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New business opportunities due to self-driving cars

8 Post author: chaosmage 06 September 2017 08:07PM

This is a slightly expanded version of a talk presented at the Less Wrong European Community Weekend 2017.

Predictions about self-driving cars in the popular press are pretty boring. Truck drivers are losing their jobs, self-driving cars will be more rented than owned, transport becomes cheaper, so what. The interesting thing is how these things change the culture and economy and what they make possible.

I have no idea about most of this. I don't know if self-driving cars accelerate or decelerate urbanization, I don't know how public transport responds, I don't even care which of the old companies survive. What I do think is somewhat predictable is some of the business opportunities become economical that previously weren't. I disregard retail, which would continue moving to online retail at the expense of brick and mortar stores even if the FedEx trucks would continue to be driven by people.

Diversification of vehicle types

A family car that you own has to be somewhat good at many different jobs. It has to get you places fast. It has to be a thing that can transport lots of groceries. It has to take your kid to school.

With self-driving cars that you rent for each seperate job, you want very different cars. A very fast one to take you places. A roomy one with easy access for your groceries. And a tiny, cute, unicorn-themed one that takes your kid to school.

At the same time, the price of autonomy is dropping faster than the price of batteries, so you want the lowest mass car that can do the job. So a car that is very fast and roomy and unicorn-themed at the same time isn't economical.

So if you're an engineer or a designer, consider going into vehicle design. There's an explosion of creativity about to happen in that field that will make it very different from the subtle iterations in car design of the past couple of decades.

Who wins: Those who design useful new types of autonomous vehicles for needs that are not, or badly, met by general purpose cars.

Who loses: Owners of general purpose cars, which lose value rapidly.

Services at home

If you have a job where customers come to visit you, say you're a doctor or a hairdresser or a tattoo artist, your field of work is about to change completely. This is because services that go visit the customer outcompete ones that the customer has to go visit. They're more convenient and they can also easily service less mobile customers. This already exists for rich people: If you have a lot of money, you pay for your doctor's cab and have her come to your mansion. But with transport prices dropping sharply, this reaches the mass market.

This creates an interesting dynamic. In this kind of job, you have some vague territory - your customers are mostly from your surrounding area and your number of competitors inside this area is relatively small. With services coming to the home, everyone's territories become larger, so more of them overlap, creating competition and discomfort. I believe the typical solution, which reinstates a more stable business situation and requires no explicit coordination, is increased specialization within your profession. So a doctor might be less of her district's general practitioner and more of her city's leading specialist in one particular illness within one particular demographic. A hairdresser might be the city's expert for one particular type of haircut for one particular type of hair. And so on.

Who wins: Those who adapt quickly and steal customers from stationary services.

Who loses: Stationary services and their landlords.

Rent anything

You will not just rent cars, you will rent anything that a car can bring to your home and take away again. You don't go to the gym, you have a mobile gym visit you twice a week. You don't own a drill that sits unused 99,9% of the time, you have a little drone bring you one for an hour for like two dollars. You don't buy a huge sound system for your occasional party, you rent one that's even huger and on wheels.

Best of all, you can suddenly have all sort of absurd luxuries, stuff that previously only millionaires or billionaires would afford, provided you only need it for an hour and it fits in a truck. The possibilities for business here are dizzying.

Who wins: People who come up with clever business models and the vehicles to implement them.

Who loses: Owners and producers of infrequently used equipment.

Self-driving hotel rooms

This is a special case of the former but deserves its own category. Self-driving hotel rooms replace not just hotel rooms, but also tour guides and your holiday rental car. They drive you to all the tourist sites, they stop at affiliated restaurants, they occasionally stop at room service stations. And on the side, they do overnight trips from city to faraway city, competing with airlines.

Who wins: The first few companies who perfect this.

Who loses: Stationary hotels and motels.

Rise of alcoholism and drug abuse

Lots of people lack intrinsic motivation to be sober. They basically can't decide against taking something. Many of them currently make do with extrinsic motivation: They manage to at least not drink while driving. In other words, for a large number of people, driving is their only reason not to drink or do drugs. That reason is going away and consumption is sure to rise accordingly.

Hey I didn't say all the business opportunities were particularly ethical. But if you're a nurse or doctor, if you go into addiction treatment you're probably good.

Who wins: Suppliers of mind-altering substances and rehab clinics.

Who loses: The people who lack intrinsic motivation to be sober, and their family and friends.

Autonomous boats and yachts

While there's a big cost advantage to vehicle autonomy in cars, it is arguably even bigger in boats. You don't need a sailing license, you don't need to hire skilled sailors, you don't need to carry all the room and food those sailors require. So the cost of going by boat drops a lot, and there's probably a lot more traffic in (mostly coastal) waters. Again very diverse vehicles, from the little skiff that transports a few divers or anglers to the personal yacht that you rent for your honeymoon. This blends into the self-driving hotel room, just on water.

Who wins: Shipyards, especially the ones that adapt early.

Who loses: Cruise ships and marine wildlife.

Mobile storage

The only reason we put goods in warehouses is that it is too expensive to just leave them in the truck all the way from the factory to the buyer. That goes away as well, although with the huge amounts of moved mass involved this transition is probably slower than the others. Shipping containers on wheels already exist.

Who wins: Manufacturers, and logistics companies that can provide even better just in time delivery.

Who loses: Intermediate traders, warehouses and warehouse workers.

That's all I got for now. And I'm surely missing the most important innovation that self-driving vehicles will permit. But until that one becomes clear, maybe work with the above. All of these are original ideas that I haven't seen written down anywhere. So if like one of these and would like to turn it into a business, you're a step ahead of nearly everybody right now and I hope it makes you rich. If it does, you can buy me a beer. :-)

Comments (68)

Comment author: Lumifer 07 September 2017 12:00:09AM *  6 points [-]

I'm sorry, this is an armchair-businessing load of rubbish.

