You can have my car when you pull the gearshift from my cold, dead hands

It is a sunny October morning; I’m heading to work in my new AV (automated vehicle); my favorite song is streaming through speakers placed in optimal positions around the cabin; my dashboard’s 30-inch translucent screen is updating my schedule while I clear appointments, make dinner reservations, and check out the latest Netflix releases all with the swipe of my finger like a classical music conductor. Afterwards, I sit back in relax mode as a daily news aggregator covers my windshield and I let whatever the view is outside go by unnoticed. To me, all of this sounds nice, but not my cup of tea: I’ll give up my car when you can pull the gearshift from my cold, dead hands.

AVs are on the horizon with the potential of becoming mandatory in several different senses. One is mandatory by popularity: designated parking areas, insurance rates, and sponsorships. Another is mandatory by law: special or restricted roadways, taxes, fines, and limits on drivers. Another is public and “shared” driving: Taxis, Uber, etc. all of which are anticipated to be driverless sometime between 2025 and 2030.

Can you really imagine a driverless world? I can, but it is also probable that the complete implementation won’t take place in my life. (I feel like guys of my generation who wanted to retire before they had to deal with computers, only to find that computers were in their retired life too and they’d have to learn smartphones, emails, tablets and Siri.) For the time being, I still get to drive with the windows down, shifting up and down (which I quite enjoy) as I come out of or go into turns, and accelerating just because I want to. I still get to see the sights out my windows in all of their glory, whether it be The City, the fog rounding its edges into subtle corners, or the soft fall light embracing a country road heading up to the wine country. I get to enjoy these “driving” moments while blasting my music and free from the interruptions of a busy schedule, appointments, and the problems that face all businesses today. Deadlines and Commitments. I just want a few more moments with a gas pedal under my foot and a good tune in my ear.

My dad loved road trips. We’d pile in the car on a weekend day, usually a Sunday and drive. He often had a destination. A relative or friend to see, a waterfall, or sometimes a road with lots of interest. Our vacations were mostly road trips, always with an end in sight but willing to zig and zag when something interesting was on the horizon. I became schooled in reading of maps, trying to tempt my parents into side trips to see various treats or fulfill my curiosity. Maps have gone by the wayside with the GPS in our cars and phones, but it’s not the same. (More about that in a future article).

No one has come out and said it yet, but I firmly believe there will be a point where the “right” to drive a car will be called into consideration, maybe even a bigger issue than the heated debate on gun ownership. Google’s AV project lead Chris Urmson has already stated his goal is to make sure his 11-year-old son doesn’t need to get a driver’s license. That’s right, we are talking the same automobile that fueled the post WW2 American Dream, that gave us the ability to live in the ‘burbs (that quiet cul-de-sac) and commute to work, the rite of passage for every boomer teen when reaching 16, to get their license and take mom or dad’s car out for a joy ride with their friends, avoiding scrapes and tickets (most of the time) while getting those first tastes of freedom. Sadly, self-driving seems to only have a decade or two left. The freeways will go first. Regimenting more cars, closer together, kept to a single lane, following obediently—no lane changes allowed. The country roads will be the last to survive. But it’s fairly certain that by sometime mid-century, even those open roads will vanish too, along with learning how to “take it to the limit, one more time”.

An earlier article of mine, What is the timeline for Connected Cars, Driverless Cars & who owns the data?outlines more of the specifics on how AVs are the way of the future. Tesla is achieving it through software upgrades of their current cars rather than developing an AV from scratch, and this incremental method just might work best. Apple has already discovered the difficulty of building an AV from scratch and we are likely to see the existing manufacturers partnering with tech companies to get an AV done.

From my side of the industry, what will be the biggest change will be the unintended consequence, seeing the car as a new media vehicle (pun intended), and the new media opportunities that will arise with it. What will we do with 1-4 hours added into our “leisure” time? (Another future article, stay tuned)

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that AVs entice me, I mean they are going to be—cool, convenient, and like nothing we’ve ever owned. And perhaps future generations will look at my idea of the freedom of the open road and my own “not-self-driving” car as quixotic and even selfish. But that’s okay with me. Perhaps it is best if I am left in the rearview mirror on this one.

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