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How self-driving cars will change every one of these industries

Our roadways aren't the only things changing.

Google autonomous vehicle self-driving car

No matter how you get to work in the morning, you’ve got to imagine that self-driving cars will make your daily commute easier. 

No more gritting your teeth in gridlock staring at the car in front of you. No more warily watching for sedans swerving into your bike lane. And no more sweaty morning rides on a jostling bus.

In the very near future, you’ll just summon your self-driving car, settle in and enjoy the ride without worry. Maybe put on a VR headset to play a multi-player game with fellow commuters, get ahead of your day with an early conference call or stretch out for a last nap before you get to the office.

Autonomous Cars Will Create Business Opportunities We Can’t Imagine

Self-driving vehicles are an incredible vision that will change not only the way we drive, but the way we function in our lives. Best of all, they’ll provide business opportunities and spur new technologies that we can’t even begin to imagine today.

How can we be sure? Because it’s happened before.

The last time, cars radically changed the way we lived at the beginning of the 20th century when they were first introduced. When cars first took to the streets, they shared them with horses and pedestrians who, up until then, pretty much mixed freely on roadways. The people knew to get out of the way of the horses, and the horses watched out for the people.

The Tesla Isn’t the First ‘Vehicle’ with Autopilot: The Horse Was

While Elon Musk’s Tesla is touted as the first car with ‘autopilot,’ in many ways horses were our first vehicles with that title.

My wife’s grandfather used to tell a story about his day’s as a milkman back in the days of horse-drawn milk carts. His horse knew the route and would set off every morning without direction. As his master went door-to-door, the horse would move to the next house and wait. Towards the end of the route, the horse would move faster to speed my wife’s grandpa along, knowing that there was an apple at the end of the day’s work. 

It was idyllic back in those days. There were no stop signs, road lines or traffic cops. In fact, there wasn’t even such a thing as jaywalking. Those were all were invented, with the support of car manufacturers, to make the roads a safe place for cars. And that was just the beginning of how our society — and our industries — shifted to centre themselves around cars. 

Smart business people in every industry quickly realized there was profit to be made out of cars. And for decades since, we’ve been finding innovative ways to make car driving easy, safe, trendy and sexy. “Motoring Fashions For Ladies”, traffic lights, reflective paint, breathalyzers and Bluetooth speakers are just some of the ways manufacturing has adapted to the driver.

Every Industry Could Be Affected By Self-Driving Cars

So, what comes next? The ‘driver’ is being removed from the equation and cars will spirit people away without the need for any input on the passenger’s part. How will our streets change and our society adjust? What problems will present themselves, and what opportunities will arise for enterprising startups and profit-focused legacy companies? 

Here are just a few areas we know will be impacted. These will spur on existing industries and create new industries and jobs that simply don’t yet exist. 


The auto insurance industry is up for a shakeup. Right now, the auto insurance industry is built upon the principle of personal liability. You’re driving the car, so you’re responsible if you get into an accident. So what happens when there is no driver? 

Blaming the person in the car for an accident would be like blaming a bus passenger when the bus crashes. Some think that this means the onus will shift to the car manufacturer, or whoever is in charge of the systems and networks that self-driving cars will use. 

Could it be that pedestrians will have to take out ‘walking’ insurance — if a self-driving car hits a wayward pedestrian, perhaps it might be more likely the pedestrian was at fault than the car.

     Related: How did they get Wi-Fi in that car?               

Healthcare & Organ Transplants

It’s not a nice thing to think about, but statistics show that people who die in car accidents are North America’s biggest source of donated organs. If self-driving cars mean fewer accidents, that means fewer donated organs. 

To make up for the shortfall, the bio-medical industry is going to need to step up efforts to create alternatives. That might mean more research needed in bioengineering, as scientists try to ‘grow’ organs, or technological advances in the building of artificial organs.

Car Dealerships & Third Party Accessories

A lot of people seem to think that when we begin to embrace self-driving cars we’ll also begin to embrace the idea of not owning our own car. The cars may work much like a ride-share service such as Uber or Lyft, or self-drive rental services like car2go or Zipcar. We’ll just summon a car when we need it. 

If that’s the case, then the entire automotive sales industry is going to turn on its head. Of course, while it may spell doom in one way, it spells opportunity for whoever can think of the next big auto consumer item spinoff.

Local Body Shops

If cars don’t crash, the need to fix broken fenders and bent body panels will go way down. 

Just like in the old days, it used to be that there was a stable on just about every major street where you could feed, water and store your horse. They’re long gone of course, and body shops may go that way, too.

Urban Planning & City Revenue

Will we still need stop signs and lines on the road if the cars are all communicating with each other directly? Or will we need to think of new devices to replace them — like sensors built into street corners, special street sign codes that cars will scan, or automated roadside recharging stations that self-driving cars will access between trips? 

And if people don’t own their own cars, does that mean we’ll need fewer parking lots and parking meters, which cities heavily depend on for revenue.

Shipping, Transport & Delivery Services 

There’s a lot of speculation that the first applications of self-driving vehicles will be in long distance trucking. Why pay a driver to do a run from Vancouver to Chicago when the truck can do it on their own? 

That could even be true for local deliveries, and then the question will arise as to who unloads the goods when they arrive. The morning bread truck will still need someone to put bread on the shelves. 

For local delivery, it’s also possible that restaurants will just summon a car to deliver your Chinese food order — no doubt using a custom-designed delivery car. This could be a fully automated, sans delivery person, since nobody wants to go out to the car on a cold winter night — even if it is self-driving.


If you can spend the time in your car doing something other than driving, why not use your commute to learn new skills, get a degree or study a foreign language? This opens up new opportunities for colleges and universities to reach even more part-time students.


What happens to the beloved family road trip when the car drives itself? Well, it might get better! 

Tour operators could offer customized itineraries that take people to hot spots, navigating those scary roundabouts in France will be a breeze, and you’ll never have to worry about getting lost (which, let’s be honest, leads to the biggest friction on family holidays). 

It’s like having your own hop on/hop off tour bus wherever you go. Though if you’re the kind of person who loves going on bus tours to meet the people sitting next to you, this could be a bit isolating.

Public Transit

If self-driving cars truly do lead to fewer people owning cars, then this presents an incredible opportunity to encourage people to use public transit, bicycles and even walk more to destinations.

In this scenario, the self-driving car is just one more transportation option — not the default option. That could mean increased ridership for buses and subways, but it also presents a need for new bike routes and walking paths. This points back to the need for visionary urban planners to take that into consideration when designing future neighborhoods, and entrepreneurs will need to think about how to capitalize on those changes.

Next Up: Cars that run on coffee, air and…sewage?!

Image by Marc van der Chijs

Robert Hardy

Robert Hardy is a Vancouver-based television producer, writer and development consultant. Through his company Perfect Day Productions, Robert works with leading producers, writers and networks to help create innovative new television series, digital media and documentaries.

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