Fully autonomous vehicles – or rather, the technologies for them – are almost here. But how will driverless cars impact real estate when they arrive on the streets?
Imagine a world where robotic cars whisk you from one place to the next. While in transit, you can work, or, depending on the car's features, catch up on your sleep. It's safe thanks to intelligent control software, lightning fast reactions, tireless attentiveness, better all-round visibility, and strict adherence to traffic laws, and it comes without the stress and wasted time of battling city traffic.
Forecasts tell us that perceived travel times would shrink to virtually zero, and as a result, motorists would be willing to drive more frequently and cover longer distances. Car movements would increase significantly too, as unoccupied vehicles roam around picking up passengers or performing other activities. Large numbers of current nonvehicle owners – the elderly, disabled, children, etc. – would likely adopt driverless cars if given the choice. It may all sound utopic now, but it could become our everyday reality.
Still bumps on the road
With near weekly newsbytes about autonomous cars, the automotive industry implies that these vehicles will start appearing in showrooms in only a few years’ time. However, driverless cars are a long way from becoming widespread – too many hurdles still lie ahead. The ethics of programming algorithms to resolve life-or-death questions, for example, is particularly difficult. People are wary of accepting actions taken by autonomous technology that may result in injury or death, even if autonomous technology has a better track record statistically than human drivers.
In addition, lawmakers have to establish the legal basis for the use of driverless cars. Germany, for example, passed a bill in April 2016 that puts the ultimate responsibility for accidents on the human sitting in the driver’s seat. As a result, drivers have no choice but to constantly monitor the system, largely eliminating the touted advantages of fully autonomous vehicles.
Technical reliability has been elusive too. None of the current assistance systems work flawlessly. Road sign recognition – for example, the technology that shows drivers the maximum legal speed – regularly ceases to work when signs are dirty. Reading cameras are also particularly prone to failing due to rain, snow, ice or dirt, or when the sun is low – the kind of changing weather conditions you can often find on mountain roads.