Why don't oil companies develop automatic cars
I'll be writing more in the future on ideas for auto-drive cars (both plus and minus) but let me start by asking the question of why the oil companies haven't jumped up to foot the bill for the development of automatic cars and highways?
It seems a big win for them. Given the availability of a car that would drive itself on the freeway and perhaps a few major roads, people would be much more willing to tolerate longer commutes, and that seems a win if you sell gasoline. A multi-billion dollar win.
Not completely -- the automatic cars will be more fuel efficient (simply driving at constant speed is more fuel efficient, but they will also be more likely to be hybrid designs.) But that's coming anyway. Given the ability to read, work or sleep during the commute would easily make people willing to commute for longer. In fact, for those who can easily sleep, they might welcome a longer commute to get the chance to have a decent sleep period. (Though there are those annoying people who are asleep before the plane starts its taxi. I hate them.)
We're also talking about a car where, while in it, you can have a decent speed internet connection and phone. The commute time effectively could become fully effective work time. Or TV watching time, or reading time.
Of course, in theory an automatic car in special lanes would also not get subject to traffic jams, so a longer commute would take the same time, and a longer commute sells more gas -- though admittedly traffic congestion also sells more gas.
But once again, the upside for oil companies is huge, and it's also high for the automakers, and the highway planners. It's mainly not good for public transit, since it takes away one of its advantages. We already know the basics of how to build an automatic car on an automatic highway. One of the big remaining barriers is money, and this could be the source.
I've added some extra notes below...Addendum: It also seems likely that with automatic highways, people might be much more amenable to long road trips in their cars. In fact, they might favour vacation homes an 8 hour drive away (perhaps at a lower, more efficient speed) since in many towns you can save a huge bundle by going to such a distance. They would then purchase an automatic car with a sleeper-conversion option. Friday night they would bundle up the kids and sleep their way to the weekend home. Sunday night do the same. The result would be 32 waking hours at the weekend home vs. 29-30 in the traditional method.
Of course that requires a whole family that sleeps well in bunks in a car, and presents interesting problems when somebody needs a bathroom break. Ideally you would want to actually run slower (say 40mph, still giving a 300 mile range) for better efficiency, safety and smoother ride, but this would require dedicated lanes for the nightcrawler cars. And safety restraints are an issue. The automatic car might be safe, but another non-automatic car might hit it.
Since savings of a distant vacation home are often tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes hundreds of thousands, it's easy for a family to justify getting such a car just for such trips. However, the fact that the oil companies would love this isn't necessarily good news, other than for getting it funded. If this became widespread it would mean burning a lot of midnight oil, so to speak.
To save that, the cars could also form long-haul trains if they could couple. This makes sense for any long-haul trip, but if you are sleeping and don't care if there is a 10 minute delay to join the next road-train, you would be more amenable to it.
Airlines and rail trains have of course offered sleeper transit for some time though it's generally not a preferred choice. Whether the public would jump for it in their cars is hard to tell.