It is coming, and perhaps faster than we think. And I’d say it’s a good thing. Mostly.
I’m guessing that self-driving cars will be the norm in my kids’ lifetimes. I’d even bet that they will be common in fifteen years; probably dominant by 2050.
The upside(s) seem pretty obvious: safety, economy, efficiency and so on. Get the mediocre to bad drivers (the vast majority of the population, IMHO) out from behind the wheel. Infirm, blind, old and otherwise physically impaired will have a new lease on life. Parking and congestion issues should be lessened greatly. Onerous insurance costs will drop away. No need to own the thing, except as a share, but more likely fee-based along the lines of ZipCar and similar services. Your calculus as to where you work vs. where you live could change. Opportunities for better coordination with public transit will arise. And much more.
Some downsides: There will probably, over time, be profound negative impacts on the whole huge part of the U.S. economy that is based on the auto industry, from production, supplies and support to the business model of auto insurance. Will people trust these things? What about hackers who might strive to bring the entire transportation grid to a halt?
What about us, personally, as 944 people? With driverless cars as the norm — and perhaps eventually the only legally allowed — manually-driven cars might only make sense in racing or other special off-road venues. Not a terrible fate for our otherwise-unusable Porsches. Regrettably, a lot of collector cars now are trailer queens that never are street-driven, anyway, so that activity would continue.
Some interim steps toward a fully driverless future will probably be more electric-fueled vehicles, probably trending toward hydrogen as a generating fuel. Maybe internal combustion engines as we know them will become outlawed for street use altogether, but we may have access by then to bolt-in kits that will make conversions at least as easy as we can swap in GM LS1 V8s and the like now.
Onward! With hands at 9am – 3pm and the loud pedal to the floor.