Daydreaming about the Future of Cars

Driverless cars are just around the corner, but are you ready to give up your driving gloves and summon a car from a computer in the cloud to go to work, shop or the beach?Now that Congress has solved traffic tie-ups at airports, it might begin thinking about the challenges that lie ahead with robotic vehicles that are like computers on wheels.

Current predictions place the first driverless car on the market as soon as 2018, which is a couple of elections and political lifetimes away for Members of Congress. Nevertheless, some futurists are already pondering what driving will be like when your car can do the driving for you.

BMW may have to come up with a new tagline when "The Ultimate Driving Machine" requires a remote control rather than leather gloves.

The image is less "Driving Miss Daisy" and more "Driving with Friends." In fact, some speculate that the entire car ownership model could change radically. Instead of having one, two or three vehicles of various sizes and shapes sitting in the garage, you could send a text message to summon an appropriate vehicle, pretty much like ordering a pizza. 

There could be one size for the family outing to the beach and another to haul away a kid's furniture and Playboy magazines when he heads off to college.

Of course, there is always the daily task of driving to work. But even that might be altered through greater ride-sharing, arranged by a computer in the clouds. Let's face it, this is cooler than a keyless car ever was.

While this speculation may have a Jetsons feel, it's worth noting Google claims it has logged 400,000 miles on the road with driverless cars, with only one reported accident. That is a better driving record than many Uncle Delberts.

The latest models of cars continue to add more telematics, connecting the vehicle to GPS systems, repair-monitoring software and online emergency assistance. Some cars have crash-detection systems that beep or actually stop the vehicle. 

One futurist speculated that car companies may not realize what the world they are helping to create will do to their business. He noted, Daimler-Benz famously undershot the ultimate market for its cars because it couldn't imagine people driving without a chauffeur. Maybe the company was ahead of its time. Now we are about to have electronic chauffeurs.

Initially, Congress and state legislatures will be asked to decide whether robotic cars are safe enough to allow on highways and local roads.

Later, they may be asked to lend financial support for new roads limited to robotic vehicles, paid for with tolls, but not burdened by human error and speed limits.

Policymakers may face an economic transition conundrum as the car as we know it morphs into a dizzying array of specialized vehicles with common or shared ownership. Depending on how the Big Three U.S. automakers respond to changing market demand, the U.S. government may find itself trying to keep them alive while trying to incubate newer, nimbler vehicle makers. Think of a transition much, much bigger than the advent of Tesla selling its electric vehicles in shopping malls instead of auto dealerships.

It's a brave new world where "motorists" can pick up groceries while at home in their pajamas studying for a master's degree online from Duke University.

Maybe the driverless car can lead to the Member-less town hall meeting. Congressman Whizbang, R-Iowa, can send his branded car to remote parts of his heartland district and conduct a brisk question-and-answer session through the car's interactive computer screen. The questions may not be any gentler, but the congressman, off screen, can fortify himself between questions with a gin and tonic and no one would be the wiser. 

Even better, his constituents could send their robotic vehicles to the town hall, the cars could talk to each other and nobody would have to leave home. The future of politics would never be the same.