You write:

I have no idea about most of this.

This seems correct.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 07 September 2017 04:57:18AM 9 points [-]

-1, this is pointlessly negative. There's a disclaimer at the top (so it's not like he's claiming false authority), the title is appropriate (so it's not like you were tricked into clicking on the article), and it's reasonably on-topic because LW people are in the software/AI/entrepreneurship space. Sure, maybe most of the proposals are far-fetched, but if one of the ideas sparks an idea that sparks an idea, the net value could be very positive.

Comment author: Lumifer 07 September 2017 02:38:41PM 2 points [-]

I'm not saying it's misleading. I'm saying it's stupid.

Comment author: Dagon 07 September 2017 04:30:51PM 1 point [-]

this is pointlessly negative

No, it's pointedly negative. This post doesn't belong on LW.

Comment author: Brillyant 07 September 2017 09:29:10PM 0 points [-]

Yes. LW's content is too good for this.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 10 September 2017 07:49:54AM *  6 points [-]

Note that neither Lumifer, nor Dagon, nor Brillyant have ever made a top-level submission of original content to Less Wrong. It's easy to be a critic.

Since Lumifer, Dagon, and Brillyant seem to want a site that never has anything new on it, may I suggest example.com? It hardly ever changes.

...what did people say they'd need to rejoin [Less Wrong]?

Feel free to read these yourselves (they're not long), but I'll go ahead and summarize: It's all about the content. Content, content, content. No amount of usability improvements, A/B testing or clever trickery will let you get around content. People are overwhelmingly clear about this; they need a reason to come to the site and right now they don't feel like they have one. That means priority number one for somebody trying to revitalize LessWrong is how you deal with this.

Source. Less Wrongers overwhelmingly want there to be more posts.

The problem with comments like Lumifer's is not that they are incorrect. It's that they create a bad incentive structure for content creators. Anyone who posts to LW is doing free labor in an attempt to improve the accuracy of the community's beliefs. I believe that lukeprog, Eliezer, and Yvain have all complained that writing LW posts is not very rewarding. If there's some probability that the Lumifers are the world are going to call your post "stupid" without offering any specific feedback, that makes the job even more thankless. And no, this is not necessarily something a person can predict in advance: a previous post chaosmage made got voted to +55, and the ideas in it were being used by a friend of mine years after it was made.

The cost of an occasional bad post is not very high: you read it until you realize it is bad and then you move on. But the cost of nasty comments like Lumifer's can be quite high. Most online communities suck, and nasty comments are a big part of the reason why. If I was selling a product you could spray on an online community to prevent anything from growing there, I would name it Lumifer.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 September 2017 04:38:31PM *  5 points [-]

The problem with comments like Lumifer's is not that they are incorrect. It's that they create a bad incentive structure for content creators.

That's a very interesting opposition to set up :-D

First, let's take it as black-and-white. If I call a top-level post stupid and I'm "not ... incorrect", then let me point out that the incentive structure is entirely right: I don't want content creators posting stupid stuff and I doubt many people would prefer to see more stupid posts on LW.

If we take it more reasonably as a trade-off, it certainly exists -- both in the let's-pick-polite-expressions dimension and in the let's-avert-out-eyes-and-say-nothing dimension. However the principle stands -- you want to provide negative incentives to stupid posts.

In general, I think we have a bigger disagreement. Your approach to "content" is that of a consumer -- you want other people to feed you tasty bits of content. My approach is different. I find considerably more value in discussion (especially a spirited one) than in the posts themselves. From my point of view, most of the "content" is in comments, not in posts, and being able to participate in the give-and-take makes the conversation even more worthwhile.

As I said several times I dislike the high-priesthood view of science and I dislike the high-priesthood view of forums as well. I am not particularly interested in having a few high-status people bestow their wisdom upon me in exchange for adoration.

I am also not interested in providing incentives for any content. There are places on the 'net with LOTS AND LOTS of content -- Facebook, Reddit, Buzzfeed, etc. etc. If you want "content", go there: LW will never be able to compete. From LW I want specific and highly filtered content -- that's what makes LW special and interesting. If LW gets filled with half-assed stream-of-consciosness ramblings about random stuff, well, I don't think it will work out well :-/

Anyone who posts to LW is doing free labor in an attempt to improve the accuracy of the community's beliefs.

First, that's false. Second, some of these attempts are... counterproductive.

But the cost of nasty comments like Lumifer's can be quite high

Show me the data.

If I was selling a product you could spray on an online community to prevent anything from growing there, I would name it Lumifer.

Ah, how cute! Tell you what, when you startup gets to the MVP stage, ping me and we'll discuss the brand name licensing terms :-P

Comment author: cousin_it 12 September 2017 03:39:15PM *  5 points [-]

From LW I want specific and highly filtered content

We want the same thing then. My way of achieving it is to write posts and comments when I have something interesting to say. For example, if I disagree with something, I usually don't reply unless I can add a bit of insight to my disagreement, so it's worth reading to everyone and not just the person I'm replying to.

From talking to you, it seems like you're using the opposite strategy. You ask questions that are uninteresting on their own (or at least feel that way to me and others). When someone replies, you follow up with more of the same. Maybe you could try optimizing your comments for interest instead of "spirited discussion"?

Comment author: Lumifer 12 September 2017 04:12:54PM 0 points [-]

You ask questions that are uninteresting on their own (or at least feel that way to me and others)

I am a bit curious, then, how did I manage to accumulate that much karma by merely being uninteresting...

People are different. They find interesting different things. It seems likely that our interests don't overlap much -- but I would be wary of making wide-ranging conclusions on that basis.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 14 September 2017 06:59:21AM *  0 points [-]

how did I manage to accumulate that much karma

Sheer volume of comments is the main reason. You're receiving about 2x as many downvotes as cousin_it, proportionally speaking.

