As our society draws closer and closer to a world with autonomous vehicles there is always a bit of uncertainty as to what the future will hold. What changes will be made to the roads of our world? How will these vehicles function? etc. But there is one question that perhaps isn’t receiving the amount of attention it should be: who will be driving these cars? Certainly we can expect that car manufacturers will not be standing on street corners handing out keys to their newest and fanciest autonomous cars with no concern for profits or the like. So we must now ask ourselves this: will the people who absolutely need this technology be the ones to get it? Before we go on please take a a few minutes and watch the video below to understand just what I mean when I say that.
As we see in the video these cars can undoubtedly have an amazing effect on the lives of people from all walks of life. From erasing the gap of mobility and ease of travel between drivers today and those who are disabled, to significantly reducing the amount of crashes and accidents as we’ve covered previously it is clear that automated vehicles will have an immeasurable impact on the quality of life of everybody in the United States and beyond. Knowing that, it would seem only logical that the government or car manufacturers at the very least take steps to ensure this technology gets in the hands of everyone – one safer driver means a whole safer road in general after all. But yet this is the area of automated vehicles that gets a little complicated because as we all know, technology is expensive – even technology that has been around already for years (looking at you, new Macbook Pro). So what then do we do? Do we have an obligation as a society to ensure that everyone who needs an automated vehicle gets one? And if so how do we finance such an endeavor?
Looking just at the data, in 2014 the average American spent around $30,000 on a new car. For reference, the Toyota Prius in the video above starts at a price of $20,806 and while on the surface it would seem that the average American would be able to afford this vehicle this is before any of the new automation technology is taken into account. Looking at the technology we’ll start with the addition of Velodyne LIDAR system which is the main operating system for the vehicle; add to that the visual and radar sensors for the vehicle and the cost for that alone comes to about $10,000. Moving on from that there is also the GPS array which is needed to keep the automated vehicles running that clocks in at a cool $200,000. So just looking at this from an extremely shallow perspective, the Toyota Prius that was featured in the above video costs nearly $320,000; more expensive than a Ferrari 599. It should go without saying that as of right now this does not bode well for the future of affordable self-driving cars as with the high costs of the new technologies your average American will not be able to afford one of these vehicles.
However, all is not lost as with advancing technology also comes cheaper alternatives to the technology in an attempt to stay competitive. Today, instead of Toyota rolling out a new fully automated Prius and adding nearly $300,000 to the price tag they are instead opting to add only around $7,000-$10,000 to price tag in exchange for having the new Prius instead be a semi-autonomous vehicle. With these minor adjustments and technology prices decreasing eventually over time it is predicted that by 2035 automating a vehicle will only increase the price of the car by $3,000. Currently and perhaps unsurprisingly it appears that automotive companies have a bit of an advantage with rolling out these cars quickly as industry giant Google continues to hold that they still are operating under the model that their fully automated vehicles will not available for sale until the five to ten years. Looking at the landscape of autonomous vehicles today it is not an unreasonable expectation that most of the country will have the opportunity to buy a fully autonomous vehicle soon. However we must be mindful that having the opportunity and being able to are two very different things, and that even as prices drop in some areas there will still be people left behind as a result of lacking the money to advance into the automated age with everyone else. Today I leave you with a video posted below; a recent publicity stunt from Budweiser involving an automated beer truck driving around on a highway – let it serve to remind us that for as amazing and cool as this technology is lets not break out the beer and celebrate before the people who really need it, the Steve Mahan’s of the world, get it.