Self-driving cars will change more than just driving
It is understandable to look at the ongoing revolution in self-driving car technology and think mainly about how it might affect the daily commute, or how they might manage over long-distance journeys. After all, a car is mainly for driving, right?
Your car might be for driving, but the self-driving cars of the future are not mainly for driving. By definition they have nothing to do with driving, and by that token the new models will have applications that go far beyond driving that we cannot really imagine yet.
One sector which looks like being revolutionised by self-driving vehicles is the retail sector.
The online retail sector is dominated by Amazon to a degree that would be comical if it wasn’t starting to look so much like a monopoly. It is estimated that Amazon sales represented almost 44% of all e-commerce sales in the USA over 2017, a total worth just less than US$200bn. Its closest competitors – eBay, Apple and Walmart – each controlled significantly less than 10% over the same time period.
However, the picture in the overall retail sector is different. Amazon only controls approximately 4% of the total, with so many people still preferring to get in their car and go to the actual shops – but this might be about to change thanks to companies like Nuro.
Nuro is working on an autonomous vehicle smaller than a traditional car which will eventually be able to traverse our streets at speeds of up to 35mph. This means it will take up less space on the road, deliver good range and cover its distances at a relatively adequate pace.
People won’t be travelling in Nuro vehicles, but they sound just about perfect for shopping trips. The low speed limits mean that its lidar and radar systems will be more accurate; its smaller size means it can hug the centre of a road safely so it has more time to react to people walking off the pavement; its light weight and smaller size make it less likely to kill someone. If you can get a Nuro to bring your shopping to your home for a cheap enough price, why would you ever get in your big, clunky car and do it yourself?
If this sort of vehicle becomes widespread, it is hard to see how it wouldn’t change the nature of a lot of shops. Amazon got big thanks to the simple insight that it doesn’t matter where you buy a book from it will always be the same size, so why does it matter if you’re buying it in a shop or off the internet? If this principle can be extended to all non-perishable goods, and they can be delivered to your home from, pretty much on demand by an inexhaustible, efficient fleet or vehicles, then most shops as we know them will probably cease to exist. This would be a delivery service that was truly on demand.
Even shops where people want to go and see how clothes or shoes fit could get on board. A fashion retailer could send a selection of shoes to someone’s house and then have the Nuro wait outside until they had tried a few pairs before returning the unwanted ones. Not only instant delivery, but a basically flawless returns policy on top as well.
Vehicles like this will make the idea of a three-working-day delivery seem both antiquated and laughable. And, as previously mentioned, the retail sector is only one example.
It is likely that the companies designing self-driving vehicles which see more in the technology than a simple ride-share service are the ones which will end up really shaping the future. No one could have predicted Uber when Google Maps was released, and there will surely be some new companies that truly manage to surprise us with their use of this new technology.