Conversation with Brad Templeton on the future of cars: “How to go from having no free time to having one hour everyday”.
TEMPLETON: We kill 1.2 million people every year around the world in car crashes. It’s like a major disease. The most dangerous city in all of Europe, by the way, is Roma. This is a terrible death toll, and just to stop that would be more than enough.
CRISTINA: Brad, how is traveling going to change?
T: Well, what’s exciting is the marriage of computer and car that’s coming. And so computers will be driving cars and becoming the most important part of cars. And that’s going to save a lot of lives. It’s going to change how much energy we use for transportation. And it’s going to change our cities. Now, unfortunately, the last country in Europe to probably get this is probably Italy, because people drive a little crazy there and they drive fast. And that’s a little bit more challenging. But in most of the world, we’re going to see this shift happen, starting in this decade and then really take over in the next decade. Everybody enjoys driving, but I know of very few people who enjoy commuting or enjoy being stuck in stop-and-go traffic. If you let their system drive, then that person is suddenly free. It’s going from zero free time to an extra hour a day because the average person spends almost an hour a day in their car. And you’ve probably seen the popularity of new online-summoned taxi services like Uber, which is spreading around the world, and showing that, in particular, the new generation is much less concerned with car ownership and is ready to try something new. It turns out we also spend a quarter of our energy on cars. A quarter of our greenhouse gases from the United States come from cars. So changing how people move, and making them move in smaller, lighter vehicles when they’re traveling alone, which is what they do most of the time, could have pretty dramatic effects.
C: And how are we going to fly?
T: You don’t think we’d like to elevate ourselves off the ground? We all have had dreams of flying cars, haven’t we? That requires a little bit of fancy physics and engineering that we don’t yet have. This just requires software; now, I say “just.” It’s not a simple problem. But the one reason you probably won’t have that helicopter is your neighbor’s not going to let you take off from your backyard with all the noise that it makes. Maybe once you get away from that, you might get something to fly. And delivery of very lightweight items will probably go through the air.
C: But the roads will need to be modified, right?
T: No, that’s the neat trick about computers and software, which is you make things virtual rather than physical. So instead of having all these rules and having all these lanes and so on, eventually I think that’ll all just be a soft layer that sits on top. Keep the infrastructure simple actually and put the smarts in the cars; don’t put the smarts in the city.
C: Do you think legislation will change fast enough?
T: A while ago, I would have said maybe not, because people would be afraid of it, but we’re actually seeing the reverse. We’re seeing competition from jurisdictions all hoping to be the seat of a new automobile industry. Insurance companies, on the other hand, they have a concern, because if accidents go down, their revenues go down. But they’re not ghouls; they’re not hoping that more people can die so that they can have a business. They’ll find other things to insure. For the United States, I’ve calculated that Americans drive about 50 billion hours every year. And they work about 240 billion hours. So that’s a pretty large fraction of the total productive time of that country. And I expect the number is pretty similar for most western European countries.