May 31 – Autonomous Vehicle Day

GabeBell Ringers, Economics(BR)

May 31 is National Autonomous Vehicle Day.

The dream of self-driving cars and trucks is very near to becoming reality. Although there are other technologies (like fusion-based atomic power plants) which have been “just around the corner” for decades, with self-driving cars, the engineering problems seem to have been mostly solved, and the remaining work is based on accumulating data, developing infrastructure, and resolving legal issues such as liability. We may see the first truly self-driving vehicles on the roads in a couple of years.

The promise of self-driving cars is that they will be safer, more reliable, and free up lots of time drivers now spend in unproductive commuting. The downside is that drivers will turn over even more control of their movement to third parties.

And the cost? Some say that self-driving cars will be “free”. What? Yes, “free”! That is, that you will be able to travel in a self-driving car at no monetary cost. How could this be? Just like Google allows you to use its search engine for “free,” and other web sites their features, cars may become a moving form of data collection on you and your life, as well as a platform for advertising and selling products. You might do your shopping at Whole Foods, and a car, with your groceries in the back, shows up to take you home from work. The ride is a bonus for shopping at Whole Foods.

Or you may agree to watch ads during the trip, like airports sometimes offer in return for “free” internet access. You get the idea.

  1. What problems do you think might arise from a system of “free” self-driving cars?
  2. Self-driving cars may be as disruptive to our culture as cars were in the first place. Who benefits and who is hurt by such a system?
  3. What are some of the other non-monetary costs of using self-driving cars? What about other non-monetary benefits?

Image Citation:

18 May, 2018, Autonomous vehicle [Digital photograph].  Retrieved from <>.