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Autonomous Cars Are Like Elevators

Updated: Jan 8, 2019


I love to research and learn about new things. In the evenings after my daughters are in bed I just explore Wikipedia and the web for hours. I don’t know about other people, but I think one of the coolest things about Wikipedia, and why it is better in my opinion then traditional encyclopedia’s, is that I always find myself down the rabbit hole and miles away topic wise from where I started because I end up following random links. For instance a few weeks ago I got on a research tear about elevators.


The history of the elevator is fascinating not only because the the technology is neat, but also because of the hurdles to adoption it faced and its impact on the urban landscape. We take elevators for granted. They are as common as stairs and escalators and cars. But can you imagine being the first person to have an elevator in your office or apartment building? I can picture people standing on the ground floor looking at it and thinking; “What should I do? On one hand this elevator promises to quickly elevate me to my office on the 20 floor so that I will no longer have to take 20 flights of stairs, but on the other hand it is a little like a large coffin and I might plummet to my death or be trapped and suffocate”.


And as I was thinking about this problem that the early elevator manufacturers faced it struck me that this will be one of the problems that manufacturers of autonomous vehicles will face when the technology finally works and it is time to get consumers buy in. I can picture consumers in the near future looking at the autonomous car waiting in front of their house thinking; “Hmmm, on one hand I can get in this autonomous car and take a nap and watch a movie while it whisks me to Tahoe for a ski weekend, but on the other hand there is the possibility that it will be hacked and driven off a cliff”. In order to help people overcome their fear elevator companies and skyscrapers hired elevator operators to stand in the elevator in order to ostensibly “work” the elevator, but in reality they were there to simply make people feel comfortable. Later of course companies created elevator music for the same reason.


I wonder what it will take to make people feel comfortable in autonomous cars? Maybe Uber does have an advantage because by starting out having a driver in the drivers seat to “work the technology” is a little like having someone stand in the elevator to operate it. They are a calming presence. Or maybe the solution will be more similar to having elevator music but something different. It will be interesting to see what works.

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