Fast food, real estate, military operations, even home improvement — many large industries will have to shift their strategies in the wake of driverless cars.
It’s all but a certainty that autonomous or driverless vehicles will be widely used in the United States at some point over the next two decades.
Already, over two dozen major corporates including Google, Apple, and Mercedes Benz are hard at work building their own self-driving vehicles. Tesla’s Model S includes an autopilot mode which gives it semi-autonomous capabilities.
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 autonomous vehicles.
Despite some challenges, many believe driverless cars will make automobile transportation a whole lot safer, and potentially reduce the number of auto accidents in the long run. While this might save insurers money on payouts in the near future, demand for insurance could ultimately decrease as the risk of a car crash drops. In anticipation of this shift, some insurers are rolling out usage-based insurance policies (UBIs), which charge consumers based on how many miles they drive and how safe their driving habits are.
2. Auto repairs
Fewer accidents might also mean fewer trips to the body shop. As a result, mechanics’ traditional expertise might become less valuable as cars become more connected and software-dependent. This information could give drivers more transparency into the repairs they need, and allow them to calibrate preventive maintenance and avoid more expensive repairs down the line. For instance, the startup Zubie offers real-time diagnostics to owners of connected cars, which allows them to understand what’s wrong with their engines before they bring them in for inspection.
3. Professional drivers and trucking
Driverless automobiles could reduce demand for truckers, taxi drivers, and other driving professionals. Telematics technology — the use of telecommunications to facilitate communication and gather data from vehicles — could enable taxi and trucking companies to pivot into managing self-driving fleets that would provide services and run their routes with optimal efficiency. Humans will still be needed to manage these systems. Already, driverless trucks are being used to move iron ore at mines in Australia, and the Canadian energy company Suncor Energy is working to automate its own trucks.
The hotel industry could look very different in the future. Already, the big chains have been searching for ways to appeal to younger travelers, who have increasingly sought out lodging alternatives like Airbnb when vacationing. The proliferation of driverless cars could cut into another big portion of hotels’ customer bases: those who opt for a single-night stay at a roadside motel while driving from one place to another. SVP of brand strategy at BMW Sven Schuwirth (previously at Audi) predicts that 20 years from now, many of these motel customers will instead choose to sleep in their driverless cars.
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. 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. As BMW’s Schuwirth explained, “Your car wakes you up at four o’clock in the morning, picks you up and drives you autonomously the entire way from Munich to Berlin. You can sleep, you can prepare for your meeting, you can call your friends and family, do whatever you want and you enter Berlin in a very relaxed mood.”
6. Auto parts
As technology evolves, smart driving software — like brake assists — will put less wear-and-tear on cars, likely necessitating fewer replacements. By 2030, PwC predicts that electronics will account for 50% of automobile manufacturing costs. Meanwhile, traditional parts manufacturers will likely face competition from more technology-focused companies like Nvidia, which has been tapped by several automakers to help build the computers needed for cars to make their own driving decisions.
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.
While ride-hailing companies might not have to pay drivers anymore in a driverless future, they likely would 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 pull from. Plus, it’s entirely possible that the hardware aspect of driverless cars will quickly become commoditized, since the cars will be less dependent on mechanical components than they are presently.
8. Public transportation
Why wait around for a bus that will drop you off five blocks from your destination when a driverless car can show up at your doorstep immediately and take you exactly where you want to go? Without drivers, on-demand ride-hailing could be even cheaper for consumers, especially if fleets allow for on-demand carpooling similar to uberPOOL.
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 all of the mobility often associated with urban living. Without drivers, Zipcar cofounder Robin Chase has predicted on-demand ride-hailing will will be cheap enough for consumers to replace the fixed-route public transportation that today leaves many areas under-serviced. She told The Transport Politic, “…buses, shuttles, minivans, school buses [will be] all gone.”
9. Parking garages and lots
The need for long-term parking might decrease considerably as driverless car fleets move continuously between the various places they are needed. According to McKinsey, these fleets could save 61 billion square feet of unnecessary parking space in the US alone. In some major American cities, parking spaces take up one-third of the land, and owners of these spaces could either reshape them in a way that creates value in a driverless world or sell their properties to someone who will.
10. Fast food
70% percent of McDonald’s sales reportedly come through the drive-thru window, potentially making the company and fast food companies like it extremely vulnerable in a driverless world. In self-driving cars, people might 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 may refuel while they are not being used.
11. 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 to order en route to customers, meaning that food arrives fresh and warm, and delivery operations are 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.
