Food delivery, work from home, air travel, healthcare — discover how autonomous vehicles will impact these areas and 29 others.
Once upon a time, industry experts predicted that driverless or autonomous vehicles (AVs) would be everywhere by 2021. While these vehicles have yet to become a common feature on the road, it’s likely that the tech will go mainstream at some point over the next 2 decades, and preparations to face this shift have already begun.
Already, 40+ major corporates including Google, Apple, and Mercedes Benz are hard at work building self-driving vehicles. Clearly, tech and auto companies stand to gain, but many other industries could face serious upheavals unless they are able to adapt to the many changes self-driving cars will bring to the market.
Below, we dive into 33 industries, from the obvious (professional driving & trucking) to the more surprising (fitness?), that will be shaken up by the advent of AVs.
Work from home — chances are you’ve heard of it. While there was discussion around distributed workforces in the pre-Covid era, the practice was largely viewed as experimental, with few organizations embracing it. Pandemic-related lockdown restrictions accelerated this trend, making it a reality by necessity, forcing many to reimagine how and where work should take place.
People tend to use coworking spaces when they don’t have a central office and their home space is not conducive to their work needs. So while time saved driving could be used for a number of tasks, it has the potential to be used productively by workers who want to leave home but also want to avoid a trip to an office space with other people and distractions aplenty. Given that AV features and functionalities — such as screen tech and internet connectivity — are advancing at a rapid rate, they could be equipped to serve as mobile offices, creating an entirely new, ultra-flexible workspace for the everyday worker.
The hotel industry could look very different in the future. Major hotel chains, like Marriott, have already introduced home-sharing platforms in an attempt to adapt to the rise of lodging alternatives like Airbnb. The proliferation of driverless cars could cut into another big portion of hotels’ customer bases: those who opt for a single-night stay while driving from one place to another.
In fact, Aprilli Design Studio has already developed a conceptual design for a self-driving mobile hotel that could accommodate up to 5 guests. The studio’s founder, Steve Lee, states that this crossover of artificial intelligence and big data with driverless vehicles has the potential to reshape the hospitality industry. Aprilli hopes to release these cars before 2030.
Cross-continental car trips don’t appear to be on the horizon anytime soon, but domestic and short-haul flights could face a significant threat from self-driving cars — especially as post-Covid flight aversion lingers. In fact, it will take until at least 2023 for air travel to return to pre-pandemic levels, according to McKinsey.
Once autonomous vehicles make car travel more convenient, many people might choose to take an on-demand car ride for shorter trips instead of going through the many hassles of air travel. A study in the International Journal of Aviation, Aeronautics, and Aerospace found that travelers were most likely to replace flying with autonomous driving for mid-range driving trips (7 to 11 hours). In these cases, the number of those who chose flying declined by nearly 30% when given the option of an AV.
Despite some challenges, many believe driverless cars will make automobile transportation a whole lot safer, significantly reducing the number of auto accidents in the long run. While this might save insurers money on payouts in the near future, demand for traditional insurance could ultimately decrease as the risk of a car crash drops. In fact, insurance premiums could drop by $25B by 2035 as a result of AVs, according to Accenture.
In anticipation of this shift, some insurers will look to expand their existing offerings by adding new product lines geared specifically toward AVs, addressing issues like cybersecurity, sensor and algorithm liability, and infrastructure. These new policies could help insurers capture revenue to offset initial losses. Major players — like Progressive and Travelers — have already rolled out products in areas like cybersecurity, but these largely target today’s business models. Expect to see these offerings evolve to take passenger vehicles into account as AV tech becomes more mainstream.
Fewer accidents will mean fewer trips to the body shop. Additionally, mechanics’ traditional expertise might become less valuable as cars become more connected and software-dependent.
For example, Zubie offers real-time diagnostics to owners of connected cars, enabling them to understand what’s wrong with their engines before they bring them in for inspection. This information could provide AVs with actionable insights into the repairs they need, allowing them to calibrate preventive maintenance as well as drive themselves to the mechanic when necessary, with a specific service order at the ready.
As technology evolves, smart driving software — like brake assists — will put less wear and tear on cars, likely necessitating fewer replacements. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean autonomous vehicles will be cheaper to maintain. Costs may simply shift to where value lies in an AV: computational power. In fact, Deloitte reports that electronics — such as microprocessors and chips — already account for 40% of a vehicle’s total cost, and this will only increase with full autonomy.
