(Source: Forbes): Uriel Barillas –
Despite accidents that can happen with self-driving cars such as the one the reported in Arizona, humans are still far more likely to cause an accident. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94% of all accidents are caused due to human error. Experts must still work out the technical issues. The future of cars is changing and with it, the environment around them.
What Are We Really Talking About
Self-driving cars, driverless cars, autonomous vehicles and automated cars are all referring to the same type of vehicle. These vehicles all have the ability for a person to be a passenger in the car while going to a predetermined location. But they can do so without having to navigate. The passenger has access to the controls but can spend their ride time doing other things. They can work, read email or play a game with their children rather than doing the work of driving. Currently, there are prototypes in development that have been created by both car manufacturers as well as technology companies such as Apple.
Driverless cars have been categorized by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) into six different levels. Level 0 has zero automation, and the 5th level is full automation. The self-driving cars we are talking about fall into Levels 4 and 5.
With a Level 4 rating, no human is required to operate the vehicle. However, a Level 4 vehicle must access maps that are specially developed for a self-driving vehicle. These maps provide guidance for the vehicle. If the plans don’t exist, the human driver must take over.
The ultimate self-driving car, a Level 5, means no human intervention is required. Level 5 is full automation, and as long as there is something that passes as a road, the vehicle can navigate it.
Self-driving cars are already being tested in some markets for ride-hailing services. Yet there are a few years to go before these same vehicles will be available for the consumer market. Some regulations must be passed, and the outcome of the current tests in the ride-hailing arena will play a role as well. In all likelihood, it will be 2020 or 2021 before self-driving cars are available from a dealership. For example, Ford expects its vehicle to be on the market by 2021. In preparation, what must occur?
Let’s Start With Infrastructure
There is no question infrastructure will need a substantial upgrade to accommodate self-driving cars. Some have even equated this upgrade to the infrastructure to that of the replacement of horse-drawn buggies with motorized vehicles. Both state and country regulations will have to change. Signs and road markings need to provide guidance to vehicles so they are “seen” by automated drivers. Denser cities will experience the first wave of change both in the adoption of the technology but also the changing landscape.
What About Real Estate?
Parking garages are the first topic that comes up with the discussion of self-driving cars. The assumption is that people will only use ride-sharing vehicles and not buy their own self-driving vehicle because of the cost factor. With fewer people owning their own cars, assuming this is true, it will decrease the number of vehicles on the road or that need to park. Parking space, in turn, which takes up considerable space in any city, could then be converted for other uses. With housing shortages in dense areas, this could create an opportunity for replacement of parking structures with multifamily units.
Among the other impacts are the expectation of fewer gas stations and auto dealerships because there will be fewer drivers and fewer cars on the road. With fewer cars, home driveways and garages will shrink in size. For some, existing garages could even be converted to additional living space.
Seniors currently account for about 15% of the U.S. population. This number will double in the next forty years. The current trend has shown an increase in senior housing facilities or facilities for an active retirement. But, also very clear, is the desire to remain independent as long as possible. With self-driving cars, it allows the elderly to stay in the comfort of their homes for a more extended period.
Completely autonomous vehicles is a game-changer for industries that rely heavily on humans to transport materials. The self-driving vehicle does not require sleep, bathroom breaks or stops for food. As a result, businesses (and those who own the buildings that these businesses operate out of) that rely heavily on this foot traffic, particularly near major thruways, will feel the impact.
The Future Is Not That Far Off
In the end, the impact of self-driving cars on our society is unknown. But there are clues to the impact. Without question, self-driving, autonomous vehicles are coming. The safety improvements for people on the road, the reduced cost for suppliers and the desire for simplification of our lives are all driving forces. These vehicles will be a part of our lives within the next decade.