Opinion: What is the future of travel?



Jody Michael

Jody Michael

Jody Michael is a junior broadcast journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

It’s beginning to look like the self-driving car is becoming reality. Google has been developing such technology for a while now, and late last month it released a video of Steve Mahan, who has lost 95 percent of his vision, using the car to visit a Taco Bell drive-thru and to pick up his dry cleaning.

The self-driving vehicle has two important aspects. First, you must carefully program the route you wish to take with a computer connected to the car. Second, radar and laser sensors pay attention for street signs and any potential approaching hazards.

Google’s video of Mahan’s trip leaves a few unanswered questions. How did the car know exactly where the drive-thru was in relation to the building? Would the trip go as smoothly if it were on roads with heavier traffic and higher speed limits?

Nonetheless, the self-driving car looks to be a realistic innovation we will see on the roads some day. If that’s the case, it could lead to a metamorphosis of sorts for transportation in the United States.

At this point, I don’t think anyone can know for certain how self-driving cars would change American automobile usage. We have to wait until a significant amount of people are able to use them so we can see how they respond and adjust their travel habits. But the possibilities seem endless.

Maybe families will save money and only own one car; it can pick up the kids from school, take them to baseball practice and then head to the office to bring mom and dad home from work.

Maybe people will pimp their rides to serve as a portable living room. No longer needing to focus on driving, we’ll install WiFi and refrigerators and become more attached to our cars than ever before.

Or maybe, having relinquished the fun of driving, we’ll become less attached to our cars and instead just share one car among relatives or neighbors. Schedule a time when you need to get from A to B, and a car will take you there and then be on its way to another reservation.

Think of the potential increase in business that self-driving cars could bring to taxi services and rental car companies. Plus, the existence of parking lots to hold our cars while we work or go to class would no longer be necessary (students get their revenge on Parking Services!) Shifts like these would free those masses of land, which were once parking lots, for better uses.

Shipping companies might no longer need to hire drivers. Grocery shopping could become a delivery service, meaning the local Giant Eagle would start to look more like a warehouse. If some vehicles are still using gasoline engines, maybe cars would make their own trips to refill the tank, leading to the revival of gas station attendants.

It’s also difficult to estimate how long it would take for any of these things to come true. Perhaps I won’t be alive to see it — but, just imagining is rather exciting.