Second-Order Consequences of Self-Driving Vehicles

Tyler Durden's picture

Authored by Mish Shedlock via Mish Talk,

Benedict Evans, a blogger who works for a venture capital firm that invests in technology, has an interesting article on the shift to electric and self-driving vehicles.

Please consider snips from Cars and Second Order Consequences by Benedict Evans.

There are two foundational technology changes rolling through the car industry at the moment; electric and autonomy. Electric is happening right now, largely as a consequence of falling battery prices, while autonomy, or at least full autonomy, is a bit further off – perhaps 5-10 years, depending on how fast some pretty hard computer science problems get solved.


Both electric and autonomy have profound consequences beyond the car industry itself. Half of global oil production today goes to gasoline, and removing that demand will have geopolitical as well as industrial consequences. Over a million people are killed in car accidents every year around the world, mostly due to human error, and in a fully autonomous world all of those (and many more injuries) will also go away.


However, it’s also useful, and perhaps more challenging, to think about second and third order consequences. Moving to electric means much more than replacing the gas tank with a battery, and moving to autonomy means much more than ending accidents.


Electric Discussion

In regards to electric, Evans points out 150,000 gas stations while noting cigarette purchases and snacks are the way most of those stores make their money.

What happens to those stations?

On September 29,2015, Elon Musk said Tesla Cars Will Reach 620 Miles On A Single Charge “Within A Year Or Two,” Be Fully Autonomous In “Three Years”.

How’s that prediction working out?

On March 30, 2016, Bloomberg noted Tesla Model 3 Electric Car Seen Getting 225 Miles Per Charge and we are not there yet. Business insider a month later suggested a range of 215 miles.

Quartz reports Tesla’s cheaper, more powerful battery cell is the perfect embodiment of its factory model.



A Tesla presskit says their “Supercharger network covers major routes in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific. There are more than 3,000 Superchargers worldwide.”

Their click here link for Supercharger locations turn up “404 page not found”.

Tesla says their Supercharger can “replenish a half charge in about 30 minutes.” Why not state a quarter charge in 15 minutes or a 16th of a charge in 3.75 minutes?

If a gas fill-up takes up to 4 minutes, then via Supercharger you will only need to stop 16 times as often for a long trip.

Am I missing something here?

It would be one hell of a lot easier if there was a quick and easy way to slide one battery pack out and another into its place.


Home Batteries

Evans notes …

"More speculatively (and this is part of Elon Musk’s vision), it is possible that we might all have large batteries in the home, storing off-peak power both to charge our cars and power our homes. Part of the aim here would be to push up battery volume and so lower their cost for both home storage and cars. If we all have such batteries then this could affect the current model of building power generation capacity for peak demand, since you could complement power stations with meaningful amounts of stored power for the first time."


Long Distance Woes

Large home batteries do not solve long distance travel.

There either needs to be much greater battery capacity, much faster charging, or a way to quickly swap batteries.

I suppose one could simply swap vehicles every 200 miles but that seems like quite a nuisance.

For those who drive back and forth to work, or only drive within a city, electric works.

But why have a car at all if that’s all you do? Fleets of self-driving cars will work quite nicely vs the cost of one of these babies.


Autonomy Discussion

Per Evans …

The really obvious consequence of autonomy is a near-elimination in accidents, which kill over 1m people globally every year. In the USA in 2015, there were 13m collisions of which 1.7m caused injuries; 2.4m people were injured and 35k people were killed. Something over 90% of all accidents are now caused by driver error, and a third of fatal accidents in the USA involved alcohol. Looking beyond deaths and injuries themselves, there is also a huge economic effect to these accidents: the US government estimates a cost of $240bn a year across property damage itself, medical and emergency services, legal, lost work and congestion (for comparison, US car sales in 2016 were around $600bn). A similar UK analysis found a cost of £30bn, which is roughly equivalent adjusted for the population. This then comes from government (and so taxes), insurance and individual pockets. It also means jobs, of course.


Even simple ‘Level 3’ systems would cut many kinds of accident, and as more vehicles with more sophisticated systems, moving up to Level 5, cycle into the installed base over time, the collision rate will drop continuously. There should be an analogue of the ‘herd immunity‘ effect – even if your car is still hand-driven, my automatic car is still much less likely to collide with you. This also means that cycling would become much safer (though you’d still need to live close enough to where you wanted to go), and that in turn has implications for public health. You might never get to zero accidents – the deer running in front of a car might still get hit sometimes –  but you might get pretty close.

