BY KEITH B. JONES | December 6, 2018

In bars and board rooms far and wide, Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) find their way into our favorite tech conversations, like the Internet of Things, or overseas cyber hackers, or whatever Elon Musk did this week.

Spend enough time listening to the hype, and you would be forgiven for thinking you’ll be able to surprise your spouse with a driverless car by Christmas 2021.

Unfortunately for tech fans and early adopters, there are no shortage of roadblocks (pun intended) that are likely to keep fully autonomous vehicles from widespread use until closer to 2030.

Projections that forecast driverless cars on our roads any sooner are simply signs of technology in search of a problem.

Don’t get me wrong, self-driving cars are on the way. It’s very likely that you and I will be riding in them—if not owning one—in the future. And indeed, they will be a common sight on the streets of Tomorrowland. But as of today, our time and resources are best spent laying the foundation for their adoption. That means clearing some roads and re-routing others.

Hype, Hype, Hurray!

Much of the hype surrounding self-driving cars comes from people with self-serving interests. Creating a buzz is, after all, a great means of getting attention—and exaggerated attention is still attention.

Exciting as self-driving cars sound, it’s important not to get ahead of reality.

The countdown to self-driving cars was going quickly, until recent fatal accidents pushed developers to take a slow and steady approach to the race. Couple these tragic incidents with formidable technological challenges and the road to automated driving becomes slow and winding.

What we’re seeing now, and something I think we’ll see a lot more of as technology progresses, is more emphasis on the numerous steps that need to be taken between now and the first consumer-available driverless cars.

These steps include engineering “decisions” that autonomous vehicles will make based on environmental factors, such as weather, visibility, and congestion. As AI technology progresses and starts self-learning, we’ll have to make sure that the technology is teaching itself in ways that act according to our regulations and policies.

If you understand policymaking, you’re probably not holding your breath.

The Death of Parking, Or the Evolution?

There’s also a lot of hype that fully autonomous cars will bring an end to the parking industry. Those generating the most hype seem to do so with an ostensible grudge against companies that help people find parking in high-density urban areas, where praying you find a spot is sometimes the best you can do.

New technology tends to bring about change in old ways. The parking industry of tomorrow may be a hazy reflection of what it is today—and that’s okay. Agility and evolution are how businesses in any industry survive and thrive through new eras.

The change it brings about in our industry will provide new and better services for consumers, such as transforming surface parking into transportation hubs where AV rideshare companies can on- and offload passengers without adding congestion to streets.

For their part, garages may serve as autonomous valets and vehicle service stations.

Taking the Bad with the Better

If you look exclusively at all the challenges faced by self-driving car manufacturers, it’s easy to feel like we’re getting ahead of ourselves, like we’re getting excited for Christmas when it’s only just March.

But I’d caution you against curbing your enthusiasm. Immeasurable good will come with their arrival.

Similarly to how rideshare companies have brought us unquestionable benefits, self-driving cars will bring immeasurable good to our society. For many people, autonomous vehicles may be nothing short of life-changing.

For instance, just as urban mobility is vital for healthy cities, physical mobility is vital for healthy bodies. For elderly people, forfeiting the keys to the car often coincides with a loss in physical health. But self-driving vehicles can help our elderly maintain active out-of-home lifestyles through their 80s, 90s, and into the triple digits.

And Grandma and Grandpa won’t be the only beneficiaries.

Fully autonomous vehicles will likely make local travel safer, easier, and wholly independent for those who are physically or visually impaired.

(Self-)Driving Forward

Bill Gates has a quote I’m fond of, one I think is remarkably applicable here. Feel free to use it the next time you find yourself in a tech conversation the swerves into autonomous vehicle speculation.

“We always overestimate the immediate impact new technology will have for us today, and seemingly always underestimate the long term impact it will have on our society.”

His words, in part, mean that things aren’t always what they seem. Segues, for all their goofiness, may have paved the way for Bird and other dockless scooters. So, from a social acceptance standpoint, the steps we take in the next few years will lead to either swift or slow acceptance of autonomous vehicles. And autonomous vehicles may themselves just be technology that paves the way for something far better. Something fit for Tomorrowland.

“Ace Mobility Solutions isn’t just a business. It’s the Mobility Revolution in action.”

Keith B. Jones
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