Self-driving cars have the potential to revolutionize transportation. Some people who are working on developing the technology compare them to another form of transportation that most people take for granted: elevators. Chris Urmson, who leads Google’s self-driving car project, and Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, have both compared driverless cars to elevators.
Elevators changed both people’s perceptions and the way they physically moved in buildings and cities. Before the dawn of the elevator, residents wanted to live on lower floors to avoid having to climb long flights of stairs. After elevators became commonplace, people preferred to live on higher floors.
With elevators a possibility, architects could design taller buildings. This led to cities full of skyscrapers and created new public spaces with their own rules of etiquette.
Elevators have changed dramatically over time. In the early days, trained operators used cranks and levers to move people from floor to floor. Today, people simply press buttons. Motion sensors can detect a person and hold a door.
Urmson pointed out a parallel in the way both elevators and driverless cars were introduced. With elevators, people could not imagine completely giving up control to the machine, so they relied on an elevator operator. Over time, people gained confidence and realized they did not need operators.
Urmson believes that driverless cars may soon become so common that people will take them for granted like elevators. Musk predicted that in the future people may prefer driverless cars so much that human driving will be illegal.