I am in complete agreement with the above. And with that is where it gets very interesting.  Evans has given this a lot of thought.

if you have no collisions then eventually you can remove many of the safety features in today’s vehicles, all of which add cost and weight and constrain the overall design – no more airbags or crumple zones, perhaps.


As more and more cars are driven by computer, they can drive in different ways. They don’t suffer from traffic waves, they don’t need to stop for traffic signals and they can platoon –  they can safely drive 2 feet apart at 80 mph.


Parking is another way that autonomy will add both capacity and demand. If a car does not have to wait for you in walking distance, where else might it wait, and is that more efficient?


So, the current parking model is clearly a source of congestion: some studies suggest that a double-digit percentage of traffic in dense urban areas comes from people circling around looking for a parking space, and on-street parking ipso facto reduces road capacity. An autonomous vehicle can wait somewhere else.


If you remove the cost of the human driver from an on-demand trip, the cost goes down by perhaps three quarters. If you can also remove or reduce the cost of the insurance, once the accident rate has fallen, it goes down even further. So, autonomy is rocket-fuel for on-demand. This makes it much easier for many more people to dispense with a car, or only have one, or leave their car at home and take an on-demand ride for any given trip.


Do you end up with reduced bus schedules? Do marginal bus-routes close, pushing people onto on-demand who might not otherwise have used it – if they can use it? Does a city provide, or subsidise, its own-demand service to replace or to supplement buses in lower-density areas? Does your robotaxi automatically drop you off at a bus stop on the edge of high-traffic areas, unless you pay a congestion charge?


Then, of course, there are the drivers. There are something over 230,000 taxi and private car drivers in the USA and around 1.5m long-haul truck-drivers.


Does an hour-long commute with no traffic and no need to watch the road feel better or worse than a half-hour commute stuck in near-stationary traffic staring at the car in front? How willing are people to go from their home in a suburb to dinner in a city centre on a dark cold wet night if they don’t have to park and an on-demand ride is cheap?


In 2030 or so, police investigating a crime won’t just get copies of the CCTV from surrounding properties, but get copies of the sensor data from every car that happened to be passing.


More Questions than Answers

There is much more in the article. It’s worth a closer look.

Evans raises far more questions than he answers. Yet, I think the question list is just beginning.

My timeframe for long-haul driving jobs vanishing has not changed. I still say it starts 2021-2022 at the latest.


How Many Jobs?

All Trucking says “There are approximately 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the United States, according to estimates by the American Trucking Association. The total number of people employed in the industry, including those in positions that do not entail driving, exceeds 8.7 million.”

I may have over-estimated the number of long-haul jobs that vanish. However, I may have under-estimated the add-on effects.


If a truck can be on the road 24 hours instead of 11, how many trucks so we need? How many people servicing trucks do we need?

Opportunity for short-haul drivers with smaller trucks will vanish as well. How quickly?

Package delivery by drone is going to happen, especially smaller packages in rural areas. How Quickly?

For now, the savings on long-haul trucking are the greatest, and the obstacles the least, so I see no need to change my belief this will begin in a major way within a 2021-2022 timeframe.

The competition is so massive, all of the above things will happen much faster than most realize.

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crossroaddemon's picture

I follow this stuff because I have a brother in law who is a long haul trucker. My assessment: he is fucked.

As for me... bring it on. When I'm making my long hauls on the weekend I could be getting work done, sleeping, or stroking my meat.

BaBaBouy's picture

Cobalt and Lithium Is the new Gasoline ~

They are the MustHaves for the Electric Revolution.

Stuck on Zero's picture

One cool things with electric vehicles is that we can put in many more traffic tunnels. All those people losing jobs driving cars and trucks can now be put to work putting in below-groound networks to beautify our cities and speed transportation.

Mr Blue's picture
Mr Blue (not verified) Stuck on Zero Apr 10, 2017 5:39 AM

I'm making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do...

zippedydoodah's picture

Electric vehicle sales in the UK

By the end of 2016, more than 35,000 plug-in cars had been registered over the course of the year, the highest number ever. As a percentage of new car registrations, electric cars now represent around 1.3 per cent of the total new car market in the UK. That figure for the first three months of 2017 sits at 1.5 per cent.

1.3 per cent, Woo Hoo !!!

4johnny's picture

They are not an energy source, they are for energy storage.  You still need to produce the energy, most likely from coal and oil

Socratic Dog's picture

And for fast charging, you need to produce a lot more energy.  It's less efficient.

AngryNinja's picture

I follow it too and 2nd he is fucked, we are probably 5 to 7 years max to seeing the replacement take place for trucking. The car comapnies are rapidly trying to turn themselves into software/ infotainment companies, that happen to build cheap commodity autos on the side. Intresting times we live in, there is a massive social upheavel coming as the lower income classes are replaced by automation. 

NoDecaf's picture

I also follow it, because in the not too distant future we're all gonna be doing the Mad Max thing and having an autonomous truck could come in handy when you are playing chicken with the other convoy.


tmosley's picture

People think too linearly to give good analysis when it comes to exponentially advancing technologies.

By the time we replace any significant fraction of the trucking fleet with robotic vehicles, we will have general AI and the cost of all goods in terms of human labor will fall to zero in a hurry. No need to worry about not having a job.  Just save now so you can be the first one on your block to have a general purpose robot who you can then set to doing whatever you want, from repaving your driveway to setting up a solar cell fab facility in your backyard. As people teach these robots new skills, they will be available for everyone. Master of all trades. Including new ones that only emerge when you have all these skills in one place.

I view worries about not having a job (a means to gain claims on goods and services) as analogous to a farmer worrying about where he is going to plant the food he needs to survive when he moves into the city to get a factory job during the industrial revolution. Now, as back then, the increasing capital base will handle it.

techpriest's picture

Funny you say that, one of my long-term projects is to set up an online soap store, an which a robot makes and boxes soap to-order such that the only work I do is check the containers/parts occasionally. Well, that and some copy writing for marketing materials, though most marketing is already automated through services like MailChimp or Marketo.

Before the super-AI comes along, I can envision robots like the one I mention being a major investment vehicle of the 2020s. You put in $10k to get it started, and it pays you $20-30k a year until you decide to start a new project.

If the concrete 3D printing really drops the price of a house to $10k, and 3D printed/auto-assembled vehicles become a reality, it's not inconceivable that $20-30k is enough to live in an off-grid community, where it costs you $0 to live (solar + permaculture means you have the needed food and energy). Your town's fleet of auto-built vehicles will handle the deliveries of your robot-manufactured products, and you can use the profits and ultra-low cost of living to afford travel, study, time with family, and so on.

QuantumEasing's picture

Sounds good (truly, it does), but remember the Crown will always want its ground rent from those it considers its property.


r0mulus's picture

And in kind, 3D printing will eventually make long-haul trucking of finished goods obsolete as 3D printers will be able to produce anything on site given they are supplied the correct raw or intermediate-stage materials.

A Nanny Moose's picture

Your eyeballs are for sale. Would you like to be the product, or would you like to make your own purchasing decisions on actual products?

Animal Lovers's picture

I drive a '88 Toyota Hilux with bull bars. No electronics, no airbags, not even IFS, no nothing - EMP proof  - It wouldn't be fair to take it to town, but I just might. Bag me some robots.

Offthebeach's picture

I get it but.......gonna love the surveillance vids of the 18 wheelers interacting with our all pro, all union road repair projects.  Frikn unions and nose picking DOT engineers can't keep a railroad on the "tracks" such as they are.

VangelV's picture

I think that your brother-in-law has little to worry about for a long time.  While I am a strong believer in technology, I just don't see how a country that is as bankrupt as the US can depend on a company that has never turned a profit and depends on car manufacturers to buy carbon credits from it to achieve as much as has been promised.  

CheapBastard's picture

I agree.

No way this will happen in the next 10 years, let alone 5 years. The roads are in shambles, regulations strangling every business and industry, many (if not most) Americans are broke, and many new comers to America can't even speak the language or read a traffic sign, let alone use a "self-diving vehicle." I read last month more then 25% of drivers in Texas have zero car insurance...and yet they are on the road.

There are so many huge problems facing the United States it befuddles me money and time can be wasted on this stuff at this point at the neglect of other essential issues.

I strongly feel the money would be better spent inventing one hell of an Orgazmatron.

AngryNinja's picture

Toll, fast pass, and car pool lanes will be converted to lanes for self-driving when the time is right. If you have ever seen the fast pass lane on the 110 in LA its almost deserted on one of the heaviest travel roads in the US in a city of 11M.  Lots of test have already proven you can run these types of automous systems on open highways. The telemtry data and tracking has been in place for probably over 10 years, the system just needs to tweeked

Just to be clear it wont be over night and youll just wake up and everything is self-driving trucks, but the future path will b very clear in 5 to 7 years

OverTheHedge's picture

I can give you a design for an orgone accumilator, which is almost the same:

And of course we would need the soundtrack to go with it:

MaxThrust's picture

It's more likely we will have autonomous cargo ship in the next ten than autonomous cars

canisdirus's picture

Now, there's an industry that is massively protected by government regulations that is ripe for automation.

I understand that they're facing shortages right now because the kids see the handwriting on the wall.

Normalcy Bias's picture

Yeah, it'll seem great until you're denied a destination (or any motorized movement) electronically, because The State has a problem with your; political viewpoints, voting record, exorbitant taxes are still unpaid, refusal to inform on others, reputation after someone has untruthfully informed on you, etc.

There's an unspoken agenda behind automated vehicles (which will be mandated, except for the Elite), and the War on Cash, and it is TOTAL CONTROL.

Never One Roach's picture

You sound like an Infidel.

No self-driving car for you or any other independent thinker!

Trogdor's picture

Exactly.  This is a component of Agenda  21 - i.e. Limiting the mobility and free travel of the population.  If they manage to get self-driving cars working reliably (a huge IF) they will no doubt start putting the screws to people who want to drive themselves (remove parking lots, restrict "human-drive" cars from certain areas, taxes, penalties, etc - you can practially hear the juices squirting out of the Statist's panties in anticipation).  Of course, then there will be those who work on small, portable EMP devices - or even put a new spin on the IED - an IEMPD - triggered by cell phone to "pop" the driving computers as they pass.

Self-drive cars will also be perfect for those inconvenient assasinations.  We'll surely see those "one-off" computer failures ... usually when the car is occupied by someone the State doesn't particularly like.

RockySpears's picture

"Popping" the self drives will also Pop ervry other vehicle on the road and in range.  ECUs (car computers) have been an almost indespensible item in car inventories since 1980 and earlier.

  Most everything has been electronic for nearly 40 years.  ( I see the first "ECU" was in fact 1939 by BMW)



canisdirus's picture

What these kids that threaten and fear this don't realize is that it would take a tremendous amount of focused energy to kill an ECU. They're in heavily shielded boxes with input isolation within a faraday cage (the car body). Much easier to go with conventional explosives against them.

The risk of an EMP is in the hundreds of millions of miles worth of power lines in this country. Those all act as antennas and it would destroy most of the power grid. The risk to your electric car is not that it won't work, but that you can't charge it. The same is true of your liquid fuel cars - they're useless without fuel and a system distributing it.

The cars most at risk will have the least value in a post-EMP world - vehicles with bodies that are made of something other than metal. Even then, it's fairly likely that their ECUs will survive.

Arnold's picture

That is forward thinking in a nutshell.

Relentless's picture

And its not just you that could be stopped. Current laws hold the driver responsible for the vehicle, with autonomous vehicles where does the liability lie? The manufacturer? Software may be more reliable than humans, but its not 100%. You've got to start looking at the edge cases where the law of large numbers begins to take effect. You may have a failure rate of 1 per 100 million journeys, but with 50 million cars making multiple journeys a day, you'll see those failures on a daily basis. Once the lawsuits start, it'll only take a judge a stroke of a pen to issue a recall order that grounds a noticeable percentage of the autonomous fleet.

Then there's the hackers...


Anteater's picture

An hour north of Vegas is a casino and restaurant with seven of these Tesla rechargers in the back,

bleached pink by the sun, scoured by the desert winds, and piled around with tumbleweeds, ha,ha.

Nobody uses his sh't. He's got like 0.5% of the new car market and zero distributors. If your car

starts to get wonky, you have to trailer it back to the factory for a new $25,000 battery pack, lol.

SixIsNinE's picture

electric bikes, on the other hand - wow, can't be more impressed with my ebike i just put together.



Teja's picture

What I like most with autonomous cars is that the testosteron factor will go away. A sleek sports car driving in traffic consisting of 60% autonomous cars won't have much fun anymore. AIs are less easily impressed by the sight of a Mercedes than human small car drivers. And for those using an autonomous car, it will be much more like bus riding with an individual cabin than standard car driving.

Public transport will profit, anyway, with driverless minibuses and of course autonomous taxis.

I wonder how long pedestrians (for US readers... the concept of people walking on sidewalks is still current in Europe) and bike riders will accept autonomous cars driving through inner city areas and living quarters. In cities, trains are normally pushed underground. Same could happen to autonomous cars, especially when electrified. An interesting alternative might be a cable car system where these cars, lighter than current cars, double as cable car cabins. The design of the original Google car looked like having been copied from a cable car cabin.

