Now Entering the Post-Driver World
We’ve been discussing driverless vehicles for more than a decade, when they first appeared as a blip at the edge of our radar.
In 2002, DARPA issued its Grand Challenge, with a $1 million prize for the team that could design a vehicle that could navigate a 150-mile stretch of the Mojave Desert without human intervention. All 21 of the entries failed, but a car created by a Carnegie Mellon team managed to drive more than seven miles on its own before getting stuck on a rock.
Most of the stories that were published about the contest focused on the failures. But the combination of government funding, crowdsourced innovation, and preliminary results indicated to us that driverless cars could someday evolve from those first few clumsy prototypes stalled in the desert dust to sleek machines roaming the nation’s streets and highways. In more than a dozen updates since then, we’ve focused on the promising potential of driverless cars, trucks, and military vehicles to revolutionize transportation, cities, and warfare.
Now, the potential is finally ready to be transformed into reality. As always, the emergence of a disruptive innovation occurs at the intersection of changes in demography, human behavior, and technology. In the case of driverless vehicles, two demographic forces are creating the demand for autonomous cars:
- The 77 million Baby Boomers are either rapidly approaching their senior years or they’re already there. They grew up aspiring to own cars, and when they can no longer drive safely, they are not going to want to take public transportation. The oldest members of this generation, who were born in 1946, are now 71; the youngest, born in 1964, are 53.
As their eyes weaken and their reflexes slow, Boomers will increasingly lose the ability to drive their own cars. And yet, as we’ve discussed in previous issues, Boomers are hesitant to retire, either because they haven’t saved enough money for retirement, or because they are too valuable to their employers, or because they don’t want to give up the sense of purpose that working provides.
Driverless vehicles will enable Boomers to continue their generation’s love affair with the car; despite cataracts, glaucoma, or arthritis, they’ll be able to “drive” to work simply by selecting the destination and letting the car pilot itself. Even the growing number of employees who will work from home will be able to use driverless cars for shopping, recreation, and socializing with friends.
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