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My name is Eric Bergerson and I’m an industrial designer with an additional background in physics. I work as a consultant in the autonomous vehicle industry and I’m very interested in what’s going to happen when Uber, Lyft and the dozens of competitors to those companies are about to have in America and abroad start using cost effective autonomous vehicles.
Widespread availability of autonomous vehicles will cause the greatest social and economic transformation the human race has experienced since the advent of the internet, and possibly since the Industrial Revolution. It will save over thirty thousand American lives and over two million injuries per year, give Americans seventy-five billion hours of their time back, save consumers almost three trillion dollars of disposable income, solve a significant portion of our environmental crisis, electrify America’s automobile fleet, revolutionize urban planning, change the very physical infrastructure of our cities and quite possibly end terrorism. In addition to all these grand achievements, autonomous vehicle technology will also do little things for us like free us from having to take the kids to swimming lessons every day. Sounds incredible, right? That’s because it is incredible, but don’t forget that autonomous vehicle technology will also put seven million people in the unemployment line in its early days and if current auto manufacturers aren’t careful, it’s going to do to them what Netflix and Redbox did to Blockbuster Video ten years ago.
Autonomous vehicles are a disruptive technology that’s going to cause an explosion in on-demand car services like Lyft and Uber because it will ultimately allow those companies to provide transportation at a much lower cost than our current model of privately owned or leased cars, without any significant extra inconvenience to the consumer. Right now we pay to have 24-hour access to our vehicles, but we only use them four percent of the time. By taking advantage of shared car usage and the fact that autonomous technology will cut Uber’s costs to a fraction of their current level, on-demand use of cars will explode in the decades after autonomous cars debut. Or at least it will explode everywhere other than low density population areas like the rural Midwest, where I grew up. Once Uber and its competitors can transport a consumer for only a fraction of the cost of privately owning a car, consumers will gradually stop buying cars. This will take decades, but once this transformation is complete, transportation will be a service rather than a product in America. We, and indeed, the rest of the world, will be traveling around in a fleet of shared vehicles that we as consumers do not personally own and which could be called “The Mobility Cloud.“
So what does this mean for us auto enthusiasts? Are our days of cruising the open road over? Will we spend the rest of our lives being shuttled around in soulless, corporate owned fleet econoboxes? Will the greatest automotive spark our kids experience be the time they got picked up in an Aston Martin robotaxi rather than the BYD robotaxi they’re used to? Check back here for updates, as I plan to write more about how we can save ourselves from such a dreary future devoid of automotive excitement.