Back in 2015, U.S. residents logged 1.7 billion leisure trips. Although some Americans choose to fly to their vacation destination, taking a road trip across the nation is a pastime many of us treasure. So much so, in fact, that many families travel great distances by car on at least a yearly basis. This practice is steeped in tradition, but that could all change if and when self-driving cars become the norm.
The interstate highway system, for example, allows drivers to easily navigate hundreds of miles to destinations all around the country. Businesses both chain and independently owned alike set themselves up in close proximity to highway exits in order to appeal to drivers who need to refuel their bodies and cars. But if the cars are driving themselves (and are fueled by longer-lasting batteries), those road trip stops might become much less frequent. Not only could this impact a family’s well-being, but it could impact the revenue streams for these businesses as well. Companies might have to move to be closer to vehicular charging stations. These cars might even drop off their passengers and go charge themselves up.
It would take a lot of getting used to, that’s for sure. That is, if people even want to get into these self-driving cars at all.
Nearly 218 million people had U.S. driver’s licenses in 2015, and learning how to drive is a rite of passage that many Americans may not be so keen to give up — particularly if they have little to no faith in these vehicles. It’s a concept that companies working on this sort of autonomous automobiles are being forced to address. As the San Francisco Chronicle put it, “it won’t matter how exceptional their cars are if people are scared to ride in them, or be near them.”
Figuring out how these cars will communicate with people — passengers and pedestrians alike — is the chief concern of many businesses.
Sameep Tandon, CEO and co-founder of Drive.ai, a self-driving car company, told the Chronicle, “It’s crucial to make self-driving cars accepted in society so people feel they are trustworthy and part of daily life. Otherwise, there’s a risk people will think of this as the robot apocalypse.”
Jack Weast, chief systems architect of Intel’s Autonomous Driving Group, echoed Tandon’s sentiments:
“Passenger trust is critical to establish before society will accept self-driving cars. We need to make sure the cars not only work technically, but that they are embraced psychologically. The path to trust is a relationship with the machine.”
These technologies are always being refined, but it may be quite a while before they’ll impact how we travel long distances domestically. For now, you have control of the car and of when you choose to stop. That means you’ll need to pack enough activities to keep the kids occupied en route. Otherwise, you’ll be hearing that repetitive chorus of “are we there yet?” for potentially hundreds of miles — and threatening to turn the car around at every juncture (while you still can).