Comment author: Lumifer 14 September 2017 02:28:08PM 0 points [-]

A couple of year ago, when we still had downvotes, there was an interesting thread about the values of "% positive" karma which you can see if you hover your mouse over the karma score box.

Because upvotes were always more plentiful than downvotes, the opinions expressed in that thread converged to something like:

  • ~50% positive: LW hates you, you don't fit in
  • 70-80% positive: you're fine
  • > 90% positive: you have been consumed by the hive mind, it's probably too late for you to escape

:-D

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 11 September 2017 10:40:40PM *  4 points [-]

From my point of view, most of the "content" is in comments, not in posts, and being able to participate in the give-and-take makes the conversation even more worthwhile.

If content is content is content, why are your nasty comments typically about top-level contributions rather than comments? However little signal there may have been in chaosmage's post, your reply contained even less. It was at DH3 at best, plausibly DH0.

If content is content is content, and most of the content is in the comments, shouldn't we also call everyone in this thread who responded to chaosmage's post in earnest stupid?

When you assess your own contributions, do you think they are stupid? Do you think they are good enough to be top-level posts? If not, why exactly should should we hold your comments to a lower standard than we hold top-level posts to? Especially if the discussion is where the value is supposed to be found.

Frankly, I find your contributions consistently uninteresting and banal. Just in this comment, you managed to

  • Misread my comment. "If we take it more reasonably as a trade-off" - that's what I did. I discussed the both the costs and benefits of harsh replies (cf "The cost of an occasional bad post is not very high: you read it until you realize it is bad and then you move on.")

  • Strawman my comment. "I am also not interested in providing incentives for any content. There are places on the 'net with LOTS AND LOTS of content -- Facebook, Reddit, Buzzfeed, etc. etc." That's not what I advocated. I advocated taking in to account the counterfactual impact of nasty comments. Which is a point you still haven't responded to. Maybe it would be sensible to make comments harsher if we start to have the "too much content" problem. But that's not the current problem.

  • Introduce a non sequiter: "As I said several times I dislike the high-priesthood view of science and I dislike the high-priesthood view of forums as well. I am not particularly interested in having a few high-status people bestow their wisdom upon me in exchange for adoration." How is this relevant to our discussion? The issue here is you being nasty without adding any signal. Despite their username, chaosmage is no "high priest".

  • Respond at DH3 again: "First, that's false." Why is it false? As usual, you express disagreement without adding anything to the discussion.

Consistent with my position, I might tolerate you if your only issue was low-signal contributions. I might tolerate your constant need to disagree with everything if you weren't a jerk about it: "Hey chaosmage, I'm skeptical that the future is this easy to predict." I might even tolerate your toxic behavior if you were actually providing contributions of value. But your combination of low-signal contributions and toxic behavior is too much. You seem to think that flatly contradicting everything in sight makes you some kind of bold maverick. I see you as more of a poster child for this essay.

Show me the data.

During the period where LW declined, you have consistently been at or near the top of "TOP CONTRIBUTORS, 30 DAYS" on the sidebar. You spend more time participating than anyone else, so you set the tone for the forum. This was during a period where almost everyone agrees that things moved in the wrong direction.

At this point, due to all the time you spend here, Less Wrong has undergone evaporative cooling. Many of the users who remain are those who have an affinity for your brand of uninspired, disagreeable obstinacy. I know of at least 4 other people who agree with me that you, specifically, have been toxic for Less Wrong's culture. Some of these people I have a lot of respect for, in the sense that I learn things from talking to them. (I never learn things from talking to you.) These people spend a lot less time contributing to LW as a result.

What if you are the harbringer of Eternal September? Have you ever considered that?

I probably won't respond further in this thread, because I've found that arguing with you results in an exponentially growing tree of tiresome objections. You never seem to change your mind on anything and you seem to disagree just for the sake of disagreement. I don't ever get the sense that you have an underlying model of the world that informs your comments. It seems like you are more about disagreeing with everything in sight. And you seem to think that because you are disagreeing with people, it's OK for your comments to be held to a lower standard.

I will say that I really, really wish you would find somewhere else on the internet to hang out.

Comment author: Lumifer 12 September 2017 04:08:20PM *  1 point [-]

Tsk, tsk. Such a nasty comment... X-)

I find your contributions consistently uninteresting and banal ... your combination of low-signal contributions and toxic behavior is too much.

Well, don't read them, then. When you see the name "Lumifer", just skip over the comment. It's not too hard -- I manage to ignore comments by some people here without calling them names or expressing hope that they will disappear.

Ignoring stuff you don't want to see is a very basic internet skill. I wonder how you manage without it.

due to all the time you spend here, Less Wrong has undergone evaporative cooling

The theory that I, personally, am responsible for the LW decline has a few rather large holes. For one, by the time I got here Eliezer was already gone and Scott was making only very occasional comments. For another one, that "top contributors" leaderboard ranks by karma, not by volume -- if I was prone to staying on top of it, this means that the existing LW population tended to like my comments.

What if you are the harbringer of Eternal September?

LOL, nope. Eternal September is about quite a different thing, anyway.

I really, really wish you would find somewhere else on the internet to hang out

Sorry, I don't grant wishes. May I suggest that you learn to deal with the fact that not all people are interested in your seal of approval?

Comment author: username2 12 September 2017 11:19:24AM 1 point [-]

I think Lumifer can be annoying as hell at times. But has been entirely consistent from the very start and has continued to engage in entirely the same way with whatever members are posting here.

Perhaps the different post rating system in LW 2.0 (if successfully launched and managed) will allow members who don't like this sort of thing to more easily avoid or hide from this kind of dialogue but I expect (hope?) Lumifer will remain immune to shifts in the incentive structure.

