The debate really should not be about when we will see self driving cars on the road. Given everything we know, my bet would be within the next 5 years.

It’s no longer a technology problem – both Google and Tesla have demonstrated that. The real hurdles to be crossed are regulatory in nature – a) Elon Musk says the government won’t allow self-driving cars until it can be proven that they are 10x safer than manually driven cars or b) What would insurance for a self-driving car look like?

There is a more interesting discussion surrounding the opportunities that this technology is going to bring. Or on the flip side, the jobs and companies that are going to disappear.

Opportunities that will come along:


Technology Companies: The obvious opportunity is for the tech companies such as Google and Apple. We’ll be sitting in a pod/self-driving car going from home to work. Some of us might read a book on the way. But let’s not kid ourselves. Have you seen what most of the folks on buses are doing? Yes – most of us will be surfing the web on our mobile devices. The more we surf, the more we search. And the more we search, the more Google grows. And simultaneously we will be listening to music. And the more music we listen to, the more iTunes grows.

Computer engineers: The reason I cite computer engineering as an opportunity is because as the number of self driving cars on the roads increase, there are going to be plenty of newer technological problems to solve. For instance, each car will start to share information with other cars – where it’s coming from, where it’s going, when it will reach its destination, or even how much gas or charge it has remaining. The sky is the limit for the kind of data that will be shared and what can be done with this data. For example, this data might potentially be used to reduce traffic jams. And don’t forget about all the apps that have to developed for a self-driving car.  Data scientists and computer engineers – gear up. Demand for you is going to grow even higher.
Safer driving and higher productivity: If we examine the top reasons for car accidents, they are – distracted driving, speeding, drunk driving, running red lights & stops. All of these are human errors. There is no doubt in my mind that self driving cars are going to be safer and result in less accidents. Kids could go to school on their own – they get into a pod and get dropped off at school. Parents get an extra 20 minutes in the day. They would get into another pod and go to work. During the commute, both the parents and kids would browse their mobile devices and listen to music. And yes, Google and Apple will continue to prosper. 🙂 On a more serious note, this safety brings about tremendous opportunities. For example, senior citizens will no longer have to test their physical capability to the limit by driving in order to do basic things like buying groceries. And that takes me to my next opportunity.

Online grocery: Amazon will not have to depend on regulators saying “okay” to drones. It can transport groceries in self driving trucks and send them on their way for same hour delivery.

Occupations/Companies that will no longer exist:

Truck drivers, Bus drivers: Freightliner (the big-rig manufactuer) was recently given a license to test out its self driving truck in Nevada. The truck is able to drive itself on highways. And the human driver takes over within city limits. Similarly Mercedes piloted an autonomously driving truck. It is not hard to imagine a time when the human truck driver is no longer required. What happens then? Today, truck drivers are in huge demand. There is a shortage of truck drivers,  thus raising the pay scale for this occupation. The entire occupation of truck driving is probably going to disappear within the next couple of decades. Young truck drivers and bus drivers of today should be thinking about new career skills that they need to develop within the next decade. 

Car dealerships, Car financing: There are 2 schools of thought. The first is that people will still own their own cars when we have self-driving cars (#autonomouscars). The second believes that people will no longer own their own cars. I subscribe to the second category. One of the arguments for owning a car is the convenience. We know that there is always a car waiting for us whenever we need it. But with the advent of self-driving machines, we probably will just have to set a time (almost like an alarm clock) when we need a car and it will drive itself to our door step or for that matter wherever we are. If my thinking in this regard is right, then car dealerships will eventually disappear. And with no one buying cars, the industry around car financing will grind to a halt as well. Yes, I’m saying every car on the road will be a taxi of sorts.

Uber: The taxi driving business just like the truck driving business will be gone for good. Uber, the unicorn private company that is valued at $50B won’t be around in its current form. Its current business model is based around car owners serving as taxi drivers at their convenience. But if car ownership goes down, the business model does not work. It would probably use its giant war chest to buy millions of self-driving cars and build hundreds of thousands of car stations. As I mentioned earlier, it might be one of the companies hiring thousands of software developers in order to execute on a fleet of self-driving taxis.
DMV: No drivers, no driving licenses. No tests for parallel parking.

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