This means that traditional parts manufacturers will likely face competition from more technology-focused companies like Nvidia, which has been tapped by top automakers to help build the computers needed for cars to make their own driving decisions.
PROFESSIONAL DRIVING & DELIVERY SERVICES
Driverless automobiles could reduce demand for human truckers, taxi drivers, waste management drivers, delivery people, and other professional drivers. Specifically, telematics technology — the use of telecommunications to facilitate communication and gather data from vehicles — could enable driving-based service companies to pivot into managing self-driving fleets that run their routes and complete set tasks with optimal efficiency.
While these systems have the potential to reduce fleet management costs by up to 40%, benefits are not a foregone conclusion — the choice of operational model is critical and must be done strategically.
Autonomous platooning, for example, involves a series of vehicles following each other closely and requires that they precisely match braking and acceleration. This works well in low-density traffic situations but could be complicated in areas with heavy traffic flows or constant junctures, like railroad crossings, that interfere with the chain of succession.
The transfer hub model, where trucks drive autonomously on the highway and are picked up by drivers when they exit, is better suited to areas with cross-traffic and intersections but requires more human involvement. Other models, like tele-operations and dock-to-dock, capture value in different ways as well.
Daimler has found early success with platooning, reporting that it was able to lower fuel usage by 10% due to decreased air resistance. Daimler, like many automotive companies, has chosen to aim for “highly” as opposed to “fully” automated driving.
It will be very interesting to see how self-driving cars change the game for ride-hailing companies. Though companies like Uber and Lyft have been able to provide significant competition for traditional taxi companies, it’s unclear whether they will be better at producing cars than major auto manufacturers like BMW, or even tech companies like Google that have spent more time working on self-driving vehicles. In fact, both Uber and Lyft recently sold off their self-driving car units in order to focus their efforts on their core businesses — and it is unclear if they will pivot back to pursuing this tech.
While ride-hailing companies would not have to pay drivers anymore in a driverless future, they may have to shoulder the costs of owning cars — a burden presently held by third-party contractors. Nonetheless, companies like Uber will maintain a major structural advantage over rivals that don’t have vast troves of navigation and ride data to fuel automation. Plus, it’s entirely possible that ride-hailing companies could partner with an AV developer for their fleets, largely maintaining their present function of serving as the intermediary between those who need a ride and those who have vehicles to go around.
Why wait around for a bus that will drop you off 5 blocks from your destination when a driverless car can show up at your doorstep and take you exactly where you want to go? Without drivers, on-demand ride-hailing could be even cheaper for consumers than current rates, especially if fleets allow for on-demand carpooling.
These fleets will be able to service out-of-the-way locations that are presently ignored by fixed-route public transportation, which will allow more people to move to the suburbs without sacrificing the mobility often associated with urban living.
Early signs of metropolitan population preference for this mode of transportation have started to make themselves known. For example, a study conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin Madison found that, if available, 31% of people would opt to take an AV — nearly double the number of respondents who would choose to take the bus in this scenario.
One much-touted benefit of driverless cars is increased safety. In theory, a connected driverless car network would be largely free from accidental collisions. Given that 2M hospital visits and 240,000 extended hospital visits are the result of traffic accidents, AVs have the potential to significantly reduce the number of emergency room visits. This would contribute to annual cost savings of $180B for consumers — while equating to over $20B in losses for the medical industry, according to McKinsey.
In addition to fewer accidents, autonomous fleets could help boost the quality and speed of medication delivery, fulfilling the expectations of rapid and seamless delivery that consumers now hold in our e-commerce-driven world. As highlighted in our Pharmaceutical Last-Mile Delivery ESP Vendor Assessment, partnerships between pharmaceutical and AV tech cos have already been formed in an attempt to transform delivery in this way — notably, CVS Health is testing autonomous prescription delivery with Nuro.
Partnerships like this could prove to be a game-changer when it comes to medication adherence, as the increased efficiency and dependability associated with autonomous delivery could make it far easier for patients to receive prescriptions (and refills) exactly when needed.
