Perhaps in a greater way than we've yet to realize.
What if I told you that autonomous driving was the future of mobility? You'd probably believe me, though some of you may do so begrudgingly. I don't mean that by autonomy being the future, the ability to drive cars ourselves will disappear entirely – this isn't some science fiction movie. But autonomous cars will solve many of the world's mobility issues.
For starters – safety; as we've discussed before, cars are getting ever safer, with a raft of safety technology that includes semi-autonomous functionality like lane keeping assist and autonomous emergency braking. But as every iteration of a vehicle gets safer and safer, it's making drivers more dangerous. We are the weakest link in the chain that is safety of vehicle occupants. No matter how safe a vehicle gets, it can't predict the irrational, inconsistent, and unpredictable behavior of the pile of flesh, bones, and neural impulses sitting in the driver's seat.
With the introduction of full autonomy, we'll see driver's taken out of control – and thus we'll make the roads a safer place to be. Our road deaths will reduce drastically, and even the accident rate will come down as we remove the variables that most frequently result in accidents. We'll have less infringements of the law, too – as autonomous cars won't exceed the speed limits, they won't jump red lights, and they'll likely obey every traffic sign and road marking to an absolute tee. Ah, the joys of a computer system programmed to behave just so.
The efficiency of society will improve too – tenfold. I'm not just talking about the travel time in which we'll now be able to check and send emails, make phone calls, finish typing memos, and doing whatever else we might need to do. Sure we'll be able to do that too, but society will overall spend less time commuting when we turn to autonomy. Why? Because autonomy means traffic will flow; drivers won't stick vehicles into stupid scenarios that create multi-directional backlogs. With the introduction of wide scale autonomy, every car will be in constant communication with those it shares the road with.
Car to car communication will enable shared information, shared intuition, and a hive-mind when it comes to negotiating rush hour traffic. Ever had a thought that if everybody pulled off simultaneously from an intersection rather than in the staggered caterpillar-like motion, how much quicker traffic congestion would be relieved? There would be a constant flow enabled by autonomy, and cars would only brake when necessary – not too early, and most certainly not at the last moment because a driver's attention was wayward. Because of this increased flow, traffic jams would be a thing of the past – transport systems would run like a well-oiled machine, and commute times would be halved, if not quartered by the sheer efficiency of the whole network.
It sounds fairly futuristic – this network of machines operating in perfect sync, perfect unison for the betterment of society – but it's a realistic future. It's one that ultimately boasts many benefits for society, and solves many current issues. No more commute induced stress, no more road rage at that a**hole that can no longer cut you off because he's not in control, and reduced stress levels all around. The knock on effects reduce the risk of heart attacks and high blood pressure, people are happier and less prone to outbursts of anger, and parents arrive home relaxed and ready to spend time with their families. It's a perfect utopia – at least if the benefits work as well as they theoretically could.
But of course every supposition I've made has crucially forgotten about the one societal group for which there could be no possible benefit to autonomy – the gearhead, the driving enthusiast. But autonomy would benefit them too – perhaps in a greater way than we've yet to realize. With the hive-mind and autonomous efficiency, autonomous cars and the computer systems that control them would seek efficiency in all areas.
When it comes to efficiency and economy, travelling the shortest distance is always best – that means travelling in a straight line – the quickest way from point A to point B. Every autonomous car would follow the simplest route to their destination – which more than likely means the route that follows a freeway. What it also means though, is that autonomous cars wouldn't take alternative routes on a whim; not to find a way around traffic, nor to see the sights and the sounds of the scenic route of the path less traveled. So what? How does this make enthusiasts' lives better?
Well imagine your favorite mountain pass, or canyon, or twisting stretch of tarmac – the one you love but seldom get to exploit because of all the damn traffic it endures. Now imagine how empty it might be if autonomous cars all took the 'boring' route – the one on straight highways and byways. Now do you see where I'm going with this? The greatest driving roads the world has to offer would be completely open to exploitation. Every single twisting side road you've ever dreamt of driving empty would be yours for the taking – and the only traffic you might encounter would be that of likeminded gearheads all trying to do the same thing as you – enjoy it at speed rather than cornering at a snail's pace.
Autonomous vehicles may have a hive mind, but in this scenario driving enthusiasts would also be able to live harmoniously. When you're not fighting against every Sunday driver out there on the roads, and when you know you're sharing the road with other enthusiasts, there'd be a greater common understanding between road users. Because you're all driving the twisting roads with a singular focus, you'd move over when a faster car approached from behind, and others would do the same when you were approaching them quickly.
The rest of the commuter 9-to-5 world would be living in their utopia – one of efficiency and relaxation – and all the while, we'd be living in ours. The one where twisting roads are desolate and other road users understand our desire for speed. Utopia is different for all people, but for all gearheads enjoying great roads is our idea of heaven. Paradise. Shangri-La. It may seem farfetched, but maybe autonomy isn't such a bad thing in the end. After all, the world would be a safer place, and driving enthusiasts would get to do what they love the most.