PAUSE for a moment to contemplate life if you never had to physically drive a car again … ever.
Imagine you had your own chauffeur or unlimited free taxi rides.
Would this freedom from white-knuckling your steering wheel make a trip to Sydney so much better that you wouldn’t care as much about the time it takes?
Distance is a productivity killer across regional Australia and while the distances can’t change, the way you travel them looks like it will. Imagine stepping out your front door into a mobile office vehicle to settle in to work, reading, phone calls, email, news etc in safely controlled travelling comfort.
It makes a train or flight seem like hard work when you consider transfers, connections, parking, luggage etc.
But what about safety, I hear you shriek?
Tesla Motors suggests that while nothing is perfect, self-driving vehicles are likely to be 10 times safer than humans because they have six pairs of "eyes" and don’t speed, text, drink-drive, get fatigued, run red lights, get road rage etc.
Could these vehicles almost eliminate our current national road toll? Think of the savings on human injury and hospitalisations.
What about maintenance and repairs? Amazingly, electric vehicles have only one per cent of the moving parts of a petrol/diesel vehicle - about 20 moving parts versus 2000. So, will repair and maintenance become negligible with no combustion engines or gear boxes to upkeep?
If these vehicles catch on, what will happen to existing petrol stations when only 20 per cent of vehicles require in-journey charging because 80 per cent are charged overnight, either at home, hotels or workplace?
Will insurance claims and legal disputes disappear because these vehicles record their every move and hence cut out the lawyers' picnic?
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And my favourite hypothetical vision for the future: will existing on-street car parking become redundant, giving communities back these dead spaces? Autonomous vehicles can be on-the-go most of the time, providing constant door-to-door pick-up and drop-off? Currently our cars are parked for around 95 per cent of their lifetime – what a waste.
Back in your mobile office trip to Sydney, add options like: have a snooze, watch a movie, grab a coffee, and before you know it you’re being dropped at your Sydney appointment in the usual time – but you haven’t wasted a single second because you didn’t have to do the driving.
Because regional people stand the most to gain from autonomous vehicles, we must begin testing this technology for country areas. This is why I requested last year that Bathurst Regional Council partner with the ACT Government’s self-driving vehicle trial and their bulk-purchase bid for a new fleet of electric vehicles.
And of course, there are major fuel-cost savings. Today, a Nissan Leaf drives 37,000km on $700 worth of home electricity, while a standard Tesla vehicle beats a V8 supercar 0-100km/hr easily.
So, when is this brave new world coming to transform our daily lives? Tony Seba (see www.tonyseba.com) reckons 100 per cent solar-powered, electric autonomous vehicles will dominate global vehicle markets by 2030, while one Australian commentator suggests that by 2027 you simply won’t be able to buy a new petrol-only vehicle Down Under.
It’s clear the future is coming fast when you realise so many brands are working on electric vehicles: Subaru, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Jaguar, Porsche, GM, Ford, Volvo, Volkswagen, Apple, Google – the list goes on.
All this makes me wonder if my five-year old daughter will bother getting a driver’s licence. But however this plays, out we have to start planning for the future of autonomous and electric vehicles now.