RESCUE & EMERGENCY SERVICES
Along those lines, autonomous vehicles could even be used to monitor passengers’ health and direct them to health facilities in emergencies — for example, acting as a self-driving ambulance for an individual who has a heart attack on the road.
Emergency services could employ the use of driverless vehicles like autonomous ambulances or fire trucks to deliver services without needing a driver. Connected vehicles could use real-time traffic information to determine ideal routes more efficiently than a human driver. They could also connect with healthcare providers to automatically send patient data (such as vital signs) to doctors en route, freeing up EMTs to focus on the patient.
Driverless vehicles may also be able to reach people in need in dangerous or remote areas, without putting rescue workers at risk — for example, bringing supplies to or extracting people from natural disaster areas, accident sites, evacuation areas, or combat zones. In the future, AVs could help manage the more frequent and intense natural disasters resulting from climate change, according to Bryan Koon, former director at the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
ENERGY & PETROLEUM
The advent of driverless cars is likely to lead to depressed demand for gasoline. It’s assumed that the majority of self-driving vehicles in the future will run on electricity and not gas. In fact, we’re already seeing this: Tesla’s electric Model S, for instance, currently incorporates autonomous elements like its Autopilot feature.
The impact of driverless cars on energy consumption is still highly uncertain — with recent literature reporting anywhere from a 60% decrease to a 200% increase in consumption. Those expecting an increase in consumption say that the ability to multitask while driving will encourage us to take more trips, as there will be less of a perceived time cost.
Nevertheless, a great deal of the infrastructure for self-driving electric cars (e.g., networks of charging stations) is still nascent. This transition period will give oil and gas companies an opportunity to figure out how they fit into the new energy ecosystem.
Convenience stores have long been a go-to location for off-hours travelers looking to pick up snacks, drinks, and other oddities while most everything else is closed. The challenge that AVs pose to this dependable institution is two-fold — decreased foot traffic and increased competition.
Convenience stores have traditionally been attached to gas stations, pulling in drivers while they wait for the pump to finish. Roads full of driverless cars with the capability of driving to the gas station to fill themselves would reduce the number of humans making the visit. And given that, without drivers, cars have no need for beef jerky or an ice-cold energy drink, convenience stores could see the number of purchases drop significantly as a result.
Increased competition comes in the form of autonomous vehicles equipped for delivery. The value that the convenience store’s 24-hour operating schedule holds could be significantly reduced with autonomous vehicles on the road capable of delivering that ice-cold energy drink right to a consumer’s doorstep. China-based Moby Mart, for instance, is developing a mobile retail space that drives to consumers, who can scan items off the shelf and pay using a mobile app — and prototypes of this vehicle are already on the streets of Shanghai. The question remains if brick-and-mortar convenience stores will be able to survive in a world where twilight excursions are no longer necessary.
70% percent of McDonald’s sales reportedly come through the drive-thru window — and this figure jumped to 90% in Q2’20 with the onset of Covid-19. Such dependence on drive-thru revenue could make fast food companies like McDonald’s extremely vulnerable in a driverless world.
In self-driving cars, people would simply input the coordinates of their destination, reducing the chance of detour for an impulse food purchase. Food stops will be determined more by choice, mood, and quality — less by convenience. Additionally, fast food restaurants located near highway exits could take a hit, as people might stop for gas less frequently when they are being transported by a driverless fleet whose cars refuel while they are not being used.
FOOD PREPARATION & DELIVERY
In addition to disrupting the status quo for drive-thru fast food restaurants, driverless tech could also change food delivery. Automated vehicles can offer restaurants a way to efficiently deliver their food without needing to hire human drivers. Down the road, delivery vehicles could even be outfitted to cook food en route to customers, meaning that food arrives fresh and warm and delivery operations are made more efficient. A vehicle would be able to make several delivery stops rather than needing to return to a main restaurant location between each delivery.
Robotics company Nuro has already developed a driverless delivery vehicle — called the R2 — that is purpose-built to carry fresh food. It has the capacity to maintain proper temperature through adjustable heated and chilled compartments, and it is also fully autonomous, meaning that there is dedicated space for a driver, freeing up space for more deliveries. Some of the features that make this driverless journey possible are 360° cameras, lidar, short- and long-range radar, and ultrasonic sensors.
MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT
The average American drives nearly 1 hour each day, and without having to keep their eyes on the road, they could theoretically have more time to consume news and entertainment. For advertisers, it could create a huge opportunity to present riders with location-based ads for nearby goods and services.
Recent advancements in vehicle screen and VR technology are already changing entertainment and media consumption. In 2019, Intel and Warner Bros. demoed a new concept car capable of providing a fully immersive experience to occupants. Using large-screen TVs, projectors, mobile devices, sensory and haptic feedback, and immersive audio and lights, the car took passengers on a virtual ride through Batman’s Gotham City.
SURVEYING & MAPPING
Driverless cars cannot rely on traditional maps outfitted for GPS navigation purposes. AV software requires AI-enabled HD maps that integrate and analyze data from a variety of sources — car sensors, satellites, lidar, onboard cameras, and more — in order to properly position the car in a 3D space. Only with maps of this caliber will an AV be able to properly react to obstacles and take real-time traffic and weather conditions into account.
In order to remain relevant with the rise of AVs, map developers and providers will need to acquire new technology and apply it to production. This shift is certainly not without its challenges. For one, generating these maps requires massive amounts of data, the computational power to process all of it, and the bandwidth to stream the final high-resolution rendering. Cloud-based navigation platforms and 5G tech could prove to be the answers in this case. However, companies will face additional complications related to obtaining geospatial data — typically guarded by governments and private entities in proprietary formats — as well as balancing the increased cost of HD mapmaking with affordability for consumers.
DATA & INTERNET INFRASTRUCTURE
The need for HD maps is just one of many AV-related advancements that will necessitate the rise of new data and internet infrastructure solutions. As driverless cars take to the roads, they will generate huge amounts of data on top of that required for positioning and navigation — in fact, it’s estimated that an autonomous car generates anywhere from 5 to 20 terabytes of data per day, per Quantum product marketing director for archive products Mark Pastor. The need to store and process copious amounts of data could drive demand for more data centers, lower-latency wireless connections, and more robust fiber networks.
Notably, managing V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) communication presents new concerns around wireless data exchange. Internet companies have gone back and forth regarding different options available for accommodating AVs on their existing networks. While some are leaning toward tapping into the 5.9GHz spectrum, others are pushing for non-DRSC LTE-Vehicular (LTE-V) communication. Regardless of what setup is employed, internet service providers will likely need to adapt their offerings as the market for driverless vehicles emerges.
With new forms of wireless communication come new security and data protection concerns for technology companies to address.
Already, hackers have proven the ability to remotely hijack regular vehicle systems. The same methods could be applied to hack an AV — and the prospect of a remote takeover could be even more problematic given that there may not even be a human present with the capacity to intervene.
Startups are innovating to keep AV cybersecurity risks to a minimum: Karamba Security, for one, has built a solution that protects a car’s externally connected components, such as those connected to Bluetooth or WiFi, by identifying and blocking attack attempts.
URBAN PLANNING & REAL ESTATE
Most modern cities have been built to cater to the needs of cars. Subways and elevated trains can sidestep the restrictions of surface roads, but highways, bridges, and tunnels are designed with human drivers and cargo vehicles in mind.
Autonomous cars will likely change how these roads are used. A linked network might be able to seamlessly let vehicles in and out of traffic in an orderly flow. Traffic signals will be redesigned and possibly eliminated in many situations, as autonomous cars will be able to take turns at higher speeds, move around each other more smoothly, and potentially move through intersections without ever having to stop.
The future presence of AVs needs to be taken into consideration in planning right now. City planners laying out the cities of the future and architects looking to design buildings to stand for the next century (or more) need to reimagine their approach in the present at risk of their hard work becoming redundant down the road.
Reimagining urban space not only means reconsidering the structures that should (or shouldn’t) be built, but also the value that the land upon which they stand holds. The Covid-driven exodus of residents to the suburbs provided a glance at how residential property value could shift from properties in urban centers to those in suburban areas.
The addition of a faster and easier commute enabled by AVs is likely to bolster this trend, as fewer individuals will feel that it is necessary to reside in the city where they work. Given that real estate values are largely predicated on population density and growth, this urban decentralization would have a similar effect on the commercial side of things as well.
