Autonomous vehicles will bring about an age of safe and effortless travel. But anything that comes with a trunk also comes with baggage.

1. You'll stop running errands. If your car can drive itself, then there’s no need for it to take you along is it picks up your dry cleaning, your groceries, or even your kids (they stopped listening to you years ago anyway). You’ll never stop for fuel again, because cars will be electric and charge wirelessly wherever they’re parked. Also, every restaurant will deliver, as long as they don’t mind dropping a bag into the trunk of your driverless car (or their own delivery robot). The flip side: Collapse of the Slurpee market as 7-Elevens are shuttered. Oh, and 1.3 million delivery drivers in the US will be out of work.

2. Your parking hassles will disappear. They won’t go away completely, just to where you can’t see them anymore. Autonomous cars don’t need to park near their drivers — who, incidentally, will be dropped off right at the door of their destination — so parking garages can be under a new city park, or an infill housing complex, or way out in the ‘burbs. And even if they remain where they are, garages will be much smaller, or hold a lot more cars, since autonomous vehicles can pack themselves more tightly. They’ll also serve as delivery depots, dropping your Amazon packages right in your trunk. The flip side: Leaving something important in your car just became a much bigger hassle than a walk across the asphalt.

 

3. You’ll get more exercise. More efficient and cleaner traffic flow will mean that walking in cities will actually be pleasant, and the higher density of services (which will happen when human-centered buildings go up where car parks used to be) means that your two feet will be the most efficient mode of transportation. It’s easy to take a nice evening stroll to a restaurant if you know your car will bring you home when you’re full of breadsticks and Fudge Brownie Overload. The flip side: Who are we kidding? With a personal chauffeur at your beck and call, you’ll be constantly becking and calling.

4. You won’t even have to own a car. Your current car (unless you’re a Domino’s delivery guy) is only in motion about 5 per cent of the time, on average. It is, however, depreciating in value 100 per cent of the time, which makes it a pretty bad investment. Personal ownership (with its insurance, maintenance and other hassles) will cease to make sense as autonomous vehicles reach saturation. You’ll be either paying by the mile (a la future-Uber) or subscribing on a monthly basis. You’ll pay based on the trim package of your robot ride, but also based on demand and congestion, and as soon as your car drops you off, it will disappear into the fleet. The flip side: You’ll never, ever be able to leave something important in your car. Even your gym bag.

5. You’ll be stuck in more traffic. If you can work or play during your commute, then your time in a car isn’t seen as lost time. In fact, your commute may be the most luxurious and least demanding part of your day, so expect to share the road with solo travelers coming from far-flung suburbs. And because they cost humans none of their precious time, driverless cars will crowd the roads as they haul personal cargo such as the aforementioned dry cleaning, groceries and human children. (You probably won’t drive to the grocers just for milk for your tea, but you might send your car.) All of that  — plus a number of other factors — adds up to a significant increase in congestion that may not be offset by technological advances. The flip side: At least you’ll be able to binge-watch Game of Thrones IV while you’re stuck in all that traffic.

The future, to go

About the images in this story

If you want to know what the future will look like, then look to the people who design it. IDEO is a company that’s been at the forefront of product design since they carved Apple’s first mouse in 1980, and they’re the thinkers that put the phrase “human-centered” into every designer’s lexicon. IDEO designs more than just products; they design systems, and new ways of approaching problems. So it’s no surprise to see them thinking through the future of cars. Back in 2014, they launched a website at www.ideoautomobility.com, which gave three views of a future, involving (in turn) personal vehicles, autonomous delivery and roving rooms. Much of their thinking has percolated through the community of automotive futurists, and some have questioned some assumptions, but we can be sure that an IDEO-designed transportation infrastructure will be thoughtful, hopeful and beautiful. —DKG

6. You’ll work more, and get sick of it. Actually, instead of Game of Thrones, you’re more likely to extend your workday, holding teleconferences and sending some future iteration of email (Tinder for Business™, 2035 edition). And, with your eyes off of the road, and no feeling of control, an estimated 6 to 12 per cent of passengers in autonomous cars will suffer noticeably from motion sickness. The flip side: Sleeping is a good way to avoid motion sickness, so you might be able to get a doctor’s note that requires you to nap while traveling.

7. You’ll never stop driving. Whether because of injury, or infirmity or Amaretto di Saronno, many people find themselves unable to operate automobiles safely. Autonomous vehicles could be a boon to the disabled, and enable the elderly to live independently for longer. They’re also great for teens who could gain some freedom a bit earlier, and parents of teens who would know that speed limits are being strictly obeyed (and, probably, exactly where said teens are at any given moment). The flip side: We’ll probably forget what “driving” actually means, and what we loved about it.

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