What Will Robots Do to Property Values?

Our podcast this week is all about driving. Last spring, we had a podcast on driverless vehicles that heavily focused on its likely positive safety impacts. Over at Economix, economist Casey Mulligan explores another likely effect of both driverless cars and the drone delivery services that Amazon is experimenting with:  property values increase in urban centers.  Here's Mulligan's theory:

As technology helps with moving goods and people more cheaply, it might seem that urban real estate would give up some of its price premium because distance becomes less of an obstacle to economic transactions. Wouldn’t a driverless car cause some workers to sell their Manhattan apartments and commute to their jobs from more spacious homes in the suburbs or even rural New York State?

A Great View If You Like Parking Lots

In our podcast "Parking Is Hell," we explored how the overwhelming demand for parking space has a lot of downsides. One big problem is that city centers can feel as if they're practically held hostage by parking lots and garages. I was in Minneapolis the other day, and here are four pictures taken from the window of my hotel room. It's not exactly a view that makes the heart skip ... 

Autonomous Vehicles, Where Are You?

“The African region has 2 percent of the world’s registered vehicles but a disproportionate 16 percent of the world’s road traffic deaths,” said Tami Toroyan, a technical officer in the department of violence and injury prevention at the World Health Organization in Geneva.

We've talked in the past about the massive potential upsides of self-driving vehicles. Just this week came word that Nissan hopes to bring autonomous vehicles to the market by 2020. If you read this heartbreaking Times article by Nicholas Kulish about a series of bus crashes in Kenya (from which the quote above is taken), you may be ready for such vehicles even sooner.

There are of course many barriers to get past before the world is ready for autonomous vehicles -- yes, there will be lawsuits of all kinds and yes, professional drivers all over will protest the loss of jobs and yes, there will be people who trust a human driver more than a computer driver -- but I do wouldn't be shocked if my grandchildren grow up in a world where "driving a car" seems like something that cavemen used to do.

Would a Computer-Driven Vehicle Make This Kind of Error?

Reading about the horrific train crash in Spain that killed at least 80, and thinking back to the (rare) fatal airplane crash in San Francisco brought to mind the ride I took in a driverless car a few months back at Carnegie Mellon University. Many people still distrust a computer to get them from Point A to B. How long will it be before our thinking changes and we distrust humans to do the same? The train and plane crashes both appear to be due to human error, as are the vast majority of automobile crashes (which kill more than 1 million people worldwide each year).

I haven't spent all that much time in Spain but one of the most striking observations from a recent visit was how hard it is to buy a train ticket from a machine. In many cases, you have to wait in (long) line for a human ticket-seller. Whenever I asked why, I was told this was simply done to protect jobs -- an understandable, if unsatisfying, defense in a country with 27% unemployment.

It does make me wonder how much a country or culture with a strong sense of job protection will be resistant to technological changes purely on employment grounds, even if they might produce large gains for the greater good.

Baby, You Can Program My Car: A New Marketplace Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast is called "Baby, You Can Program My Car." Yes, it's about driverless vehicles. (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript here.)  

I recently had the good fortune to go for a ridealong in a self-driving Cadillac SRX4 with three of the engineers responsible for making it go: Raj Rajkumar, John Dolan, and Jarrod Snider, all key players in the General Motors-Carnegie Mellon Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab. We rode around a large track that the university has built on the site of an abandoned steel plant in Pittsburgh.

What was most remarkable, to me at least, was how unremarkable it felt to ride in a vehicle that no one was steering or braking. In other words, it felt normal -- not like a science experiment or a rocket ride -- and, as amazing a feat of engineering as a driverless car is, I also realized how much of the technology to go driverless already exists in the modern cars we've been driving for years (cameras, sensors, automation, etc.).