Tesla’s X Factor And The Future Of Cars

Tesla made headlines this week finally unveiling the new Model X SUV.  The car looks amazing as expected, but Tesla is only shipping a select version to work out the kinks among it’s well-heeled customers.  It won’t be available to the greater public for another year.

The Google Self-Driving Car

The Google Self-Driving Car

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle compares Tesla’s approach to Google, with its goofy-looking self-driving vehicle:

Google co-founder Sergey Brin sees a future in which self-driving technology takes several forms. That future, he said, should still have room for people who enjoy taking the wheel on a wide-open, twisty strip of asphalt. People like Brin.

“I don’t think we’re going to see ‘no human drivers’ any time soon,” he said this week at an open house for the company’s autonomous car program. “I love the idea of being out on an open road that’s curvy and fun. But in practice, that’s maybe 1 percent of my experience. Mostly, it’s stop-and-go traffic. It’s not nearly that pleasant. And then I’m hunting for parking.”

Google has spent six years on self-driving cars. Its test vehicles have logged 1.2 million miles of autonomous driving, adding an additional 10,000 to 15,000 every week. While impressive, the results still feel like a work in progress.

For its part, Tesla fully envisions self-driving capabilities for its vehicles, even equipping with them with sensors for when the software becomes widely available.

We’re still years away, but to my mind, the future of cars is becoming clearer: they will be electric, self-driving, and rented on demand by most drivers.

David Roberts at Vox.com makes the case for this utopia, describing the huge environmental benefits. Current cars are over-engineered, as is our urban space, for bulky cars built to withstand impacts and for long road trips that we rarely if ever take.

So the future will involve right-sizing cars that can be delivered autonomously to your home (maybe you need an SUV, maybe you need an electric bike). The vehicles will have a smaller environmental footprint (literally, in some cases), and homes won’t need to waste space on garages and other parking spaces. Towns won’t need big parking lots, at least within the downtown.

The environmental upside is big. The battery-powered cars will be distributed storage for the grid, and we won’t need as much auto-oriented infrastructure. Of course, we still want pedestrian friendly, transit-oriented communities. But we shouldn’t ignore the larger technology trends that are shaping the future while we try to plan for it.


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