Have you ever driven to France?

When I was a kid, every summer we would drive to the South of France.

I guess because there were four of us, it made more sense to drive than to fly. And also because my parents liked to bring back wine. A lot of wine.

Actually, thinking about it, the wine was the entire reason for driving and not flying.

This was around 20 years ago. Today, you probably wouldn’t drive to the South of France for a holiday, no matter how much you liked wine. Flights are just so much cheaper and so much more convenient.

But what if you could just get in your car at 5pm, watch a few episodes of Breaking Bad, go to sleep and wake up at 10am in the South of France?

No driving to the airport. No lugging cases around. No limits on your baggage (as long as it fits in your boot). No airport transfer after you land.

Just get in your car, watch some Netflix, go to sleep and wake up at your villa in the South of France.

This is the reality that self-driving cars will bring. And, if there are two of you travelling, it would only cost you about £39 each. Maybe £60 with tolls.

Remember, once you get over the initial outlay, electric cars are very cheap to drive. We’re talking 3.3p per mile in electricity, plus £50 for the ferry.

For many people, this might not be an appealing idea. Why would you want to sleep in your car, when you can just fly instead? I get that.

But for me, and I’d imagine quite a few others, the idea of being able to get in your car one day and wake up basically anywhere in Europe the next is fantastic.

And once you get there, you’re not stranded like when you fly. You can explore wherever you want because you have your own car. And for wine lovers, you could also bring back as much as you want.

If this option cost around the same or less than flying, I’d take it every time.

And the time when you will get to make this choice for yourself is fast approaching. The technology to make this happen is being tested right now.

Self-driving cars are in trials around the world

Google’s Waymo self-driving taxis are already taking passengers in the US. As you can see in its promo video from last week:

Nissan is starting self-driving taxi tests this month in Japan. From TechCrunch last month:

Nissan Motor and DeNA announced today that field tests of Easy Ride, the self-driving taxi service they developed together, will begin next month in Japan. This means that Nissan and DeNA now rank among Uber, Lyft, GM, Didi Chuxing and other companies pioneering self-driving taxi pilots, with the goal of launching commercially within the next few years.

And autonomous payments for refuelling, tolls, ferries, etc, are currently being tested by cities like Taipei and cryptos like IOTA.

The technology is here, and the regulations that will allow it to be used aren’t far behind. As I’ve written about before, the UK government wants self-driving cars on our roads from 2021.

But the “holiday” aspect is just one small piece of the puzzle. The real changes will happen in shipping of goods, and commuting for work.

Uber, which is continually hitting headlines for the wrong reasons, is running an autonomous trucking trial as I write this.

The idea is that human truckers move goods to and from warehouses and autonomous trucks take the load over the long distances.

It’s all explained in this short promo video:

Uber claims this will actually lead to more jobs in the short term. But obviously, in the long term, that won’t be the case.

It’s not all going to be plain sailing for self-driving

The main issue self-driving vehicles face isn’t one of technology, it’s one of perception.

You have probably seen the story by now of the self-driving Uber car killing a pedestrian.

The crash happened at around 10pm on Monday in Tempe, Arizona. At time of writing the official police reports aren’t out, just the news reports.

A robot killing someone is an extremely emotional subject. It doesn’t matter if the robot was “in the right” or not. It’s still a robot killing a person.

If a person kills a person in a car crash it will barely make local news. If a robot kills a person in a car crash it will make headlines all around the world.

And those headlines are very telling.

You have the plain, here’s what happened from Reuters:

Self-driving Uber car kills Arizona woman crossing street

Through to the more opinionated ones on each side of the self-driving debate.

Here was Vox’s:

A self-driving Uber car killed a pedestrian. Human drivers will kill 16 people today.

And Outside’s:

Autonomous Cars Aren’t Ready for Cyclists

This first pedestrian fatality will be a big test of self-driving cars’ future adaption. It could set in motion much tighter regulation that could set the technology back years.

Would that be a good or a bad thing? Well it depends on which side of the debate you are on.

You could argue that this death shows that regulation is clearly lacking, a la Outside. Or you could argue that self-driving cars are statistically much safer than human drivers and that’s why we need them sooner rather than later, a la Vox.

Now, which side do most of the general public fall on? Or rather, which side of the debate do the people who write the news fall on?

I guess that’s what we’ll find out this week.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

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Category: Technology

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