The ‘Pod Up’ Trend When Applied To Sharing Self-Driving Cars Might Offer Gainful Income And Achieve Mobility For All

There is a trend called “Pod Up” that is taking place these days.

Generally, the idea is to form small groups that share in some task or use of resources, often consisting of extended families and neighbors.

Here’s an interesting twist: Might the use of a pod-up approach be utilized during the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars as a means to enable most everyone to own, earn income, and have available the touted mobility-for-all that is supposed to emerge?

Let’s unpack the matter and see.

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars

As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless vehicles are considered a Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at a Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some point out, see my indication at this link here).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.

Self-Driving Cars And Pod Up

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

The AI is doing the driving.

Here’s how the pod movement comes to play.

First, some believe that the price tag for a self-driving car is going to be quite high, much higher than the purchase price for today’s conventional cars. This might be as a result of the added cost of the various hardware and electronics needed for a self-driving car, plus the costs for the self-driving software.

Some are worried that self-driving cars might only be available to the rich and famous (see my analysis of this aspect at the link here), due to stratospheric pricing.

Meanwhile, many pundits are hoping that self-driving cars are miraculously going to become a mobility-for-all option, enabling everyone to finally have ready access to car transport (for my explanation, see the link here). Those today that are mobility disadvantaged will presumably have access to car travel and be able to experience a mobility inspired lifestyle accordingly.

Can the mobility-for-all be achieved if the cost of self-driving cars is through the roof?

Well, the argument goes that self-driving cars will only be owned by large companies. Those entities will have the big bucks needed to buy self-driving cars and they will turnaround and have those expensive assets become money-making ride-sharing vehicles (so-called robo-taxis). In short, self-driving cars will only be owned in fleets.

We do not yet know whether the owners of these fleets would be someone like an Uber or Lyft, or might be the automakers, or could be rental car firms, or perhaps just about any large corporation that thinks the deployment of self-driving cars will bring them a dandy profit.

Under this way of thinking, there will no longer be individually owned cars, at least not self-driving cars, though as mentioned earlier perhaps outsized wealthy people might opt to get them for their use and amusement.

I am known as somewhat of a contrarian on this topic and fervently believe that we will still likely have individual car ownership, even for self-driving cars. My logic is that if there is a buck to be made off of a self-driving car, entrepreneurs and even everyday consumers are going to be tempted to make that buck too.

Today’s conventional cars are difficult to rent out as an individual owner because you need to provide a human driver. In the future, if you own a self-driving car, you can have it take you to work, and during the workday it could be out doing ride-sharing, earning you a supplemental income. The same could happen at nighttime after you get home, and perhaps the self-driving car is providing rides while you are nestled in your bed and sleeping throughout the night.

Today’s cars are a wasted asset that sits idle about 95% of the time. Also, they require the added cost of a human driver.

With self-driving cars, they can be put into use nearly 24/7 (with limitations due to maintenance, and so on, see my discussion here). And, importantly, no human driver is needed.

There is a bit of a rub though.

Besides the purchase price, there is the matter of maintaining the car and making sure it keeps in top form. The sensitive electronics and systems are not necessarily going to be as readily able to withstand the rigors of day-to-day wear-and-tear.

A fleet owner of self-driving cars is likely to set up special maintenance bays or comparable centers whereby the vehicles come to get their needed ongoing fixes and repairs. This adds cost and makes owning self-driving cars more complex than it might otherwise seem at first glance.

If an individual owns a self-driving car, how are they going to make sure that this maintenance gets done?

Also, the individual owner is at risk that their self-driving car might or might not be sought as a self-driving ride-sharing option and thus end-up forking over a lot of dough for an asset that might not proffer the expected monetary returns.

Into this conundrum enters the pod movement.

Rather than buying a self-driving car on your own, you might instead enter into a pod of others that collectively have agreed to share the ownership and responsibility for a self-driving car.

Envision a pod consisting of three families that live in the same neighborhood and among them, there are eleven members of the pod.

They decide to pool their monies and buy a self-driving car. Also, they determine where and how maintenance will be performed. These details are important and would need to be worked out, though eventually there is likely to be a contractual and logistics template readily available for those wishing to collectively own and operate self-driving cars.

During parts of the day, the members of this pod might have agreed to use the self-driving car for the sole purposes of the pod.

They might individually ride in the self-driving car, or with their family, or with other members of the pod.

At some points during the day, they might have agreed that the self-driving car is listed on a ride-sharing online network and shown as being available to provide rides.

Overall, some of the time, the self-driving car will be making money by doing ride-sharing, and at other times will not be earning money per se and instead simply be providing rides for those members of the pod. There will be a trade-off involved as to how much money the pod wants to make versus the convenience of having their shared self-driving car for traveling purposes.

In one sense, you could liken this sharing arrangement to timeshares, though of course conventional timeshares have gotten a bit of a bad reputation and there are undeniably lessons to be learned from those kinds of ventures.

Hopefully, the shared self-driving cars arena will avoid the pitfalls of other such agreements.

Conclusion

One voiced concern about self-driving cars is that they might roam endlessly and be empty a great deal of the time (for my assessment of this, see the link here). This would seem to be an inadvertent unsavory consequence of self-driving cars since they might clutter our streets, chew-up the roadways by continual driving, and be as untoward for our environment in some ways as conventional cars.

The possibility of pods for self-driving car ownership has the potential for reducing the wasted time of meandering and somewhat aimless self-driving cars. Those within a pod would presumably seek to utilize the self-driving in optimal ways, including for their personal use and for when it is made available for ride-sharing activities. It is the synergy derived from a hyper-local approach to leveraging self-driving cars.

Pods though are not necessarily a bed of roses.

Putting together and keeping a pod intact takes a lot of work. In the case of self-driving cars, utilizing a pod approach could bring in a sizable supplement income, likely shared among those in the pod, and further enable the populace to benefit from self-driving cars.

Figuring out the optimal number of members in a pod will need to gradually be ascertained, as will the efficacy of self-driving car pod ownership and operation.

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