Comment author: chaosmage 12 September 2017 01:06:38PM 0 points [-]

I completely agree with everything you said here.

Comment author: chaosmage 11 September 2017 08:35:12AM 2 points [-]

Well said.

To be fair, I didn't expect this to be voted very high. Not in these times. I was basically writing this down to have a public record of the talk I gave, and to look back at this years later and see how I did predicting things.

I do see your larger point though. I was clearly motivated to produce this by the large and friendly crowd at the European Less Wrong Community Weekends, where most people go by Crocker's Rule and give way better feedback than Lumifer is able to. The little extra effort of writing down would have been worth it even if all the comments would have been Lumifer level quality. If LessWrong was the only place I put these ideas, the current environment here would indeed not feel very much worth the work of spelling them out in the first place.

Comment author: Brillyant 18 September 2017 02:09:58PM 0 points [-]

I was criticising the criticism of this post.

I feel like you're taking all of this way too seriously.

Fix the "RECENT ON RATIONALITY BLOGS"

Comment author: scarcegreengrass 12 September 2017 05:37:03PM 0 points [-]

I agree although i do not dislike Lumifer's comments in general, just the overly negative ones.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 08 September 2017 12:32:58AM 4 points [-]

Strongly disagree. I would be more enthused about lesswrong if it had more attempts at futurism.

Comment author: Lumifer 08 September 2017 03:43:54PM 2 points [-]

I like futurism, but this is not it. This is an attempt to forecast how economic incentives will get rearranged in the near future conditional on the self-driving cars technology becoming widespread. This attempt was a failure.

Moreover, it was such an obvious failure, that the only two explanations I can come up with is either that the author has no clue at all about business and economics, or that he dumped a stream of consciousness without bothering to spend five minutes thinking about it.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 10 September 2017 10:11:57PM 5 points [-]

If it is trivial to do better with a few moments of reflection then make with the interesting comments. I see your near universal non-specific disdainful comments as a significant part of why LW is less pleasant to post to.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 September 2017 03:40:15PM *  1 point [-]

Among the most pleasant places to post to are mutual-adoration communities. There are some on the web. They are among the most useless, too, though.

The way it usually works is that the place to get good information is different from the place to get your hedons. That's not an accident.

Comment author: chaosmage 09 September 2017 12:47:26PM 2 points [-]

I don't see how it was a failure, so you're wrong about it being obvious.

Given the intensity of your criticism, I wonder why you aren't being more specific about the faults you see here.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 September 2017 04:13:33PM *  4 points [-]

The two root problems in your post are that you treat self-driving cars as cost-free instant teleportation devices and that you don't understand which costs drive the particular forms that businesses take.

Diversification of vehicle types

Somewhat, but much less than you expect because contemporary car design is driven by law-mandated safety requirements. The same requirements put a floor on the cars' weight.

There is also the fact that a general-purpose car will spend less time sitting in a parking lot doing nothing while waiting for someone to require it. Renting specialized equipment is expensive partially because of this -- there is a lot of idle time.

Services at home

Nope. It's not the case that the doctor doesn't come to your house because she can't afford a driver. The doctor doesn't come to your house first because her time is more valuable than yours and second because it's hard (=expensive) to bring along all the nurses and assistants and the medical equipment that she has around her office. And, by the way, the doctor doesn't fill out the insurance paperwork -- she has a much cheaper assistant who does.

Of course you can get a doctor (and a hairdresser, and a tatoo artist, etc.) to come to your house, even without self-driving cars. It's just going to be very very expensive. I don't expect this to change.

Rent anything

The cost of a driver is a minor component of the cost of renting large, expensive, luxury things. Taking it out will not make them suddenly affordable. And, by the way, who will unload, set up, dismantle and load back into the self-driving truck all these jacuzzis and huge sound systems?

Also, about the "stuff that previously only millionaires or billionaires would afford" that your median-income person would be able to rent if only you take the truck driver out of the equation -- literally nothing comes to my mind.

Self-driving hotel rooms

They are called caravans or camper vans or RVs. They exist. Have you tried renting them? They are quite expensive to rent, much more so than hotel rooms.

Rise of alcoholism and drug abuse

" for a large number of people, driving is their only reason not to drink or do drugs" -- that's, um, wrong. I have no idea how you came up with such nonsense.

Autonomous boats and yachts

There is no such thing as a "sailing license" (in most countries that I know of) and renting sizeable boats is quite expensive. It will not become less expensive if the boat has an autopilot. Recreational boating doesn't want fully autonomous boats, anyway, and commercial shipping already uses autopilots and still finds out that it needs people to run ships.

Mobile storage

I think this already has been mentioned -- storing things in trucks is much, MUCH more expensive than storing them in warehouses. Also, just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing was all the rage a couple of decades ago. The enthusiasm has cooled down considerably since then, mostly because people have found out that JIT production is not robust to disruptions and does not degrade gracefully if something goes wrong. Hint: something always goes wrong.

Renting a self-driving truck is not going to be cheaper than renting a regular truck (the rental company does not supply a driver in any case). Go ahead, look up how much renting trucks costs and then see if you want to store stuff in them.

Comment author: chaosmage 12 September 2017 12:49:09PM *  0 points [-]

contemporary car design is driven by law-mandated safety requirements

I don't know about your country but in mine (Germany) the car industry has so much influence they basically write their own laws. (That's how we got those safety requirements: They're defense against cheaper cars from abroad.) If their business model stops being focused on general use cars, the laws will change very quickly.

a general-purpose car will spend less time sitting in a parking lot doing nothing while waiting for someone to require it

Sure! Not a problem if its TCO is pretty low. Most of those more specialized vehicles will be cheaper than general purpose cars, because they have sharply reduced capabilities. A great number of them will be pretty small, just enough to carry a single person or (in an even smaller, windowless car) a piece of cargo. Others will have to require paying a premium, but they'll mostly be doing things general purpose cars cannot do, like transport a horse.

Side note: Some of those specialized cars will also be sold, not rented. I imagine rich parents gifting their seven year olds their own car. And as soon as someone makes what is basically just a bed on wheels, a small minority of people will live in those things.

The doctor doesn't come to your house first because her time is more valuable than yours

That's a good point. So maybe it starts with hairdressers.

Of course offering services at home will be most attractive to those who are new to their field and haven't sunk costs into an office.

and second because it's hard (=expensive) to bring along all the nurses and assistants and the medical equipment that she has around her office.

Most doctors need very little equipment most of the time. Some types of doctors (psychiatrists, dermatologists) need very little equipment period.

The cost of a driver is a minor component of the cost of renting large, expensive, luxury things. Taking it out will not make them suddenly affordable.

The main cost is insurance and autonomous vehicles means that one drops hard. The lack of a driver mostly means you can rent things out in a very large operating radius.

And, by the way, who will unload, set up, dismantle and load back into the self-driving truck all these jacuzzis and huge sound systems?

Most of the things never leave the "truck". The vehicle is built around them, on a standardized flat chassis. Some of them will have staff, sure. For example, you'd have a bartender if you were renting out a highly specialized mobile bar that has casks of twenty different excellent whiskeys and might be popular with bachelor parties.

Also, about the "stuff that previously only millionaires or billionaires would afford" that your median-income person would be able to rent if only you take the truck driver out of the equation -- literally nothing comes to my mind.

Alright. I'll leave it at that.

They are called caravans or camper vans or RVs. They exist. Have you tried renting them? They are quite expensive to rent, much more so than hotel rooms.

You're simply wrong about rental RVs: their prices are not much more expensive than hotel rooms anymore. (They do remain more expensive than small rental cars.) Check for yourself at places like http://www.apollorv.com/ . They'll get cheaper by going electric (like all cars will) due to less moving parts and less repairs. They'll get cheaper again by going autonomous (like all cars will) due to less mass for the driver cab and less accidents. So even if it was just self-driving RVs, they'd be an opportunity to disrupt stationary hotels.

But RVs are lower class than most hotel rooms, they're cramped, they're optimized for carrying lots of supplies and they have kitchens. A lot of people wouldn't want to use an RV even if it was half the price of a typical hotel room. If you have a self-driving RV and you want to really tear into the market share of stationary hotels, you throw out the kitchen and most of the cupboards and put in the best bed that you can make fit and a great entertainment system.

" for a large number of people, driving is their only reason not to drink or do drugs" -- that's, um, wrong. I have no idea how you came up with such nonsense.

Couple of years in psychiatric research.

no such thing as a "sailing license" (in most countries that I know of)

So you don't know a lot of European countries? I don't know a lot of non-European ones, so you may be right this isn't a factor there.

renting sizeable boats is quite expensive

Exactly. And why? Because the risk of accidents, and the insurance to cover that, is a larger cost factor than with cars. And the main advantage of vehicle autonomy is the sharply reduced number of accidents.

Recreational boating doesn't want fully autonomous boats, anyway

Maybe many don't. But recreational divers and anglers and people who just need to get across the water will be happy with it.

commercial shipping already uses autopilots and still finds out that it needs people to run ships

Yes but it needs way fewer people. If you charter a yacht now, you have a crew of at least 5 people. With an autonomous yacht, you can go down to one crewmember who mostly cleans the place, and maybe a cook.

Renting a self-driving truck is not going to be cheaper than renting a regular truck

Your assertion is ludicrous. Yes it will be cheaper, and a lot. The self-driving truck doesn't need to carry all the mass that the driver needs, including fragile points of failure such as windows, it doesn't have mandatory stop times, it gets into way fewer accidents, it basically cannot be stolen. If you don't think a self-driving truck company can undercut a traditional trucking company, I hope you don't run a trucking company.

Comment author: Lumifer 12 September 2017 04:21:02PM *  1 point [-]

Sorry, I'll bail out of the detailed debate, primarily because it's all handwaving and there are very few falsifiable assertions in there. You say that it's going to get much much cheaper, I say that it won't -- and there is no way for us to resolve this disagreement. As an aside, several statements of fact that you make here are wrong (no, you don't need a crew of at least five people to charter a yacht; yes, RV rentals are much more expensive than hotel rooms -- have you rented an RV? I have).

For what it's worth, my original opinion remains intact.

Comment author: chaosmage 12 September 2017 06:50:28PM 0 points [-]

I should be disappointed, but disappointment requires surprise.

Comment author: Elo 07 September 2017 12:04:05AM 3 points [-]

There is value in idea generation. It might be limited but some value. Do you think it was not worth posting?

Comment author: Lumifer 07 September 2017 12:06:34AM 2 points [-]

Yes, it was not worth posting because coming up with a list of unrealistic ideas is trivially easy. The hard part is getting rid of the "unrealistic" adjective.

Comment author: ChristianKl 07 September 2017 04:57:43AM 5 points [-]

The thing you haven't listed is services while you are on the road. One way to spend time on the road is to simply sit in front of a mobile phone or notebook but there will be other ways people want to make use of the time they spent on the road.

Some days I might want to get a good massage while I travel to work. Other days I might need a haircut or take a bath. Diversity of vehicle types allows for a lot of different experiences to be had while you are on the road.

Comment author: fortyeridania 11 September 2017 01:40:37AM 3 points [-]

This was also explored by Benedict Evans in this blog post and this EconTalk interview, mentioned in the most recent feed thread.

