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Self-driving car. Credit: Travis Wise.

In 2016, shop class became cool again

Are cars on the brink of the first real revolution since the Model T? After a century of autos that more or less followed the same design, big disruptions are on the horizon from automation, ride/carsharing, and electrification.

Calling these developments a revolution might be inflammatory, of course. After all, it will take decades to roll out the infrastructure for electric charging stations, and maybe millennials will still buy cars.

But something changed in 2016, and the auto industry is once again a place for leading-edge technology. To wit: "Artificial intelligence, LIDAR, and data security are now part of everyday car speak." 

Jan 4, 2017

The automation of cars will require a political response.

The self-driving revolution could pull the rug out from under the most common form of employment for American men without a college degree: driving.

The long-term outlook for the 8.7 million jobs in trucking is bleak following successful beta road tests of self-driving trucks from companies like Otto. Driving a truck is the most common employment in most American states.

Three things to note:

1. Automation could cause the cost of transportation to drop so low that the rich segregate themselves to well-off exurbs

2. If cars aren't already electric by then, it could also cause emissions to spike.  

3. Self-driving taxis might be cheap, but do we really want them to replace public transit (which retains a public obligation to serve everyone equally)?

Jan 4, 2017

Ninety percent of all car accidents are caused by human error. Red-light-running Ubers aside, this video shows how an autonomous fleet could cut that down massively.

Another illustration: Tesla's collision-avoidance AI in action. Note how it seems to see two cars ahead. Impossible for the eyes, but the Tesla's radar bounces rays under the car in front of it for better foresight.

Cars are an unspoken tragedy

As social theorist Ivan Illich noted in his many jeremiads against the automobile, technologies as pervasive as the car can begin to bend the rest of the world, inverting the priorities of planners to favor the needs of cars over those of people. And it's not just that we're addicted to oil—though transportation recently passed energy as the number one source of carbon emissions in the United States, and the sector is responsible for 15 percent of emissions worldwide.

Also tragic, though perhaps less spoken of, are the deaths accepted as the price of human mobility. More people are killed by car accidents every year than by AIDS and murder combined, and they cost the United States an astonishing $1 trillion a year, more than 5% of GDP. 

Jan 4, 2017
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