From the Model T to self-driving cars, transportation in the United States continues to change.
Early settlers in the United States navigated their cities on horseback and later traveled by horse and buggy. Then, in the late 1800s, European manufacturers created a modern automobile, but wealthy individuals were pretty much the only ones that could afford it. It was the same with the first successful American gasoline car that was built in 1893 because limited production of the vehicles kept prices high.
It wasn’t until Henry Ford built the practical and affordable Model T in 1908 that car ownership became a reality for average American workers. His development of mass production techniques in 1910, which were quickly adopted by other car manufacturers, made it even easier for Americans to purchase a car.
Since then, the transportation industry has seen the muscle car era of the ‘50s and ‘60s, which led into more practical vehicles dominating the market for several decades before another muscle car era of the ‘90s was introduced. Now, hybrid cars and electric vehicles are trending.
So what’s next in the evolution of driving?
Car Ownership: A Thing of the Past
A report released last month by ReThinkX predicts that by 2030, the majority of consumers will use the services of on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets. That would mean car ownership would be rare if not completely wiped out. ReThinkX is an independent think tank based in San Francisco that analyzes trends and forecasts technology-driven disruption and its impact on society. Report authors James Arbib and Tony Seba outlined the idea of transport-as-a-service, a disruption they say will be driven by economics.
According to the report, this disruption will be felt throughout the transportation and oil industries. The new model will provide faster rides and increased safety for prices that are up to 10 times cheaper than today’s model of individually owned cars.
Report authors estimate it will save the average American family more than $5,600 per year in transportation costs, keeping an additional $1 trillion per year in Americans’ pockets by 2030. This boost of disposable income will drive the economy through increased consumer spending in other markets.
Self-Driving Cars of the Future
Waymo, formerly the Google self-driving car project, is already well on its way to making this prediction a reality. The company’s mission is to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around, so, since 2009, the experts in Google’s labs have been developing software and sensor technology to improve transportation for people around the world.
The name Waymo stands for “a new way forward in mobility.” Its vehicles, which include a fleet of modified Lexus SUVs, Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans and custom-built reference vehicles nicknamed Firefly, use sensors and software to detect motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians as well as roadwork. These objects can be detected up to two football fields away in all directions. Worried about unexpected changes in the route? Don’t be. The vehicles can adjust to closed lanes, respond to complex clues at a railroad crossing and drive defensively to stay out of blind spots.
In October 2015, Waymo achieved the world’s first fully self-driving trip on public roads in Austin, Texas. The company continues to develop the Waymo technology through 1 billion miles of simulation testing each year. The cars are currently on the streets, with test drivers on board, in four U.S. cities: Mountain View, California; Austin, Texas; Kirkland, Washington, and, most recently, Metro Phoenix, Arizona.
When drivers across the country begin to adopt self-driving cars, distracted driving will be a thing of the past. Imagine being able to keep your eyes off the road and instead catch up on your emails during your workday commutes or entertain your children during road trips. In the near future, you may just be able to let the car handle the driving while you stay connected to the things that matter most.