Tesla’s announcement that a Full Self-Driving option will soon be available is a positive first step toward a healthier, more hospitable, and more sustainable Earth.
It looks like autonomous driving is almost here. Tesla just announced that its Full Self-Driving (FSD) option will be available early next year as a monthly lease. The announcement made no mention of regulatory issues. Have they disappeared? The option will be pricey to start, but there will be early adopters eager for bragging rights to offset the cautious, wait-and-see, is it really safe? crowd. It’s a given that other automakers will follow Tesla’s lead and drive down the cost of autonomous driving. At some point, it will be a standard, cheap enough, must-have option.
All of the implications of autonomous driving have not yet been fully worked out. For sure, Uber and Lyft will be early adopters; ride prices should drop. So too should car ownership; why own a car that is parked most of the day and night when you can order one up whenever you need it without the costs of owning a car? Parking lots and garages can be re imagined and the space they occupy reused. The total number of cars on the road should decline, but by how much depends on driver tolerance for the wait between ordering a car and its arrival for pick-up. New algorithms need to be developed; a job for AI.
With more people working from home because of the pandemic, there are/will be fewer, smaller offices, and many fewer commuters. Rental prices for urban office space are already in decline. With increasing automation, most factories will need fewer workers. Pressure for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) or even a UI (not so basic) will push such schemes from small experiments to being the norm. That should raise everyone’s income and spur growth in the economy.
To the extent that most autonomous vehicles (AVs) will be electric (or hydrogen), a fair assumption, they will speed the transition from Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars by lowering demand for gasoline. This will cause lower gas prices as supply exceeds demand, lower profits, and fewer investors for fossil fuel firms. That will lead to the devaluation and bankruptcy of some oil majors as the discovered reserves carried as assets on their books become stranded, uneconomical to exploit, hence valueless. While the transition to a low carbon global economy will create millions of new jobs, governments must prepare for major dislocations in regions and specialized fields long dependent on the massive fossil fuel industry. They must invest heavily in creating sustainable communities more productive and far healthier than before. Economic justice must be the guiding principle for effecting a successful transition to a net-zero emissions planet. Cities will change as the needs of people, not cars, drive their design. Exactly how AVs will impact the daily lives of Americans and indeed all global citizens will evolve over time, but it seems clear that they will contribute significantly to containing the climate crisis. Tesla’s announcement that a Full Self-Driving option will soon be available is a positive first step toward a healthier, more hospitable, and more sustainable Earth.