In January 2018, Pizza Hut unveiled a partnership with Toyota geared to developing delivery solutions like an autonomous car. A month later, competitor Domino’s announced that it was beginning a second round of tests for self-driving delivery vehicles developed in conjunction with Ford.
12. Energy and petroleum
Researchers from the University of Michigan concluded last year that driverless cars will lead us to consume more energy than we are currently, as the ease of use will encourage us to take more trips (electric vehicles will still tap the grid for power). However, the already interrelated shifts toward electric and autonomous vehicles like Tesla’s Model S do suggest that there could be a depressed demand for gasoline itself. A great deal of the infrastructure for self-driving electric cars is still nascent (e.g., networks of charging stations). This transition period will give oil and gas companies an opportunity to figure out how they fit into the new energy ecosystem.
13. Real estate
It’s not just parking garages — the ripple effects of self-driving cars will require the entire real estate industry to undergo a large-scale reimagination of how it allocates space. Bloomberg’s Noah Smith says faster and easier commutes will shift residential property value from properties in urban centers to those in surburban areas. In commercial real estate, spaces currently predicated on human drivers will be converted to other uses. For instance, PARTNER Engineering CEO Joe Derhake has suggested that there will no longer be a need for gas stations to be located on busy street corners to attract peoples’ attention or for industrial space to be located near ports to help truck drivers.
14. Media and entertainment
The average American drives 46 minutes each day, and without having to keep his eyes on the road, he could theoretically have more time to consume news and entertainment. Broadcasters could compete to provide video content that travelers would be able to consume without risking their safety. For advertisers, it might also create a huge opportunity to present riders with location-based ads for nearby goods and services.
As telecom O2’s head of research and development Mike Short previously told The Drum, “In the future, we will have more screens in cars. If you don’t have a driver, those screens are likely to be there to add to passenger information, passenger safety, and give you better real-time mapping. This in turn means that the screens might carry some adverts alongside that relevant information.”
Uber has already started disrupting restaurant deliveries with UberEats, but self-driving cars could forever change the fortunes of countless delivery people. When users can program their empty, driverless cars to fetch pizza, laundry, mail, groceries, and more, the need for dedicated delivery folks could decline sharply. When a customer’s empty car can just roll up to Domino’s and an employee can gently place a large meat-lovers and an order of crazy bread inside, there will be less need for delivery people driving from house to house.
16. Brick and Mortar Retail
As drones and autonomous cars begin taking over delivery, the location of brick-and-mortar stores may begin to matter less. Users could order from their favorite restaurants regardless of location and have autonomous vehicles do the fetching from farther afield; no more worrying about a shop’s delivery radius. Additionally, stores may also see less incidental, walk-in traffic from people just noticing them while driving or walking by. Convenience, in terms of proximity to residential areas or city centers, etc., may start to matter less when people can just slip into a driverless car and read, chat, or sleep instead of devoting energy to the act of driving, possibly making them more open to visiting farther-flung shops and restaurants.
17. Auto dealerships
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. It was suggested on stage at the CB Insights Innovation Summit that car ownership may switch to a subscription model of some kind, wherein the rental company provides a vehicle and all maintenance for one fee. The driverless car’s unique features and convenience may lead customers to seek on-demand usage models instead of committing to buying a car for their family’s exclusive use. And even in cases where people do decide to buy cars, the increased efficiency of a driverless car that doesn’t monopolize the time of a dedicated human driver may lead to an increase in one-vehicle households.
18. Oil change shops and 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.
One much-touted benefit of driverless cars is increased safety. A connected driverless car network would theoretically be largely free from accidental collisions. As a result of decreased collisions, the healthcare industry could lose approximately $500B annually.
In addition to fewer accidents, autonomous fleets could also function as diagnostic checkup sites (as we discuss in our Google Healthcare Strategy report), turning autonomous cars into a site for passengers to receive simple healthcare services, like blood pressure or heart rate checkups.
20. 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 the need of a driver. Connected vehicles could use real-time traffic information to determine ideal routes more efficiently than a human driver, or even connect with healthcare providers to automatically send patient data (such as vital signs) to doctors while en route, freeing up EMTs to focus on a patient and not on relaying information to hospital staff.
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. Michael R. Boswell and William Riggs of Planetizen write about some of these use cases, highlighting how autonomous vehicles could be used in a situation like the Napa Valley fires to help evacuate families quickly.
