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The Biggest Change Autonomous Cars Will Steer Your Way

By Motley Fool Staff - Feb 21, 2016 at 11:34AM

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The companies developing self-driving cars often tout their safety -- which makes sense, given people's fears about giving up control of their vehicles. But safer travel isn't the most profound aspect of this coming transportation revolution.

We've heard about the potential of self-driving cars to improve safety. Alphabet's (GOOGL -0.21%) (GOOG -0.27%) prototypes have only been involved in a few accidents, all of which were caused by human error -- but when it comes to something as fundamental as driving, the ripples of putting computers in charge will extend far beyond a decrease in fender benders, which are already thankfully rare.

In this clip, Sean O'Reilly and Vincent Shen talk about the day-to-day aspects of life that autonomous cars will fundamentally change, such as commuting, and discuss which automakers are focusing on making self-driving cars a reality, and which are trailblazing ahead.

Listen to the full podcast by clicking here. A full transcript follows the video.

This podcast was recorded on Feb. 11, 2016. 

Sean O'Reilly: As long ago as a year and a half or two years, I read this article on Bloomberg, I think, and it was talking about how the CEO of Mercedes-Benz had actually been riding around in rush-hour traffic at 6 p.m. in Munich in the back of a driverless Benz. And I was like, oh my gosh: One, he trusts the car; two, it went well. And that was two years ago. So, what companies are in on the game other than Mercedes-Benz? What are they seeing as likely to happen?

Vincent Shen: Sure. We talked about Google because they were petitioning the [National Highway Traffic] Safety Administration, and they're usually one of the main players that comes to people's minds when they think about self-driving cars. They've been, obviously, pushing those efforts a lot. But, honestly, I think every automaker out there is thinking about it. This is going to be the next evolution or revolution for cars, in that Kia, Ford, and, like you mentioned, Mercedes, which I really want to talk about, in their concept car, is envisioning this.

So, Mercedes has their F 015. And I highly encourage our listeners to go check out their website for this, because it paints a picture -- broad strokes, but it paints a picture -- of some of the potential for what these cars can look like, how people can interact...

O'Reilly: Is that the car with the table and the four swivel chairs?

Shen: Yep, exactly.

O'Reilly: OK. (laughs)

Shen: So, beyond some of those gains or the benefits that we get from this autonomous car technology, you're avoiding things like DUIs, you're avoiding things like being distracted on the road, people who are distracted on the road, aggressive drivers. It might ease congestion as well, but the thing is, it's just really interesting how these cars can really change how we view even our daily commute. The idea being, infotainment systems of today would already be considered futuristic and high-tech to drivers 20 or 30 years ago. We have access to things like GPS, Bluetooth calls, Spotify, Pandora. It's all there. Some cars even have a full iPad built into the console.

You take that to the next step, and if you were in the car before, driving monopolized your attention. Hopefully, you're focused on the road, operating the car safely. You don't have to do that anymore. Now, you're basically traveling in a giant mobile device, and that infotainment system becomes the centerpiece of what you're going to be spending your time doing in the car, a lot of the times. So, you might be able to watch TV, play games, be on a conference call for work, even work on a presentation...

O'Reilly: While riding to work.

Shen: Yeah, exactly. As the F 015 presents, they have a lot of screens in the car to interact with. And, admittedly, I really like my very large phablet-size smartphone, but in the end, I would take a large monitor...

O'Reilly: An actual computer screen, yeah.

Shen: ...and keyboard any day of the week. So, that's some of the potential that, with the F 015, you can see the inside you mentioned. The front seats, they swivel around, so you can basically have four people sitting in a circle facing each other. It's really just a really cool concept. Otherwise, bringing this into the more consumer-facing side, so, of all these people who are saving time, like my brother, for example, he commutes an hour a day, so, 10 hours a week is time spent on the road.

O'Reilly: Multiply that times a lifetime, and you've got...

Shen: Or a year, even.

O'Reilly: ...80, 90 years on this world at best. It's like... (laughs

Shen: Exactly. So, you take that and you expand it to the idea that, OK, that time can now be spent with retailers, browsing stores, shopping online. You can think about a company like Netflix, consuming content from a lot of entertainment companies and content providers, and just, it shifts something that happens every day like your commute from, often, a source of frustration, as a lot of people in the D.C. area will know...

O'Reilly: Why do you think I moved to Alexandria? (laughs

Shen: ...into a source of relaxation, or however you want to spend that time. It's pretty incredible. And you mentioned overnight trips to visit family, or for work or something...

O'Reilly: Yeah, can you imagine such a thing? We have a great flexible-work policy, where you can telecommute a lot of times, and you can sometimes duck out a little early on a Friday to go home to New Jersey or whatever. Imagine leaving at noon or not even coming in on a Friday, and just getting in a driverless car and popping up to see Mom and get your laundry done or whatever. (laughs)

Shen: And bringing this down to the average person, too, I found that the average commute time in the U.S. is about 25.4 minutes. So, call that...

O'Reilly: Double that for D.C. (laughs

Shen: ...about an hour a day. An hour a day you're spending on the road. If you're in a major metropolitan area, probably even worse than that, going into the cities. So, I think most people would say, "Yes, I would absolutely like to have another hour to my day to do whatever in the car."

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