Comment author: chaosmage 11 September 2017 09:44:09AM 2 points [-]

Wow, this is amazing! Thank you!

He talks about various general effects rather than specific business opportunities, so the overlap is very small, but his vision and mine seem entirely compatible.

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 September 2017 08:09:17AM 3 points [-]

Dry-cleaning feels like a service that would be improved if you don't have to bring your clothes to the dry-cleaner but just give them to a self-driving vehicle that comes to your place.

Comment author: scarcegreengrass 12 September 2017 05:29:07PM 0 points [-]

Something like this sounds plausible ... or at least, it's very similar to existing pickup laundry companies.

Comment author: Val 10 September 2017 06:24:18PM 2 points [-]

"services that go visit the customer outcompete ones that the customer has to go visit" - and what does this have to do with self-driving cars? Whether the doctor has to actively drive the car to travel to the patient, or can just sit there in the car while the car drives all the way, the same time is still lost due to the travel, and the same fuel is still used up. A doctor or a hairdresser would be able to spend significantly less time with customers, if most of the working day would be taken up by traveling. And what about all the tools which have to be carried inside the customer's house?

And self driving hotel rooms? What, are we in the Harry Potter world where things can be larger in the inside than in the outside?

Comment author: chaosmage 11 September 2017 08:19:25AM 1 point [-]

"services that go visit the customer outcompete ones that the customer has to go visit" - and what does this have to do with self-driving cars? Whether the doctor has to actively drive the car to travel to the patient, or can just sit there in the car while the car drives all the way, the same time is still lost due to the travel, and the same fuel is still used up.

Yes. But a significant part of the job of a doctor is paperwork (filing stuff for insurance companies etc.) and she can do that while the car drives itself. If she had to hire a driver (and have her sit idly while she's with a patient), the driver would be the most expensive part of her vehicle, just like the taxi driver is the most expensive part of the taxi.

If she's the kind of doctor that can carry all her equipment inside that car (i.e. not a radiologist 😉) she might even be able to abolish her office and waiting room entirely, for extra savings.

And self driving hotel rooms? What, are we in the Harry Potter world where things can be larger in the inside than in the outside?

No, we're in a world where tourists generally don't mind going slowly and enjoying the view. These things would be pretty big on the outside, at least RV size, but they wouldn't be RVs. They wouldn't usually have kitchens and their showers would have to be way nicer than typical RV showers.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 13 September 2017 12:12:26PM 0 points [-]

No, we're in a world where tourists generally don't mind going slowly and enjoying the view. These things would be pretty big on the outside, at least RV size, but they wouldn't be RVs. They wouldn't usually have kitchens and their showers would have to be way nicer than typical RV showers.

And they could relocate overnight. That raises the possibility of self-driving sleeper cars for business travellers who need to be somewhere by morning.

Comment author: chaosmage 13 September 2017 03:41:58PM 0 points [-]

Yes. I wonder how hard it'll be to sleep in the things. I find sleeper trains generally a bad place to sleep, but that's mostly because of the other passengers.

Comment author: Jiro 07 September 2017 09:29:20PM 2 points [-]

The reason it's too expensive to just leave them in the truck all the way from the factory to the buyer is that if you leave them in the truck, you are denied the use of the truck for other deliveries until you have a buyer. Having the truck be self-driving doesn't help, unless driving costs money but trucks are free.

Or, more broadly, using a truck for something else other than transportation, such as storage, a doctor's office, etc. means that you're replacing a specialized tool with one that tries to do two things (driving and storage, driving and doctoring, etc.) It's particularly obvious for storage, since storage uses up a lot of space and using trucks for storage is inefficient just because of the cost of all those trucks, but even for other uses, a tool which does two things is never going to be as good as using a specialized tool for each one.

(The post tries to suggest that the vehicle can be specialized, but a vehicle specialized to also be an X is never going to be as specialized as having an actual X.)

Comment author: ChristianKl 08 September 2017 07:41:12AM 1 point [-]

Already today you have specialized trucks that sell icecream.

Given that most doctor's office have a waiting room where multiple patients wait to have no downtime between patients even when one patient only takes a 3 minute visit, I'm also finding it questionable whether the average doctor would want to practice on the road.

Comment author: Jiro 08 September 2017 03:00:10PM *  1 point [-]

You have specialized trucks that sell ice cream because the cost of traveling to an ice cream seller is high compared to the benefit gained from the ice cream, often so high that it wouldn't be worth it at all unless you happen to be a block away from it, not to mention that ice cream is often sold to children who have limited ability to independently travel to a store. And even then, they haven't driven ice cream parlors out of business, and the ice cream you'll get there is probably going to be better than the ice cream you can get in a truck.

Also, we already have ice cream trucks that aren't self-driving. For self-driving vehicles to become popular for something that we don't use regular vehicles for, the main reason we don't have it would have to be the cost of driving, but not the cost of the vehicle or fuel, the need for too much space, or the efficiency of doing it on a vehicle. Almost nothing fits in that category. (And if doctors want to make house calls, they can just drive the vehicle themselves. Self-driving cars aren't going to save any money compared to that.)

Comment author: chaosmage 11 September 2017 09:18:47AM 0 points [-]

What I failed to say is that I expect the time between production of a good and arrival at the customer to continue to shorten. I think additive manufacturing makes just in time production economical for a growing segment of goods.

Obviously the production and delivery specifics of different goods are very different. Wheat will continue to be warehoused long after jewellery and clothing have completely moved to just in time production and direct delivery. I misstated my position by not mentioning these important differences.

I say I think this transition will be slower than the others because I imagine it starts with goods that are precious, fragile or spoil quickly, i.e. the goods where you most want to minimize loading and unloading.

