They don’t call it “disruption” for nothing.
Experts predicted the advent of self-driving cars to alter nearly everything about our society, demolishing the daily rules and rhythms we’ve become accustomed to as imperfect drivers in a traffic-filled world. Autonomous vehicles could replace your commute schedule with the sleek, omnipunctual patterns of well-programmed fleets and an infinitely connected infrastructure, working in tandem to make our road trips as efficient as possible.
But it’s not just our journeys the vehicles will streamline.
Autonomous cars will likely also lead to the paring down or outright elimination of several human-powered industries, including long-distance trucking and the delivery business.
Still, in the wake of that downsizing, the new transportation will pave the way for growth in a number of other areas. Industry experts have estimated that the autonomous rides could bring in $7 trillion worth of new ideas—and a few companies are already working on bringing those innovations to the streets.
Some economists have also predicted that the elimination of human drivers could actually lead to an increase in job opportunities.
Some economists have also predicted that the elimination of human drivers—and the subsequent reduction of costs that would bring for businesses heavily dependent on navigating the roads—could actually lead to an increase in job opportunities.
The counterintuitive phenomena has already occurred in several other rapidly-mechanizing industries, including the banking world.
When automated teller machines (ATMs) started taking over in the 1980s, many believed it would lead to the eventual elimination of human tellers, and the widespread closing of banking branches. Instead, many financial institutions used the money saved on employment to open new franchises elsewhere—leading to a smattering of new positions becoming available. Each branch had fewer employees overall, but with more overall branches being open, the banking world actually saw a small increase in teller employment.
So, too, could be the story of the transportation and delivery industries. In the world of on-demand rides, the potential for growth is possibly even higher than the banking business, as taxi and other ride-hail services are mostly conscripted to major metropolises currently, and therefore have more room to spread out.
Yet even without that boost in business, there are at least a few new positions that will need to be filled to properly service the expanding world of self-driving cars.
Google’s self-driving spin-off company, Waymo, recently detailed a number of new jobs—and job applicants—they’ll be keeping an eye out for in the brave new world, with the desirable skill sets falling into four main categories.
They’ll be responsible for repairs, but these are no mere mechanics. Waymo imagines the role of fleet technicians as equal parts repairperson and IT whiz.
The candidates will have to be specifically trained in the special software—and hardware—produced by Waymo (or whichever major company owns the fleet of cars they’re working on), to keep the sensors, radar, and suite of other technology utilized by the vehicles in tip-top shape.
Waymo compares the idea of the workers to those making pre-flight checks on equipment before planes take off. But with the specialized programs the technicians work on largely acting as an autonomous car’s eyes, the role could also be imagined as a new-age optometrist.
Organizing and tracking the enormous fleets that will be in constant motion on the roads will take a small army of employees.
Waymo has already hired a number of workers to fill this role, specifically to help manage the company’s expansion of its early rider program in Arizona. With the vehicles still very much in a beta phase, the current batch of dispatchers have a number of additional duties, including sending test cars and trained drivers out on certain “missions” to help the autonomous rides gain valuable road time.
In the future, as the technology becomes both more reliable and more wide-spread, the role will likely adapt to include much more of the logistics involved in keeping a fleet of several thousand cars running smoothly.
A bit like On-Star for the robotic driver, the group will be able to evaluate the situation at hand and give the computerized chauffeurs advice on how to proceed.
This group of trained experts will be responsible for the set of tricky situations when even a highly advanced AI driver will want human backup.
The fleet response group imagined by Waymo is a team of technicians awaiting the call of a self-driving car that has encountered an unexpected hiccup on the road. A bit like On-Star for the robotic driver, the group will be able to evaluate the situation at hand and give the computerized chauffeurs advice on how to proceed.
Specifically, Waymo said the employees would be called in a situation such as an autonomous car bumping into a road closing. At that point, the vehicle would pull over and stop, and send out a communication to the fleet response team. Once the human checks out the scenario, he or she can not only offer the vehicle in question directions, but also send out a directive alerting all other cars on the road of the issue.
Autonomous cars are essentially ridable computers. And if the rise of office culture has taught us anything, it’s that humans will always come up with new questions about how their machines work.
Cue the rider support team.
Waymo imagines the group as a guide for those who may be experiencing their first ride in a self-driving car—or merely experiencing technical difficulties.
The humans at the support center will be able to help those in the car with anything from how to play their music through the vehicle’s speakers to how to change their destination.
The group will also be available in case of emergency, adding just another layer of backup for any worst-case scenarios.