Matney: Innovative transportation technologies rapidly change how we travel

Lucas Matney, Columnist

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This week, I’ve descended into unprecedented laziness and efficiency all thanks to an awesome promotion from the ride-sharing app Lyft. The deal, which amounted to a number of free rides for users who signed up for a new account, has left me ordering rides to take me to Norris, pick me up from classes and even to go grab some groceries at Trader Joe’s. I feel like I’ve definitely been hesitant to embrace the new ride-sharing economy, but now that I’ve tasted its benefits it’s abundantly clear that this really is only the first step in the digital revolution of the chauffeur.

Innovative methods of rethinking the family car are springing up at an aggressive rate over the past few months, and it’s now becoming increasingly clear that a lot of us may not actually need to own a car a decade from now.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Apple is in the process of developing its own electric vehicle that may or may not have self-driving capabilities. Google unveiled a fully functioning prototype of its self-driving car last December and is continuing testing in the San Francisco area. Uber and Volvo have recently announced similar investments and more are undoubtedly on the way.

In an environment where tech companies can make a ton of money off of the smallest idea, it’s impressive to see these Silicon Valley giants placing such significant investments in a product that will undoubtedly require a great deal of infrastructure to implement. It is also a testament to how ripe some of the world’s most forward-thinking companies believe the personal vehicle is for innovation.

You can already see today where the future is headed as we order rides from our smartphones from Uber or Lyft, rent Zipcars for short trips or invest in electric vehicles from companies like Tesla that can drive hundreds of miles on a single charge thanks to powerful new batteries.

Combine all of these innovations with the self-driving features being tested by companies like Google and Apple and you see an impending future for transportation that’s more forward thinking than the Jetsons. Highly efficient electric vehicles that drive themselves to your house at the same time every morning, take you through the Starbucks drive-through and drop you off at work without you ever issuing a single command. These cars can then spend the rest of the day fulfilling other people’s needs instead of staying parked in the company lot. Add into this vision the decreased vehicular accidents due to human error and the environmental benefits of less vehicles being produced, and you’re left with a vision of the future that is highly radical and yet surprisingly realistic.

Right, now, Uber and Lyft might just seem like awesome ways to get to The Mark II on Thursdays, but they really represent a key transitional point, as personal transportation gets ready to change lanes.

Lucas Matney is a Medill junior. He can be reached at lucasmatney2016@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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