I don't think trucks will be free, but I do think they'll be much cheaper per ton per mile than they are now. Electric means the motor gets rid of most moving parts and becomes much more reliable. Autonomy means the rest of the vehicle gets rid of all the things that only a driver needs, especially the operator's cab and mandatory stop times. A warehouse will still be cheaper in many cases (especially in rural areas), but the fraction of things that it is easier to just leave in the car can only go up.

Comment author: ChristianKl 11 September 2017 09:45:25AM 1 point [-]

One of the reasons why electric cars are a good idea is that you can burn fuel much more effectively in a stationary turbine than you can burn it in the turbine of a car.

Similarly, a 3D printer that's stationary is likely better than one that sits inside a car. The 3D printer inside a car has to consider factors like the shocks that the car has while driving on the road.

Comment author: disconnect 07 September 2017 10:27:44AM 2 points [-]

What do you think will happen to cities?

Where I live, apartments and houses outside cities cost less one third of what a similar apartment would cost in the city. After autonomous cars become commonplace, I can not imagine why I would buy an apartment in the city. Are there any reasons to do so?

Comment author: ChristianKl 07 September 2017 10:36:29PM 2 points [-]

I think traveling time still matters even when you can spend your time better because you don't have to focus on the road. A lot of people can't even read inside of cars without getting queasy.

Despite Trumps campaign promises of infrastructure investment we also don't see a lot of money getting invested in more roads. If people drive larger distances this places additional strain on road capacity. Driverless cars can use roads a bit more efficiently but there's still only so much cars that can be on the road at the same time.

Comment author: Yosarian2 07 September 2017 08:27:57PM 1 point [-]

It depends on the details. What will happen to traffic? Maybe autonomous cars will be more efficient in terms of traffic, but on the flip side of the coin people may drive more often if driving is more pleasant which might make traffic worse.

Also, if you're using a rental or "uber" model where you rent the autonomous car as part of a service, that kind of service might be a lot better if you're living in a city. It's much easier to make a business model like that work in a dense urban environment, wait times for a automated car to come get you will probably be a lot shorter, ect.

Comment author: Screwtape 07 September 2017 09:14:07PM 1 point [-]

Here's something I've been curious about: If you're running an autonomous car rental, what do you do with peak load times? I have to imagine there's a drastic difference in demand between 9am~11am vs 5pm~7pm, and an even larger difference between those and 2am~4am. Part of me thinks demand drives prices and everyone shifts their arrival/departure times a little to try and find lower transport costs, but I also would assume that rush hour traffic would do that all on its own. The other likely outcome seems to be that you keep enough vehicles on hand to satisfy peak demand, and then they just sit quietly in a parking lot the rest of the time.

Half of my daily commute takes place on a single lane dirt road, and I therefore have no idea why people endure heavy traffic unless they have completely inflexible work hours. Does anyone have any ideas?

Comment author: ChristianKl 08 September 2017 07:58:10AM 1 point [-]

You do the same thing that Uber does at the moment. You do surge pricing. At 2am-4am many cars are likely to be at the parking lot.

Comment author: Yosarian2 07 September 2017 11:02:12PM 1 point [-]

The other likely outcome seems to be that you keep enough vehicles on hand to satisfy peak demand, and then they just sit quietly in a parking lot the rest of the time.

Probably this.

Then again, it's not all bad, it might be beneficial for the company to get some time between the morning rush hour and the evening rush hour to bring your cars somewhere to be cleaned, to recharge them, do any maintenance and repair, ect. I imagine just cleaning out all the fast food wrappers and whatever out of the cars will be a significant daily job.

Comment author: morganism 10 September 2017 08:58:38PM 1 point [-]

I could see a mobile 3D printer service, circling a city, on it's freeways. A plastic or sintered metal repair part for your washing machine. That a service would download a CAD drawing of a part, additively print it, and then deliver w a drone, once it got near your residence.

More likely would be a drone delivering a drone repair part tho...

Comment author: Elo 10 September 2017 09:45:07PM 1 point [-]

You try writing things down in a car. Then try 3d printing while dealing with acceleration and bumps

Comment author: scarcegreengrass 12 September 2017 05:26:30PM 0 points [-]

Maybe it only works in places with very straight freeways, like deserts :P

Comment author: Yosarian2 07 September 2017 08:13:22PM *  1 point [-]

You don't own a drill that sits unused 99,9% of the time, you have a little drone bring you one for an hour for like two dollars.

Just a quick note; people have been predicting exactally this for about 10-15 years because of the internet, and it hasn't happened yet. The "people will rent a hammer instead of buying it" idea was supposed to be the ur-example of the new sharing economy, but it never actually materialized, while instead uber and airB&B and other stuff did. We can speculate about why it didn't happen, but IMHO, it wasn't primarily transport costs.

I think most people would just rather buy tools and keep them around, or perhaps that the cognitive costs of trying to figure out when you should buy a 20 dollar tool vs renting it for 5 dollars are just not worth the effort of calculating for most people, something like that.

This already exists for rich people: If you have a lot of money, you pay for your doctor's cab and have her come to your mansion. But with transport prices dropping sharply, this reaches the mass market.

Hmm, I donno if it'll be cost competitive. If you're a barber, and people come to your shop, maybe you can cut the hair of 10 people in a day. If you have 30-45 minutes of commute time between one person and the next, maybe you can only get 5. And even that's going to be hard; if you have scheduled appointments to show up at 5 different people's homes in one day, and then one of your hair cuts runs long or you hit traffic, suddenly you are late for all of the rest of them that day, and maybe you have to cancel your last one and someone who was sitting at home waiting for a haircut doesn't get one.

There could be a business model here, especially if the service sector continues to expand and diversify as automation eats other non-service jobs, but I think it'll remain a premium service, much more expensive then going to a barber shop or a doctor's office or whatever.

