Feb 16, 2016 | Atlanta, GA
Rutt Bridges will give a talk on his book "The Driverless Car Revolution" this Thursday, from 1:30 - 3:00 p.m. in the John and Joyce Caddell Building. This lecture is cosponsored by the College of Architecture and the College of Sciences.The following is an edited transcript of an interview with Rutt Bridges.
Q: How did you get interested in driverless cars?
A: I’d just sold my startup and I decided to take a deep dive into disruptive technologies because it was a fascinating subject, all about change and the future.
I got very interested in drones, but also genomics, material sciences, nanoparticles, a wide variety of different technologies. Even disruptive business plans and how it’s changing companies.
But I got into driverless cars. The more I looked at them, the more I realized we’re not that far out from seeing it on our streets and highways.
I’m from a venture capital background, so I built a business plan around this idea. What will this cost? The answer is, the cost of a driverless car would be between 30 and 40 cents a mile for the vehicle. That’s half the cost of owning a car, including mileage, depreciation, taxes, all the other things. Not including the cost of parking, a driverless car could be, on a per passenger basis, half that cost.
I started thinking about what that means to people. Instead of owning the car you could just rent your seat in the car. In a two-person car, like with ride sharing, it’s 15 cents a mile. That’s far cheaper than bus fare. You’re looking at a technology that’s going to change a lot of things.
Q: So what could some of those changes be?
A: If you’re real estate developer or city planner, instead of having to build parking spaces – even when the building is residential -- then building costs less. An apartment would cost less anywhere, in cities or suburbs. The cost of living would be lower.
The impact on the disabled community would be huge. Even a blind person could get in a car and go somewhere if there were driverless vehicles. There’s always public transportation, but the biggest issue there for anyone who is handicapped are the first and last miles of the ride.
A lot of public transportation takes you from where you’re not to not quite where you want to be. If you don’t have a door-to-door solution and public transportation is your only option, commutes can often take an hour more than if you drove your own car.
But it’s also tough for a single mom or a low income worker. Look how much time it takes to public transportation; the amount of time it takes to change busses. It also costs more to live near (a subway). Single moms might decide to take a lesser job that’s within walking distance of their home. All that is time away from the kids, helping them do homework or having fun with your family.
For seniors, the moment your kids come to you and say, "Hey dad, hey mom, you can’t drive anymore, and it’s not safe, and we have to come up with another solution." When you give up your keys you give up your freedom. Driverless cars could let you maintain your independence, stay in your home and take care of your day to day needs.
It has a bigger societal effect – driverless cars could improve quality of life.
Q: You say that the Driverless Revolution is possibly only a few years away. What’s one of the harbingers of autonomous vehicles?
A: I was recently at a fundraiser … in Washington, D.C. and ran into an old friend. She told me that her son did not want a new car for his 16th birthday – that he asked for an Uber account instead.
When I turned 16, I was right there when that door opened at the driver’s test. I was waiting. And today, there is a stunning statistic on the Department of Transportation website. If you look at 16 to 19 year olds, half of those people do not have drivers’ licenses.
Partially it’s a social change. Driving isn’t as big a deal, they’re just less interested in it.
When I was growing up cars were the cool thing. Back in the day we were interested in engines and overhead and exhaust, all that. Millennials are not driving as much.
Q: You’re a Georgia Tech grad with a Bachelor of Science in Physics and a Master of Science in Geophysics. How did that get you into driverless cars?
A: My last startup was (based in) geophysics, big data and analytics, but before that I ran a public policy think tank and did a whole lot of other things. One of the joys in life is being able to shift gears.
When I exited that last startup I decided to take a different direction. I had the science background to think about it in terms of the raw technology. I took Lydar courses at Georgia Tech but I also did software development there for gravity surveys. That software is key to driverless cars. It’s as much a software problem as it is a parts and pieces and science problem.
That’s one of the reasons that Apple, Google and Tesla, the “Silicon bunch,” are the leaders in this next generation of car technologies. Major automakers are looking at this and saying, “We’re gonna keep super cruise control and make it park itself,” and Google said, “What is a car? What will a car be 100 years from now?” They started with a clean sheet of paper.
Google’s model is providing mobility. Most people are more interested in how they get from point A to point B than what they’re in when they get there. If they can travel efficiently, inexpensively, and sit in the back and do whatever they want to do -- tomorrow’s PowerPoint presentation or catch up on your email or watch cat videos. I actually found an awful lot of people care more about that than the potential cost of driverless cars, having a free hour a day that you otherwise not have because you were in traffic.