Self-driving cars are likely to change the world dramatically in ways that few people expect, and you will miss them if you only focus on the autonomous driving part.
This should not be surprising. When automobile engines started to replace horses, nobody really foresaw the consequences either. How many people expected thousands of miles of multi-lane highways, strip malls, drive-in cinemas and restaurants, three-hour gridlocks, and cities that devote around 40 percent of their space to roads and parking places, not to mention the tens of thousands of annual deaths or the atmospheric pollution.
Cars have obviously had a massive financial impact on the countries that make them, but they have also become cultural icons. The Volkswagen Beetle is as German as the Volvo is Swedish, the 2CV is French, the Rolls Royce is British, and the Trabant was East German. For individual buyers, cars are not just a means of transportation, they are social spaces, fashion statements, and sometimes ostentatious displays of wealth.
As things stand today, cars spend around 95 percent of their time parked. If we had fleets of autonomous cars to ferry people around cities, people wouldn't need their own cars. This would dramatically reduce the amount of traffic on the roads and free up vast amounts of parking space for better uses.
Autonomous cars could be smaller, lighter and cheaper to run, and would produce less pollution. Many if not most people wouldn't need to own a car at all. This would save them the purchase price, the insurance payments and the service costs, which could be like getting a 10 percent pay rise, or more.
Better still, autonomous cars will be safer. They won't be 100 percent safe, because nothing is. However, most road accidents are caused by drunk driving