Comment author: ChristianKl 08 September 2017 07:36:03AM *  0 points [-]

I think most people would just rather buy tools and keep them around, or perhaps that the cognitive costs of trying to figure out when you should buy a 20 dollar tool vs renting it for 5 dollars are just not worth the effort of calculating for most people, something like that.

If a 20 dollar tool that costs 5 dollars to rent that's not worthwhile. It has to get much cheaper and if you would have delievery within a 30 minute window for 50 cent instead of 5 dollar that would change the usage patterns.

Are there real businesses that tried the model and that had other issues than simply being to expensive?

Comment author: Yosarian2 08 September 2017 08:52:37AM *  0 points [-]

Yeah, a number of businesses tried it between 2007 and 2010. SnapGoods was probably the best known. This article lists 8; 7 went out of business, and the 8th one is just limping along with only about 10,000 people signed up for it. (And that one, NeighborGoods, only survived after removing the option to rent something.)

https://www.fastcompany.com/3050775/the-sharing-economy-is-dead-and-we-killed-it

There just wasn't a consumer base interested in the idea, basically. Silicon valley loved to talk about it, people loved writing articles about it, but it turns out that nobody could get consumers interested in the service.

From that article, which quotes the person who tried to found one of those companies

There was just one problem. As Adam Berk, the founder of Neighborrow, puts it: “Everything made sense except that nobody gives a shit. They go buy [a drill]. Or they just bang a screwdriver through the wall.”

Comment author: ChristianKl 08 September 2017 12:06:08PM 0 points [-]

When it comes to people doing car-sharing, it doesn't well between private person and it seems like the Uber model won out.

On the same token a company that's more like Uber and that has much lower transaction costs due to self driving cars has a higher chance of success. Timing is very important when it comes to startups. Where webvan failed, instantcart does much better.

Comment author: Yosarian2 08 September 2017 08:30:29PM 2 points [-]

Sure, that's very possible. Just because it didn't work last time doesn't mean it can't work now with better technology.

I think anyone who goes into it now, though, had better have a really detailed explanation for why consumer interest was so low last time, despite all the attention and publicity the "sharing economy" got in the popular press, and a plan to quickly get a significant customer base this time around. Something like this can't work economically without scale, and I'm just not sure if the consumer interest exists.

Comment author: chaosmage 11 September 2017 08:54:17AM 2 points [-]

You make excellent points. I hadn't even heard of SnapGoods, NeighborGoods etc.

I'm imagining it not as a peer to peer service, but more along the lines of a car rental company that owns a fleet of things it rents out.

I think you're right about the need to build a significant customer base rather quickly. My guess is that it might be feasible to first offer big expensive things that people don't usually own already, like a fancy jacuzzi, a top end VR rig, a complete "wedding size" soundsystem and a bouncy castle. And once you're known for those, work your way down into more normal consumer goods, guided by the requests of your first customers.

Comment author: ChristianKl 11 September 2017 12:41:04PM 2 points [-]

The items that Bauhaus currently rents out might be a decent starting list: https://www.bauhaus.info/service/leistungen/leihservice?show=All

Comment author: Tezcatlipoca 19 September 2017 07:38:01AM 0 points [-]

2 comments:

  1. I don't see the drill thing happening mass market for awhile because 80% of people prefer the familiar. They don't need those fancy new fangled things. This might work in India or a developing place where most don't own drills yet better.

2) hackers. This is a big threat to autonomous everything and has been hitting just in time delivery services and the Iot with ransomware lately. Look out for that and safeguard against it.

Comment author: Elo 06 September 2017 08:44:19PM *  0 points [-]

If anyone were interested in retrofitting self drive technology, I would be interested to talk about starting a business.

From a material science perspective - the lighter the vehicle, the cheaper it is to move it. However if it's powered by free solar energy anyway its irrelevant how heavy it is. Having said that - there is a cost/benefit equation for materials (if you build it out of very light and expensive titanium it might not be worth it (pay back) for 10 years.

On top of that there have been very few magical materials in years. Materials are still made of atoms which means they are still made of the same atoms as before.

I agree about logistics. Whoever can keep stock in a vehicle somewhere that can be robot retrieved and delivered is going to make a lot of money.

I think people just drive drunk at the moment.

Not sure if I agree with you on diversification of vehicles because of "free power" - (conceptually you don't pay for the solar energy, if we got nuclear going it could be very cheap)

I would love to see more posts from the community weekend

Comment author: ChristianKl 06 September 2017 09:15:42PM 2 points [-]

conceptually you don't pay for the solar energy,

That's a bad conceptualization. Solar cells cost money. It's a bit like saying rent should be free, because once a house is build it doesn't cost that much to let the house stay standing.

Comment author: Elo 06 September 2017 11:56:59PM 0 points [-]

House rent prices exist because of the demand. If there were enough supply in housing there would be less demand and more would sit dormant.

When the raw materials are mined by robots, delivered by robots, manufactured into useful materials by robots, delivered by robots, manufactured into solar cells by robots, and the solar cells delivered and set up by robots... Then the solar cells will also be free. Along the way they will get cheaper and cheaper too.

Comment author: ChristianKl 07 September 2017 05:03:48AM 3 points [-]

If I would own a huge robot farm I'm not sure why I would give anybody free solar cells instead of selling them. I might have other uses for my robots.

For energy to be free that means there's a lot more energy created than there's demand. I find that unlikely. Additional energy can be used for more computing and better AI.

There might be really free energy on some days in the summer where solar cells are at peak production, but there's no economic reason why it would be free to have 24/7/365 energy.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 08 September 2017 12:32:24AM 1 point [-]

I recommend tabooing the word free in order to think more clearly.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 07 September 2017 01:06:53AM 0 points [-]

"Then the solar cells will also be free."

Bit of a non-sequitur there.