PARKING GARAGES & LOTS
Given that driverless cars can park in and exit lots on their own to pick up passengers, space isn’t needed in parking lots on either side for a driver or passengers to get out, meaning that cars can be packed much tighter. Research conducted by the University of Toronto has shown that, in a square parking lot, it’s possible to make room for up to 87% more vehicles when AVs park themselves.
In addition to helping maximize the utility of existing space, AVs may reduce the need for long-term parking altogether, as they have the capacity to move continuously between the various places they are needed.
Given that parking spaces currently take up a large portion of many American cities — in New York City, there are around 3M parking spaces for curbside parking alone — a driverless world would come with many valuable opportunities for this space to be repurposed.
With malls being turned into hospitals and retail spaces into ghost kitchens, a large-scale reimagination of physical space is already underway. There is certainly room for this innovation to spill over into parking and transform the ubiquitous parking space.
TOLL ROAD OPERATION
Autonomous vehicles have been proven to make driving a more compelling mode of transportation. The ease of use and opportunity to devote energy to other tasks encourages more trips and more miles traveled. Widespread AV use would be good news for conventional toll roads, like major thoroughfares, as those routes are largely unavoidable and could see increased revenue from higher frequency and duration of travel.
On the other hand, managed lanes — such as high-occupancy or express toll lanes, which are alternative routes designed to capture revenue from heavy traffic patterns — could potentially experience massive losses. In addition to making driving less of a cognitive burden for drivers, AV use has been predicted to reduce congestion, making managed lanes, which charge more at peak hours or serve as a traffic escape for drivers willing to pay a fee, largely redundant. And given that these congestion relievers are usually optional routes, it would be quite easy for AVs to simply reroute and avoid them.
As drones and autonomous cars begin taking over delivery, the location of brick-and-mortar stores may begin to matter less as humans avoid the drive. For example, users could order from their favorite grocery stores regardless of proximity and have autonomous vehicles do the fetching for them in a single trip — and if these vehicles are equipped with the latest in cold-chain technology, the distance from shop to home wouldn’t be a complicating factor. Additionally, stores may see less incidental walk-in traffic from people just noticing them while driving or walking by.
On the other hand, needing to devote less energy to the act of driving may actually compel people to get in the car and drive longer distances to visit farther-flung shops and restaurants that they wouldn’t have before. According to Institute of Transportation Studies researcher Scott Hardman, autopilot “lowers the cognitive burden of driving,” which could make greater distances seem less daunting.
With fleets of autonomous vehicles to hop in and out of, whether made available by car companies or through ride-hailing companies, more and more riders may abandon traditional car ownership models.
For instance, car ownership may shift toward a subscription model, wherein the rental company provides a vehicle and all maintenance for one fee so that drivers can gain access to unique features without having to commit to buying a car. In fact, this move is already underway — Elon Musk announced that Tesla would be releasing a Full Self-Driving subscription in 2021 for drivers looking to adopt a pay-as-you-go model.
OIL CHANGE SHOPS & CAR WASHES
As vehicle ownership and maintenance moves to fleet owners and away from individuals as a result of autonomous cars, the responsibility for maintaining those vehicles will switch over to the fleets as well. Oil change spots, car washes, and even rental outlets could all vanish as fleet owners focus on their own facilities or other solutions to handle these needs.
In addition to competition with fleet-owned facilities, traditional car washes face the added challenge of having equipment ill-suited to servicing the AVs that do decide to stop for a wash. Presently, most driverless cars require a hand wash to avoid blinding or damaging the sensors integral to their functionality.
INTERIOR DESIGN & MANUFACTURING
What will people do inside their cars, once they no longer have to drive them? Interior design will likely have to shift to accommodate how people choose to spend their time, as design need not be centered around the steering wheel, increasing consumer appetite for more space. Volkswagen executive director of design Klaus Bischoff notes that, in comparison to traditional design, “the autonomous interior…is based on the passenger’s needs. The autonomous interior gives passengers time to do what they want while getting where they want to go.”
Also, such considerations don’t only relate to human travel — what about animal travelers or packages out for delivery? As companies that specialize in vehicle-interior design refine visions for how and why travel will take place in AVs, companies that manufacture vehicle interiors will also change what they produce.
