Self-driving cars may be obsolete before they even get here.
That may sound like a sensational way to start a Big Idea seeing as self-driving cars as we have been promised in popular science fiction like Knight Rider and Demolition Man this luxury; and if you are familiar with the traffic situation in the Northern Virginia area, it would be a wonderful thing to let someone—or in this case, something else—do the driving. Google seems to be leading the way in making this bit of science fiction a reality, and I’ve even seen a video where the fully-electric Nissan LEAF drives itself. So maybe we are far from that age of the flying car as we once imagined from The Jetsons, but the self-driving could happen sooner than you may think.
Futurist Ian Pearson, however, believes whenever it does happen, it won’t be soon enough. In less than twenty years, Pearson believes owning a car might be like owning a horse.
In ten years there is no question that driverless systems will be universal but, according to Pearson, what Google is proposing is obsolete. Now, keep in mind, Google’s proposition is nothing more than that, at present. This technology doesn’t exist yet, and many companies are banking on either a fully-automated or semi-automated car by 2020. Pearson states quite simply that self-driving cars are just too expensive for the market. Some automotive and tech companies suggest a driverless system for luxury cars in the hopes they will make a lot of money selling them. Pearson finds the latter a bit incredulous, not to mention impractical. How can you sustain a business model like that? You can’t.
What Pearson envisions is similar to what two Italian researchers are exploring: self-driving pods. These pods are essentially driverless boxes that will take you to wherever you want to go. Now, keep in mind, these pods are not really full-blown cars. They would appear more like a public transportation system with tracks. You know, Peoplemovers. Pods will pick you up and you will make a request, probably through an app, of where you want to go. It will just take you there. Just like that, you know? So there are futurists that think you don’t really need a car in the world of tomorrow, but you will need a cheap steel box.
Not very appealing, I know.
I wouldn’t dismiss the rise of the electric vehicle or worry that Top Gear will be cancelled anytime soon. Futurists like Pearson also envision these peoplemovers will not have wheels, but will travel using a maglev—that short for magnetic levitation—system where high-power magnetism creates both lift and propulsion. Built within the current interstates and other road networks will be these magnetic tracks specifically for peoplemovers. A great idea, but how are we going to get all this technology built into the roads without majorly disrupting current traffic flow? How long would such a conversion take? Pearson claims this conversion will be inexpensive compared to the development of the driverless car estimated at $100,000.
While Pearson believes we are going to skip right over that to these maglev peoplemovers, I would offer that cost on changing the country’s infrastructure would reach into the billions.
The future of the automobile, from this perspective, hangs in the balance. With futurists rethinking autonomous cars or even the need for them is rather sobering, but there is also a fact that with the development of not just automomous cars but other kinds of cars such as the hydrogen car and the popular electric vehicle, cars are not going anywhere. That, and the fact that in the United States alone, over 14 million cars were sold just within 2015, tells me that we’re not quite ready to get rid of the automobile just yet.
It does make you think, though. What’s next?
A research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratfdord University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.