The consequences of self-driving cars as “rooms with wheels”

Thinking of autonomous vehicles as just another iteration of the car may not go far enough:

If you think of driverless cars as nothing more than cars without drivers, Burns says, you’re not seeing the full picture. These will be rooms with wheels. And that means their implications extend far beyond transportation—into retail, commerce, and even an expansive re-imagination of where Americans should live. Commuting an hour to work from the far suburbs isn’t such a drag when the autonomous pod comes with Netflix, email, and wi-fi.

What this might lead to is unclear:

In sum, self-driving cars have the potential to improve existing transportation technology in unambiguous ways, to expand the suburbs, and to create new economic opportunity for a variety of industries, from hotels to restaurants. But they might also change the character of our cities for the worse and strangle roads with cars in a way that ruins the urban experience for millions of people. What does this sound like? It sounds like the legacy of highways in America.

Given the love of cars among Americans plus the way social life is ordered around them, the implications could be wide-reaching.

But, the idea that cars could become rooms is intriguing. Americans like having private space. Hence, the ideal of the large single-family home in the suburbs. A few thoughts on cars as rooms:

  1. What kinds of rooms do they become? If primarily occupied during commuting, they could become work spaces. Of course, not everyone might want to work on the way to or the way home from work. Napping spaces? Outfitted with televisions and wifi?
  2. Does having a mobile room mean that homes do not have to be so large? The vehicle could become a mobile extension of the home. Members of the home could always escape to the vehicle, even if they are not going anywhere.
  3. Does a mobile room elevate vehicles to an even more important status symbol? If owners could customize their vehicle spaces to their tastes, the range of interiors could be impressive.

I would guess many Americans would like a mobile room.

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