DEMIZEN's picture

for a modern infrastructure, cities would have to be built from scratch. we would probably have one or two undergrounground layers with honeycomb navigated grid, 3-prong intersections reduces the chance of collision. second layer would serve as maintanance plateau for traffic grid and idle car(b)s. for cities with heavy precipitation it would be probably wiser to elevate the buldings and pedestrian infrastructure together with points of public interaction and use porous concrete on the ground.

this is of course pure fiction without any radical social changes. I pass homeless camps filled with thousands  of people some are visible because placed next to the fork ramps, the rest i can see on my flir camera while driving on freeway.  thousands in a stretch of a mile in one of most expensive zipcodes here in LA. it creeps the fuck out of me coming home at night and see them taking a nap in the tarp-and-firewood cottages.

HRClinton's picture

What happens if you want to eat out?

GotAFriendInBen's picture

you find a hot chick without a yeast infection

Citxmech's picture

My uncle has a country place
That no one knows about
He says it used to be a farm
Before the Motor Law
And on Sundays I elude the eyes
And hop the Turbine Freight
To far outside the Wire
Where my white-haired uncle waits...

Semi-employed White Guy's picture

You'll be able to do that in the back seat.

hairball48's picture

The labor unions gotta love this new "disruptive" technology in transportation. Does wonders for their already broke pension plans. Tuff shit.


highwaytoserfdom's picture

np complete problem and  safety nightmare  


Just a carbon fraud tax issue.  People seem to forget the first neural network fail the S&L application process..   Gosh these guys are bad engineers.   Watch Putin as he gives China a combined cycle reactor and  see if fusion pushes into hydrogen error..   

When control  (cell Phone triangulation , GPS, lsats) are simple laser targets this is a waste of money and resources,      

SixIsNinE's picture

carbon tax?  somebody mention climate change?

here's what our ex-almost President Algore is concerned with today :

(and please give him some MOAARR money - he needs it, though he's a billionaire from his already weather-frauds, etc.)

get a load of Algore in Prime Action !


Dear X,

In the decade since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, a lot has changed. Climate science has made major advances. Renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, has become cheaper than fossil fuel-based electricity in many parts of the world. Electric vehicles are more popular than ever.

Last week, the president signed an executive order to begin rolling back environmental protections and policies, including the Clean Power Plan, a cornerstone of our nation’s commitment to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. These actions are a misguided step away from a sustainable, carbon-free future for ourselves and generations to come.


Help our team at The Climate Reality Project raise $100,000 so we can continue to fight the climate crisis and work to create the healthy, sustainable future our planet deserves.

Today, with your support, we’re investing in the next generation of climate activists around the world through our Climate Reality Leadership Corps training program. These Climate Reality Leaders learn the practical tools they need to educate and inspire a new wave of curiosity, innovation, and climate action in their communities. My upcoming film, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, features the inspiring work of many of these Leaders and shows just how important everyday activists are to the fight for solutions to the climate crisis.

No matter how discouraging the president’s executive order may be, we must, we can, and we will solve the climate crisis. No one man or group can stop the escalating momentum we are experiencing in the fight to protect our planet.

Please consider making a generous contribution to Climate Reality today to support our efforts to mobilize citizens of the world to help put an end to the climate crisis and grow the clean energy economy.  

With your help, we can truly make a difference and create a better tomorrow.

With gratitude and hope,

Al Gore
Founder and Chairman
The Climate Reality Project

GooseShtepping Moron's picture

None of this is ever going to eventuate. The computational problems are too complex to ever be solved, and the whole idea itself is not compatible with other, much more real and concrete trends, like the reality of no global growth, approaching war, and the inevitable liquidation of a multi-trillion dollar debt-berg. 

seek's picture

The fact that hundreds of millions of people drive every day indicates otherwise.

They're not solving the computing problem with conventional programming. They're solving it with deep learning, literally throwing millions upon millions of examples at a system that then develops a weighted network from the input, and then that network is used to drive the car. As more data is thrown towards the problem, the more they can learn -- once this stuff hits the road, all the errors are going to be used to refine the models, and you're going to see exponential improvments (early on, that is.)This is my industry, this is absolutely happening.

The second and third-order things very few people are talking about openly is you can weaponize this same tech, create a thought police based on online activity, and program all manner of interesting weapons systems to use it as well -- and need very few people in the loop. If you wanted an all-powerful elite with a completely loyal guardian class, here you go. Once you dangle that particular outcome in front of the MIC-supporting ruling class, well, you're going to have to fight to stop this from happening, rather than counting on everything blowing up before it does. If it comes down to funding their pet monsters or feeding the people, you already know what they'll decide.