LogoDrone Futures

According to BusinessWeek, long-haul trucks in America could be the first beneficiaries of self-driving technology. As far as safety and productivity goes, this should be a win.

However: self-driving cars are already arguably safer than people in urban areas, driving between states is a comparatively easy problem, and the occupant of a truck is not a necessary part of the cargo. So, it’ll be hard to argue to keep a driver behind the wheel.

Around 3% of people in the US are directly employed by the trucking industry. A large fraction of these jobs will disappear, and related jobs will also be at risk. For example, there are many small towns whose livelyhoods are dependent on truck stops for trickle-down income. When truck drivers stop less, or are removed completely, then these towns will disappear, like the towns who were decimated when the highways came along (see: Cars :-) ).

Even so, there may still be a net increase in overall happiness if more companies (e.g. Uber) get their wish of self-driving vehicles. Not least because it would stop Uber applying their apparent policy of treating their human employees like this centuries systematised labor.

The changes coming from self-driving vehicles will be big, and may even be positive. However, vehicles are something we already have and mostly understand. The infrastructure we have now limits where they can go and how fast they can travel. They still have to interact with pedestrians, even if they do it more efficiently than we can. Ultimately, they will be limited by having to follow 2D constraints. Drones, however, have no such limitations.

There is a lot of hyperbole said about drones, but a lot of it is just slightly ahead of real events. Easy availability of cheap drones that can act individually or collectively in a clever way is the sort of change that affects system-level assumptions, because what used to be hard will now be easy.

On the walk to school, my son and I take turns making up imaginary machines. There is a rough theme, and one day it was construction. Inspired by youtube, I came up with a “carpet of drones”. If you wanted a new build of something you'd hire a rolled up carpet of drones for a day, and perhaps a mini fabrication machine. You’d unroll the carpet, lay it flat, attach power, start up the fab, and upload your plan from your phone. The drones would auto-organise by role, some carrying bricks, some small dollops of binder, some straightening out the bricks to cover small mistakes. Come back in a few hours, pack them all up, and you’re done.

Drones are numerous, adaptable, and already cheap enough to almost be disposable. The drone future is combinatorial and far less bounded than self-driving cars. Any prediction I make is going to be wrong or wildly unambitious, so I won’t make any right now. I’ll just leave you with something which, as a fan of Lego, I can't believe I've only just discovered now: