New technology eventually replaces the old. Not only have public pay telephones all but disappeared in the wake of cellphones, but many homeowners even choose to forgo having a landline telephone. Meanwhile, Internet shopping services such as Amazon are slowly gaining prominence over brick-and-mortar retail stores.
Self-driving cars will change our cultural landscape the way the printing press, indoor plumbing and the Internet did. Over time, these autonomous vehicles (AVs) will make some things obsolete that we currently take for granted. They may not disappear overnight, but one day we’ll likely look around and notice that the roads and highways are quite different places than they once were.
Here are five things the transition to AVs will probably relegate to history books.
Although pedestrians may still require signs announcing the names of streets, instructional signs — such as stop, yield and no-parking signs — will quickly become redundant on roads where cars drive themselves. AV programming will include such instructions. Even today, some GPS navigation systems display the current speed limit on their touchscreens. With this information programmed into a car’s computer, we could see speed-limit signs eventually disappear, as well.
Chances are that traffic lights as we know them will also fade into disuse. Sure, pedestrians and bicyclists will still need to know who has the right of way, but traditional traffic lights that go from green to yellow to red probably won’t be the source of that information. Something along the lines of current cross/don’t-cross signals would probably serve the purpose more effectively.
Self-parking will be a function of AVs: They’ll be able to unload their passengers and find a parking spot on their own. Nissan has test AVs that are already capable of dropping off passengers, parking themselves and then returning to pick up those passengers by commands issued through a key fob. Essentially fulfilling the role of a valet parking attendant, AVs will eliminate such services and the costs associated with them.
As with valet parking services, today’s parking meters will likely disappear. In communities that currently use parking meters to generate revenue, some new technology will need to be developed to charge for street and public lots filled with self-parking cars. Such technology could look like today’s toll-road transponders, such as Florida’s SunPass. In any case, the idea of physically inserting money or a credit card into a metering system just won’t work when cars park without a driver present.
Electric refrigerators replaced iceboxes, eliminating the need for ice vendors, and corner supermarkets eventually erased daily milk deliveries and milkmen from the scene. In much the same way, a number of commonplace service jobs may prove unnecessary in the age of self-driving cars. With AVs able to follow set routes, the position of mail carrier might be one of the first to go.
While it remains to be seen whether self-driving cars will truly make these now-common realities things of the past, one thing is for certain: Once AVs hit the streets, the world will start to look different pretty quickly.