Tom Swift and His Google Car: The Implications of Self-Driving Vehicles

Get ready for the driverless revolt – it’s going to change the way we do business and soon.

There was a series of Tom Swift youth adventure novels that were popular with generations of boys after the first story appeared more than 100 years ago – in another age of discovery.

In some stories the teen genius was pitted against intellectual hurdles and evil forces bent on preventing his latest life-changing invention from certain success.  Of course, the running theme behind all Tom Swift adventures was that advancements in science and technology were wholly beneficial to society.

tom swift

Whatever demand there could be for “Tom Swift and His Polar-Ray Dynasphere” was, of course, pure fiction.  There can be no doubt, however, there is a coming boon in transportation and its many benefits just now are being quantified.

The self-driving autonomous car will be revolutionary. Urban planners call it a “disruptive transport paradigm” like sailing ships, railroads, motorways and airplanes.

What is certain, the self-driving car will dramatically change how we use real estate.

future of automation

A study by international transportation consultant PTV Group, for example, imagines that fleets of “taxi-bots” – on-demand ride-share vehicles replacing cars and buses – mixed with public transport, such as light rail, will slash traffic in their model city by 90 percent and off-street parking by 80 percent.  Additionally, all on-street parking is eliminated in PTV’s simulation, freeing up an area equal to 210 football fields.

Although it surely will take a few decades for PTV’s fictional city to become reality, driverless prototypes are on streets and highways daily and are getting smarter by the mile.

Google, a leader in the self-driving revolution, says it will be ready to sell driverless cars by 2020. Traditional automakers racing to roll out autonomous technology and government regulators are getting on board.

self driving cars

In February, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declared last month that a computer can be included in the definition of “driver.”  In January the Obama administration proposed spending $3.9 billion over 10 years to smooth the way for driverless cars.  Aside from this vast sum of tax money sought merely to study and write rules for autonomous vehicles, it’s clear that the self-driving train has left the station.

The day isn’t far off when cities agree to sharply scale back land and structures needed for on-site parking for every sort of development – existing and new.  That alone will turn development and investment math upside down.

Imagine what it will be like.

Daily commute times to any major metropolis will be measured in minutes instead of hours.

autonomous vehicles

Productivity will soar as drivers are freed up to read, write, text or whatever as they ride to work and meetings.

Their driverless car will drop them at their office building and speed to their next fare or “self-park.”  Ownership will give way to access as the Zipcar, Uber and Lyft business model takes over.

Of course, there will be short-term pain for many, such as valets, truck drivers and insurance adjusters.

Estimates of job cuts range from 7 million to 10 million, a Faustian bargain never contemplated in a Tom Swift story.  But weighed against countless environmental and life-saving benefits starting with elimination of 32,000 annual U.S. traffic deaths, it’s an easy choice.

elon musk

Innovators, by nature, are optimistic.  As entrepreneur Elon Musk said:  “If you get up in the morning and think the future is going to be better, it’s going to be a bright day.  Otherwise, it’s not.”



  1. […] this affect the automobile industry?  Yes, it absolutely could.  According to Lee Associates Link , Google plans to sell driverless cars by 2020. And in the distant future, will we even own cars? […]

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