Recently, while innocently enjoying an afternoon drink at my local San Francisco bar, I saw something truly extraordinary. Out of nowhere, a Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion pulled up outside. Now I know what you’re thinking. “You saw a car? Get over it.” But this wasn’t just any car. In fact, it’s hard to actually define what it was. It certainly wasn’t a car as we know it. But whatever it was — it’s likely to change the way we all drive forever.
The self-driving car, as promised by The Jetsons
Despite almost every major car manufacturer working to develop their own self-driving vehicle, the Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion is our first real look at a possible world without human drivers. Forget that weird, self-driving Google car with (what looks like) a coffeemaker stuck on top. This Mercedes may still be at the concept stage and not yet on the market, but it’s a truly stunning prototype and genuinely feels like it’s from the future.
Arriving encased in a futuristic, silver shell that opens to a “lounge area” where passengers sit facing each other, the car will probably remind any child of the 1980s of the spaceship from Flight of the Navigator (who didn’t want one of those?). But that’s not all. Passengers of this mindful people-mover can access information displayed on touch screens, and the car’s precision sensors can follow the road while being “aware” of pedestrians. Concerned about the rising prices of gasoline? Don’t be. This swanky space-bubble-on-wheels is also electric and can travel approximately 685 miles on a single charge.
Despite all these amazing features, it’s probably not a good idea to trash that brainless lump of mechanical bolts you currently call a car just yet. Industry experts are now estimating that we may see the official release of a (luxury-class) autonomous car within the next 5 years, but recent data from Morgan Stanley indicates that we’re probably a good decade or so away from a fully automated road system.
The end of human driving as we know it
Although driverless cars may never be perfect, as with most technological advances, the pros will (hopefully) still outweigh the cons. In a recent poll by the research firm Harris Interactive, over 35 percent of Americans said that these cars represent the future of driving and 24 percent believe they’ll become our designated chauffeurs. However, not everyone was keen on relinquishing ownership of the wheel, with 48 percent saying these cars would be “safe” and 52 percent believing they’ll be “dangerous.”
1. Will androids dream of electric insurance policies?
After seeing this futuristic space bubble in action for myself, I began considering how autonomous cars would affect the wider world as we know it, including insurance. However, nobody in the insurance industry has developed a policy structure to cover these types of “cars” yet (including all our experts at Esurance). Will we have to insure our algorithmic chauffeurs or will their safety records be so impeccable that it’ll make car insurance obsolete? Will human and nonhuman drivers ever share the road, and will that change everything we know about liability?
As opposed to each driver being responsible for their own auto insurance, car manufacturers could potentially be responsible for accidents caused by their self-driving cars. Mercedes, Toyota, and others looking to enter the driverless market may have to figure out how to cover any accidents caused by their vehicles. Despite the theory that technology is fail-safe, it’s still constructed by humans and open to error — as anyone with a bug-filled laptop knows. Except when these laptops-on-wheels crash, the stakes are higher.
2. Traffic cop layoffs may be inevitable
When all’s said and done, the miscalculations and mistakes made by today’s (mostly distracted) drivers might become a thing of the past. Your digital driver will never be intoxicated, sleepy, or distracted while driving … and weirdly enough, traffic cops will probably have to retrain as “highway IT engineers.” To that end, enforcing traffic laws may simply become a thing of the past. It makes sense, since there will be (to an extent) none of the human errors we’re all guilty of when driving. And it won’t just be traffic cops that may disappear in the world of the digital driver. Almost anyone who drives any vehicle for a living might have to consider themselves replaced once the technology’s been mastered.
3. If it drives itself, it can wash itself
Ok, we were probably reaching here, but if your future car can drive itself, then surely you won’t have to take it to the car wash anymore. Hopefully we’ll be able to simply send our nearly sentient cars to their favorite robot-wash shops all by themselves. The same could apply for drive-thru restaurants, but I may be flying too close to the sun with that dream.
The future is (almost) here
I can admit freely that the idea of being driven at highway speed on this brave new road left me feeling uneasy. But after witnessing the F 015 on the streets, I was instantly brought back to a more fearless and long-forgotten fantasy of living like The Jetsons. It’s probably time we all started to consider the next phase in high-tech transportation so humanity’s transition into the world of driving, without driving, is as painless as possible.