21. Driving schools
While not as sizable a market as healthcare, auto sales, or insurance, the world’s driving schools could largely disappear as the ability to manually operate a car transitions from a necessary skill to a hobby. It’s even been suggested that driverless cars will work so well together that the greater threat is humans taking advantage of their orderliness. A shift away from licensing can already be seen in the sharp decline in millennials getting licenses.
22. Urban Planning
Most modern cities were and are being 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 copious human drivers and cargo vehicles in mind. Autonomous cars could 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 and move around each other more smoothly. Thought leaders warn that improved, more effortless travel could lead to increased urban sprawl as people stop prioritizing the convenience of proximity to city centers.
23. Internet Service Provision
Managing V2V — aka vehicle-to-vehicle communication — presents new concerns around wireless data exchange. Comcast mentioned V2V-related communication concerns in an argument for eliminating the 2015 net neutrality rules, telling the FCC that “prohibitions on paid prioritization [of faster internet] may actually stifle innovation instead of encouraging it” because autonomous vehicles demand instantaneous data transmission. Many European carmakers, on the other hand, have lobbied in favor of non-DRSC LTE-Vehicular (LTE-V) communication, in which cars communicate to cellular towers over LTE. With LTE-V still in the mix as a possible channel for V2V down the road, there will likely be a future in which internet service providers adapt their offerings to the driverless vehicle space.
24. ‘Interior’ Design/Manufacturing
What will people do inside their cars, once they no longer have to drive them? Shanghai-based Yanfeng Automotive Interiors is one of many companies trying to answer that question. The company is developing concept designs for four different “modes” of ridership — including “meeting mode” (where the rear seats stow away and the front passenger seat spins around to face the rear) and “lounge mode” (more akin to a living room). Also, such considerations relate only to human travel — what about animals, or packages out for delivery? As companies that specialize in vehicle-interior design refine visions for how travel will take place in AVs, companies that manufacture vehicle interiors will also change what they produce.
With new forms of wireless communication come new security and data protection concerns for technology companies to address. AVs can (and have) been hacked: Wired reporter Andy Greenberg chronicled his “real-life” experience driving with researchers who hijacked the systems of a Jeep Grand Cherokee during the ride, ultimately disabling the accelerator. 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 by identifying and blocking attack attempts.
26. Traffic Enforcement
With smoother traffic operations and fewer humans actually behind the wheel, cities could see their revenues from traffic tickets and other infractions drop sharply and a more limited need for traffic enforcement officers to direct vehicles. In addition, there’s the question of who gets a ticket if an autonomous vehicle breaks a traffic law: the car owner? The software maker? What if the car is used as part of a subscription service? 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 also help reduce response times for emergency personnel and save 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 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.”
28. 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.
Recently, Internet giant Baidu announced it was partnering with Access Services, a US-based public paratransit services provider, to launch a self-driving pilot project in Los Angeles by the end of 2018.
Driverless cars could also affect 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 1.3 million personal care aides.
29. Home improvement
More than 60% of all occupied housing units in the US have a garage or carport, a number that goes up to 75% for units built in the last 5 years. 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, up 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% of crashes can be tied back to human error: automation could decrease these accidents, which could lead to a decline in related lawsuits. When accidents do occur, connected cars could provide more accurate data about accidents and who’s at fault for a crash. Driverless cars will also likely shift liability from individual drivers to the companies that manufacture and own fleets of autonomous vehicles, potentially decreasing the demand for private practice lawyers while forcing car companies to expand their corporate legal departments.
31. MILITARY OPERATIONS
In May 2018, US Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin told lawmakers that the Pentagon would reap the benefits of driverless vehicles before the public does.
According to Griffin, more than half of casualties in combat zones involve military personnel making critical deliveries of fuel, food, and general supplies. Subsequently, military adoption of self-driving vehicles could remove military personnel from danger, reducing injuries and saving lives.
Many armed forces are already experimenting with driverless tanks and pilotless aircraft.
32. GLOBAL NONPROFIT WORK & DISASTER RELIEF
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 requires in these areas). 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 accidents have disrupted the usual 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 towards other impactful work.
33. DATA CENTERS & INTERNET INFRASTRUCTURE
As driverless cars take to the roads, they will generate huge amounts of data — and need the infrastructure to support it. Autonomous vehicles will require widespread low-latency wireless connection to fiber networks and data centers, according to Data Center Frontier, and Intel estimates that autonomous cars could generate 4 terabytes of data per day, meaning the rise of autonomous vehicles could drive demand for more data centers and more robust fiber networks.