In his recent TED talk, Google’s Director of Self-Driving Cars, Chris Urmson explained, “In 1885 Carl Benz invented the automobile. A year later, he took it out for a test drive, true story, and promptly crashed it into a wall.”
You can see where Urmson is going. With drivers currently primarily causing 93 percent of all crashes for the reasons that are listed below, we need a self-driving car.
Where are we going? To why the self-driving car is a good example of contemporary innovation.
The Self-Driving Car
In this video, the gentleman behind the wheel is legally blind. A pleasure to watch, the video makes it easy to forget just how many industries would change if autonomous vehicles multiplied.
If 90 percent of all vehicles were autonomous, the efficiency improvements and health benefits could be massive. One transportation think tank estimates that we could save 724 million gallons of gasoline, 2772 million hours and 21,700 lives. While we could question the numbers, we could not dispute that because self-driving cars accelerate evenly and “chain” on highways (perhaps even using their cooperative cruise control), congestion diminishes. They also eliminate the need to search for parking spaces, to use urban parking lots and perhaps even to have our cars remain idle 95 percent of the time. Sharing, we might not even have to own cars anymore. And we have not even touched the probable impact on freight transportation.
So massive a change though, is bound to have countless intended and unintended consequences. For starters we can think of the auto industry, insurance and parking lots. With smaller cars, shared cars and more sophisticated technology, existing manufacturing “recipes” will be transformed. Similarly, the insurance industry would experience less demand for their traditional auto products and have to develop new ones. As for urban parking lots, they might gradually disappear as demand diminished.
Our Bottom Line: Innovation Threads
The changes that autonomous vehicles will bring to us are not unique. One commentator at a Goldman Sachs Innovation Symposium cited threads that contemporary innovation in many areas share:
- Data enables us to personalize and customize.
- Recent innovation is actually a synergy emerging from existing technologies.
- Existing capital investment constrains change.
- Software is driving innovation.
- New technology is eliminating old jobs.
With transformative technologies like autonomous vehicles replacing a resistant status quo, aren’t we back again to Joseph Schumpeter’s creative destruction?