Ford Motor Company has publicly predicted self-driving automobiles may be a possibility as early as 2017 and the Wall Street Journal has proclaimed such vehicles are “inevitable.”

At the turn of the 20th Century, the original automobile heralded a new age of personal freedom and lead to “drive-thru” restaurants, motels, express delivery businesses, the creation of suburbs and “a commuter life-style.”

How will self-driven vehicles change society and what does this mean for you, your family, your business and your community? The answer may surprise you.

1. The early adopters will be octogenarians. One of the primary reasons seniors must ultimately move out of their homes and apartments is because they can no longer drive themselves. This loss of self-sufficiency often requires that they become more dependent on others. In an era of self-driven vehicles this issue becomes moot because seniors will still be able to be driven to the grocery store and visit their family and friends. Of course, not all elderly people will embrace self-driven automobiles but many will—especially when confronted with the alternative of not driving at all.
2. Automobiles will undergo a radical redesign. When driver control of the automobile is no longer a key determinant of design both the form and the function of the automobile will change. One interesting development may be the creation of a “sleeper car”—sliding seats that allow passengers to comfortably sleep for extended periods of time. Designers will also no longer be required to orient occupants in a forward-facing direction. One implication is that billboard advertising will become less effective.
3. Cars will become the preferred travel choice for middle distance trips. With the development of “sleeper cars” and continued advances in fuel efficiency and battery power, a large number of travelers who, in the past, preferred to fly distances between 300 and 600 miles will instead opt to be driven (often at night). The impact on airlines that rely on such flights (e.g. New York to Washington, DC; Minneapolis to Chicago; Los Angeles to San Francisco, etc.) will be adversely affected.
4. “Car-sharing” becomes a huge market. Enabled by continued advances in social networking, telecommunications, and sensor technology, a growing number of families, groups of friends, businesses; and cities governments will begin sharing automobiles and/or making access to a fleet of vehicles easily available. In the past, it was almost a necessity to own your own automobile but in an era of self-driven vehicles, more families will grow accustom to sharing a single car; larger businesses may make a fleet of automobiles available to workers as a perk of employment; and innovative municipal governments will begin using car-sharing as a tool to alleviate traffic. (Similar to bike sharing schemes, these fleets will have a big advantage over bikes because they’ll be able to redeploy themselves to popular pick-up spots after they’ve been used.)
5. “Phantom Bombers” plague the Middle East. In the past, suicide bombers were difficult to stop even with the best intelligence. When self-driven cars become the norm and cowardly terrorists no longer even need to risk bodily harm, “phantom car bombers” will become more common.

Related posts by futurist and business forecaster Jack Uldrich:

Why Self-Driven Vehicles Won’t Stay in Vegas