Smoother traffic operations and fewer humans behind the wheel could decrease the need for officers to take on traffic direction duties. Additionally, cities could see their revenues from traffic tickets and other infractions drop sharply: Speeding tickets alone account for $6.2B in fines and forfeitures per year in the US, and driverless vehicles aren’t likely to break the speed limit. It’s unclear who would even get a ticket if an autonomous vehicle breaks a traffic law: the car owner? The software maker?
On a practical level, there’s also the question of how police will interact with autonomous vehicles. Will every officer have the ability to forcibly disable a vehicle? Will they even need to? With a connected network, every vehicle would theoretically know of accidents, obstructions, and police/fire/rescue activities along their routes and be rerouted accordingly. This type of on-the-fly route changing could help reduce congestion, cutting down response times for emergency personnel and saving lives.
Automated cars could turn commuting time into gym time, as cars could be equipped with fitness equipment for riders to use in transit. “A self-driving vehicle could definitely make a great gym, because it’s rigid all over,” Marko Vujicic, an engineer and partner at NPD Team, which consults with exercise equipment manufacturers, told the New York Times. “That rigidity theoretically allows you to use every plane of the car against which to apply resistance. Your car becomes a full weight room on wheels.”
While it may take some time for driverless vehicles to be gym equipment-ready, trainers have already started to formulate workouts specifically designed to be completed in the front seat of a driverless vehicle.
ELDER CARE & CHILDCARE
Autonomous vehicles could increase mobility for the elderly, allowing them to remain socially engaged and active without needing to drive. The need for human aides could be reduced, and it might be easier for relatively healthy elderly people to stay in their homes (as opposed to living in a care center) without relying on a caretaker to drive them places.
This reality may not be as far off as you think. Eric Tanenblatt, a public policy leader at Dentons, says, “It wouldn’t surprise me if in the next 10 years, we see most major metropolitan areas having fleets of autonomous vehicles traveling around their city where people call them up on an app. It would be a game-changer for the elderly for doctors’ appointments and other things like grocery delivery.”
Driverless cars could also impact childcare, automating pick-up and drop-off for schools and daycares and providing a new means of transportation for children and teens too young to drive.
Estimates suggest autonomous vehicles will alter the work of more than 570,000 childcare workers and 1.4M personal care aides.
65% of new homes that completed construction in 2019 had a two-car garage, while only 7% of new homes had no garage or carport. With automation promising to slash the need to personally own a car, remodeling unneeded garage space could soon become a thriving industry.
Homeowners could increasingly repurpose garage space to extend their houses, boost their property value, or even create space for renters or travelers using platforms like Airbnb. This will also create opportunities for designers and contractors focused on refurbishing garage space.
Driverless cars could alter the frequency and impact of car accidents — and the litigation that follows them. Currently, 94-96% of crashes can be tied back to human error: automation could drastically reduce these accidents, which could lead to a decline in related lawsuits. And when accidents do occur, connected cars could provide more accurate data about accidents and who’s at fault for a crash.
Driverless cars could also potentially shift liability from individual drivers to the companies that manufacture and own fleets of autonomous vehicles, which could decrease the demand for private practice lawyers and force car companies to expand their corporate legal departments.
In May 2018, US undersecretary of defense for research and engineering Michael Griffin told lawmakers that the Pentagon will benefit from driverless vehicles before the public does.
According to Griffin, more than half of casualties in combat zones involve military personnel delivering fuel, food, and other supplies. Military adoption of self-driving vehicles could remove personnel from danger, reducing injuries and saving lives.
Many armed forces are already experimenting with driverless tanks and pilotless aircraft.
GLOBAL NONPROFIT WORK
For nonprofit and volunteer organizations working in remote or under-resourced areas, driverless cars could provide a new means of transporting supplies to people in need, without requiring a driver (or the food, shelter, and other resources a driver would need). In addition to bringing supplies like food, clothing, or medical equipment, driverless cars could also be equipped with satellite and cell services, bringing connectivity to remote regions or to places where natural disasters, political upheaval, or other crises have disrupted infrastructure.
Making supplies and connectivity more readily available in remote areas could increase the efficacy of nonprofit organizations. This could allow them to reallocate human volunteer hours away from transportation tasks and toward other impactful work.
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