2050: The future of driverless tech is driverless motorhomes, sleeper-cabs and better public transport
Ideas about driverless cars have been around nearly as long as cars, but the first real attempts were made in the 1980s when Carnegie Mellon University, Mercedes-Benz and Bundeswehr University Munich made valiant attempts. Into the 1990s investment and experiments continued: Carnegie Mellon University reporting a 98% autonomous 2,797-mile journey in 1995.
In the last five years, the pace has gathered. The news is frequently punctuated with stories about ethical issues and the companies involved – from Tesla to Apple to Google – to incidents and future technologies. For example, The New York Times recently reported that two former Apple engineers are pioneering ‘new eyes’ for driverless cars.
Most of us are less concerned with the granular challenges and incremental steps towards driverless cars, we just want driverless cars. Or not.
We also want to know what it’s going to be like. What will ‘driving’ be like? What will the cars be like? What can I do that I couldn’t before? How will it affect my life?
As with most new technology, there are concerns about safety or ethics, but before we know it, it feels like an extension of our body and we barely think about it. Are you of an age when you can remember land-lines? Cassettes? Handwritten letters and memos? Terrestrial television and newspapers?
When they arrive, driverless cars will be in the news every day for a year, and then never again. Mobile phones, computers and the internet were a global obsession until they became as pedestrian as knives and forks.
Humans have an incredible capacity to normalise things.
The near future
Boston Consulting Group predict that the market for autonomous vehicles will grow to £31 billion by 2025. Seeing as you can’t actually buy a fully autonomous car yet, that’s going to be quite an uptake…
But 2025 is so soon. Seven years off.
What about 2050? What will that be like? It’s really not that long. I’m 37, so I’ll be 70 years. If you’re 18 now, you’ll be 51.
While some technology lags behind promises (who remembers seeing 1960s news footage of proposed moon houses for the 1980s when we all live in space?).
Other technology seems to exceed our wildest dreams, from DNA mapping to space exploration.
Humans will always push at every door. And keep pushing. So once we’ve nailed driverless cars by 2025, what will we do with the technology next? Here are some of our predictions about driverless technologies.
The year 2050: driverless predictions
Autonomous cars will now have been around for 25 years. The excitement of the 2010s will have dissipated. There will be some new technology we’re all obsessed with (maybe it’ll be genetic modification of humans).
With ‘better drivers’, traffic will move more efficiently to its destination. There will be less traffic and fewer traffic jams. This will mean public transport will perform better and be cheaper to run (without drivers). More people will use public transport and the roads will be even less congested.
Driverless mobile homes
The driverless car and the caravan/campervan will merge. In fact, your driverless motorhome will be more like a caravan… no driver. You will be able to pack your suitcases into your driverless caravan, tap in the destination – county campsite or country coordinates – and not think about the roads or driving until you arrive.
And because of this, you may decide to leave at 10pm, sleep as your caravan takes you to Carcasson and wake up as you arrive. Those of you who have ever taken a sleeper train will have an idea of what this will be like.
You will be able to buy package holidays that you download to your caravan. It guides your route and books parking, stopping at scenic locations and restaurants.
Those who commute will also have a range of options.
Because you’re not driving, you’re able to work. So you can leave home at 9am and start working, not have to leave home at 7am to get to work for 9am. You can also leave at 3pm and work for two hours on the way home.
Many workers travel great distances to work. Some stay in hotels near their workplace from Monday-Thursday and return home on Friday night. These people may decide to invest in a driverless mobile home which will allow them to use their travel time as sleep time, affording them more time with their family.
While we’re talking about commuting, just a quick note on London’s tube system. There will be no drivers so it will be able to run at a lower cost allowing it to run 24 hours a day. TfL will also be able to run more trains which will help lower congestion at peak times.
This is already happening in certain parts of the world. As the author of the prophetic science fiction novel Neuromancer, William Gibson said: “The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
The next logical step is driverless mobile hotels. Imagine a cross between a Japanese pod hotel and a taxi. You leave work in Edinburgh and you have a meeting in Brighton the next day so you order a sleeper-cab. It picks you up and you sleep all the way through the night to Brighton, where you wake up ready for your meeting. The cab fare might have been a lot, but you saved on the hotel bill.
In fact, some people (weekly commuters) might use sleeper-cabs as an accommodation solution. It’s Monday night, you order your sleeper-cab and drive around for eight hours until morning when the mobile hotel drops you back at work. It might just drive you to a quiet layby or service station carpark and back in the morning.
Some businesses may discover that with real estate prices in metropolitan areas rising, the best way to run a budget hotel is to create mobile pod hotels rather than manage a fixed location. Imagine a double-decker bus that comes to pick you up from where you are at your check in time, a retinal scan lets you in, and you sleep while it drives around. It then drops you where you want when you check out. (This is obviously dependent on the itineraries of the other guests).
The commercial aviation industry is very open about the fact that pilots are really only needed for take-off, landing and emergencies. Surely AI and driverless technology can remedy that! If military drones are already flying without pilots, passenger planes will be next.
With no cockpit – the resulting extra space for passengers – and no need for expensive pilots maybe international travel will become even cheaper.
Helicopters are expensive. But they are very convenient. Door-to-door, no traffic, very fast and you can land just about anywhere.
Imagine if you had your own private helicopter… a one-man, driverless drone-copter… Amazon already want to use drones to deliver your packages, why not you?
Your drone-copter will basically be a driverless car that flies. Its technology will be the same – LIDAR, and cameras and GPS – it will just have propellers as well.
What do YOU think will be the future applications of driverless technology, especially combined with other technologies?