The need to move by humans is constant and will never go away as interaction, trade, recreation and even wars require a form of movement or the other. Since the gradual improvement in technology and its consequent adoption, humans have continuously improved upon the available means of transport. Moving from horse-drawn carriages to Ford’s Model T was a feat that changed the perception and transport mediums.
As means of transportation evolved, the infrastructure supporting this movement also felt the impact of these changes. Roads got expanded. With this, cases of pedestrian accidents, sidewalks and pedestrian bridges were created. Traffic lights and zebra crossings followed all in a bid to curb the accident rates. Inventions like the seat belt were adapted as a response to save the driver from concussion and head injuries from collusion. Thanks to the engineers at Volvo for that invention.
As human population grew and the demand for a safer and reliable means of transport increased, concepts like the V4 and V6 engines emerged. Air conditioning systems, responsive airbags, dashboard indicators, more gear selections and the central lock system all came to be features of the new car models.
It seemed technological invention had peaked in what we could see in a car, but that’s the interesting bit about invention. Whenever it seems humans have run out of fresh ideas, new ones jump at us, when it is not new, the old gets re-invented.
The need for a faster car, gradual and persistent shift from manual to automatic gear system and an outright demand for driverless cars stem from the fact that humans are increasingly having other activities. Child rearing, the internet with social media, exhaustive and overly demanding work schedule require more of their time. As these activities scream for attention, the need and rationalisation behind driverless technologies to move around increase. It becomes thus, a case of scale of preference but this time with activities in order of importance.
WATCH: Will Nigerians take a ride in a driverless car?
Autonomous vehicles will impact almost every sphere of life. Same way the internet served as the substructure for social media which has today changed news and crime reporting, customer engagement/service and relationships. The technology behind autonomous vehicles will not be any different. Rather, it would surpass the envisaged impact it may have. This impact would touch the social, business, government revenue drive and enforcement as well as other emerging areas not yet seen. This is in no way implying that this impact will not have its downside.
Family and social relationships
Family and nuclear relationships usually feel the first impact of a new technology. History is replete with pointers.
Washing machine and television sets are credible examples. The washing machine, for example, changed and improved the lives of stay-at-home mums in the US in the first few years of invention. Television for example brought more families together especially during weekends.
Driverless cars will not be different. School runs, trips to church and visits to grandma would be different. Driving-induced fatigue and persistent backaches would reduce. This will in turn save families and employers millions in healthcare spending.
Perhaps, one area we may have not envisaged, or rather decided to ignore, is the impact of autonomous vehicles in the manner we will obtain our sexual pleasures in the near future. A driver’s participation is hindered in car sex and this reduces their contribution to the sexual experience. Let us not forget that accidents that occur as a result of distractions from in-car sexual activities would drastically reduce as autonomous vehicles gain traction and adoption. Consequently, we may see a net effect of this traction on the revenue of hotels as the car becomes a ‘bedroom on wheels’.
Driver licensing and the revenue that accrue to the government from its renewals would change. Prices may spike or drop depending on the processes involved. Who does the government hold responsible for an accident? The driven passenger, the software company or the accident victim? Hence, an ethical problem.
The traffic management authorities would possibly witness a change in their enforcement duties. Closely following that will be the right punishment for traffic offenders. The authorities could in response deploy artificial intelligence to man traffic but this comes with job displacement and a possible outright loss of these jobs.
Businesses will not be spared
Restaurants and diners especially around the business districts would likely, in the first few years of adoption, see a drop in patronage as business meetings — especially the short ones — start taking place inside cars.
Middlemen in the car maintenance value chain will need a re-skilling as these vehicles will incrementally compose of more software than hardware as adoption grows. Diagnosis and less of dismantling will be the new norm.
Then again, as software makes up a considerable part of driverless cars, it becomes less of steel and plastics to more of lines of codes and sensors. Spare parts dealers and fixers would likely see a drop in sales as patronage takes a different form. They would need to upgrade their skill set to accommodate this new change.
Driving instruction schools will not be left out. With less human control of these cars comes the lesser need for licenses for drivers and in turn a drop in revenue for the government office in charge of its issuance.
Insurance companies, a key component of the transport value chain, would need to re-evaluate the insurance packages available for the vehicles and the rider with the right price points. These changes will in turn change the meaning of a driver to an insurer. Is the driver a human or some lines of code written miles away and can these lines of code make insurance claims?
Looking forward with regulations
Today’s transport regulatory units especially in Nigeria and Africa may not be fully prepared for the autonomous future. This is similar to the way it took the communication and information ministries by surprise on the impact of the internet and the products and services it threw up. There is now need for an overhauling of the learning units on the ethical and technical skills needed down the road.
Government on its side will need to put in place some anticipatory and proactive policies and infrastructure in place. The current policies and available infrastructure like intelligent roads are almost non-existent. Speeding monitors and parking lots and signs will need an upgrade to see the new technology get adopted. These policies would in the long run secure the disrupted income streams to the government while retaining its powers to make and enforce user-friendly policies.
Openness to mistakes will be a virtue on the part of the regulatory agencies going into the autonomous future. As changes and upgrades to these technologies kick in at a geometric pace, constant learning for counterparts ahead in the learning curve will become an edge.