Ina Fried

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Driving Home a Better Future in the Connected Car

In the future cars will be shared, able to avoid traffic and, above all, driverless.

Or at least that’s the hope of several of the speakers at last week’s MLOVE conference in Monterey.

Looking the furthest into the future was Brad Templeton, a consultant to Google and former head chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Templeton outlined the impact that driverless cars could have — from fewer traffic deaths to lower emissions to less space allotted for roads and parking.

Just reducing the 34,000 annual car-related deaths in the U.S. should be reason enough to go driverless, but Templeton notes it would also allow for fewer cars, that could be available on demand and take up less space.

“Human drivers are really kind of bad,” Templeton said.

While much of Templeton’s talk focused on the big shifts that could come years down the road, cars are already changing in more subtle ways.

Di-Ann Eisnor of Waze talked about how crowdsourced traffic, like that from her company, could save drivers 10 minutes a day — meaningful savings that means less carbon dioxide pumped into the air and less money spent at the pump.

Meanwhile, Getaround founder Jessica Scorpio talked about the impact of sharing rides in taking cars off the road. Cars sit idle 92 percent of the time — a figure that could be reduced, if people shared an expensive asset that isn’t being used most of the time.

“Why not connect people who own cars with people who need them,” Scorpio said. That is just what Getaround has done, at least in a few cities, where users can sign up and borrow cars from those with excess wheels.

Even those driverless cars are closer than many people realize. Of course, there are those Google test cars we hear about. But there are standard cars on the road that can help stay in a lane, park a car and avoid hitting objects.

Car sharing, Templeton notes, has the potential to do more than just take a few cars off the road. We already know how to make electric cars, he said, and we have for some time. The challenge, as Templeton sees it, is to make electric cars that people actually want to buy. But if such cars could just come on demand, drivers (or I guess, passengers), wouldn’t care how long that car might have needed to charge before it became available.

Similarly, one could get the car they need for each trip. Today, most car trips are made with a single passenger. At the same time, most of those trips are being taken in vehicles like SUVs and five-passenger sedans, because buyers purchase the car they need when their needs are the greatest. Shifting to a sharing-based system could open up the door for vehicles that take up half as much space, saving time, money, fuel and pollution.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus