, possibly, but nobody knows.
How To Use That Time
I’ll make the rather reasonable assumption that by-and-large the 70 billion hours of annual driving time is going to become passenger time, plus or minus some number of billions, if you will.
What in the heck are people going to do with this newly found time?
One thing you can say for sure, this portends a humongous marketing opportunity for companies wanting to advertise their products and services.
Think about those millions of Americans now comfortably ensconced in their driverless cars, able to be attentive to your ad or marketing campaign, and it makes marketers mouths water.
Those former drivers are now freed from thinking about the driving task. Time for you to fill those minds with ads. A bonanza!
Well, besides our becoming likely inundated with marketing messages and bombarded with ads, what else might we do while now becoming a passenger inside a self-driving driverless car.
Here’s some ideas:
· Sleep. As mentioned, people might move further away from work and therefore catch a snooze while heading to the office or heading home from the office. The interior of self-driving cars is predicted to accommodate the desire to take naps, including fully reclining seats and special darkened shades for the windows. Whether you will feel safe enough to fall asleep in a driverless car is another matter altogether.
· Do work. You might work while inside your self-driving car , using the Internet and your in-car laptop or computer, along with being able to do remote Skype-like sessions with other workers that are in the office or similarly commuting in other self-driving cars. We don’t yet know whether this will be working time that gets lopped off your normal 8 hours a day of work, or it might merely get piled on top of your workday and now you’ll be expected to work more hours than you did while driving.
· Stare out the window. As a driver, you had to concentrate on the roadway and other traffic. Shifting to becoming a passenger, you can comfortably scan the surroundings and let your eyes wander leisurely. This could be a boon for billboards and cars with exterior displayed ads, though it might be that people decide they don’t care to look outside and instead focus their attention inside the self-driving car.
· Play online games. You could play games on your smartphone. There will likely be sizable LED displays inside the self-driving car and thus you can use those to play games. Maybe you’ll wear a Virtual Reality (VR) headset and play games immersed in your own world while zooming along a driverless car. To get you to look outside the car, there are bound to be Augmented Reality (AR) games too, either requiring you to wear special goggles or perhaps the windows of the self-driving car will be made to do the same.
· Interact with fellow humans in the car. You might use the time inside a self-driving car to interact with fellow humans. It is assumed that driverless cars will likely have swivel seats, allowing several people in the car to swivel and face each other. Perhaps you’ll commute to work with fellow workers and carry on work discussions, or maybe you’ll party like its 1999.
· Get training or a degree. You’ll have online access and sizable LED displays so you could try to get some added training or even do your college degree while cruising around in your self-driving car. The educational sessions might be based on video or it could be undertaken live. There you are, waving your hands at your fellow students, all spread around the country and inside their self-driving cars too.
· Watch cat videos . I’m being a bit flippant, but you could watch tons of cat videos while inside your self-driving car. Actually, my point is that there is the opportunity for an entertainment explosion of content needed to satisfy the mental hunger of those humans shifting their 70 billion hours into sitting inside a self-driving car. Entertainment galore!
· Perform private acts. I won’t say much about this topic, other than noting that for those that seemed to relish the mile-high club, they will now be able to add to their scorecard the 65 mile per hour club. Since there’s no human driver, there’s no witness and no space taken up for a driver. Enough said.
· Undertake a hobby. With the freeing up of the interior space of a car due to the removal of a driver’s seat, there are all sorts of ways to reconfigure things. Maybe you like to cook and will use the inside of the car as a mini kitchen to prepare your lunch for the day. If you like plants, perhaps you have several potted plants that you provide tender care too while on a driving journey. Endless possibilities.
· Become bored or have Zen time. For completeness sake, I suppose you could be in the driverless car and do nothing or the seeming equivalent of it. Does being bored count as a form of entertainment? Does using the time for Zen count as educational?
· Be scared, very scared. Presumably, you won’t be willing to be a passenger inside a self-driving car unless you believe it is safe to do so. Of course, even if it is safe, you might anyway still harbor concerns . As such, you might become otherwise frozen or immobilized in the sense that you are unable to do anything during the driving journey other than hope and pray that the driverless car provides you with a safe ride.
What will you do with the shift of your driving time of today to becoming instead passenger time in a self-driving driverless car of the future?
Some say this is the same as though you opted to give up your car and started taking the bus or subway or a train.
When you take a bus or any similar kind of public transportation, you lose the privacy bubble that you had while inside a car. You cannot as readily do the same things on a public transport as you can in the (usually) less public confines of a car.
Furthermore, on public transport you cannot cart around much with you, other than perhaps a backpack or purse. In the case of being inside a self-driving car, it could be outfitted with a small kitchen as mentioned earlier or have your stamp collection or your toy boat making equipment, etc.
Now I’m not suggesting that self-driving cars won’t be used as a form of public transport. I’m sure they will. They though also offer a kind of private compartment that is not readily duplicated in traditional mass transit.
In any case, if I’ve left out something that you have in mind to do while inside a self-driving driverless car, my kudos to you for identifying other things to do.
There are also likely paths to great wealth for those that find something for people to do in their self-driving cars and that you could sell to people that particular thing or activity.
Suppose you could somehow get people to spend a measly one dollar toward you, doing so for each of the 70 billion hours of shifted driving time into passenger time, you’d be rolling in dough due to the advent of true self-driving driverless cars.
Start thinking about it.