Waymo’s self-driving cars are now driving through the Phoenix metro area without anyone in the front seat.
(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)
Waymo recently announced that it will launch a fleet of self-driving taxis within the next 18 months. I can personally attest that I’ve seen self-driving cars from Waymo, Intel, Uber and others passing my house with great regularity over the last two years (thanks, in large part, to Arizona’s solidly pro-innovation governor, Doug Ducey).
Self-driving cars are going to dramatically change society. The question is no longer “if” but “when.” Some changes will be obvious: fewer accidents, fewer deaths, faster travel, more productive use of commute time, etc. Some second order effects are less obvious but highly likely. For example, once it becomes cheaper to order a Waymo or Uber whenever needed than to own a vehicle, people will be able to convert garages into usable living space and businesses will be able to get rid of parking garages and most parking lots.
Self-driving cars will also change how we get our kids to school. As I wrote a few years ago, self-driving cars will eventually make it safe and efficient to send multiple children to multiple different schools — and with cars able to travel faster, the number of schools within a commutable distance will dramatically increase. That would greatly expand the educational options available to families.
How soon should we expect this change? That’s not clear. As Robert Pondiscio has noted, the technology is changing faster than the culture. It might be a while before families feel comfortable putting their child in a vehicle with no adult supervision. On the other hand, advances in GPS, video monitoring, and even bracelets that detect medical episodes can make future rides in self-driving vehicles safer than anything we grew up with.
In the spirit of the Forster-Mathews bet, Robert and I are putting our money where our mouths are. Although I expect that in five years, few people will be sending their kids to school in autonomous vehicles, I predict that at least 25 percent of children in the Phoenix area will get to school via a self-driving car by the 2022-23 school year. This may sound overly exuberant, but with self-driving cars already on the Phoenix streets and Waymo launching its taxi service, I expect high demand for the safety that self-driving cars offer. Moreover, the autonomous vehicle companies are already branching out into services like trucking — it won’t be long before they’re operating school buses as well. Unlike bus drivers, self-driving cars don’t get drunk, lose their temper, get distracted, fall asleep, or not show up for work. As soon as it is safer and more cost-effective for school districts to switch to self-driving vehicles, I expect the shift to be rapid.
The loser owes the winner a beer. And if I’m right, we’re taking a self-driving car to the bar.