The Future is Here. Almost.

By David M. Feehan

It came much faster than I anticipated–the future, I mean. Two events told me that the future of mobility is closer than I realized, because my wife and I experienced it.

My wife works for a federal agency here in the Washington, D.C., area. A couple of weeks ago, her staff had an off-site meeting and one of her colleagues offered to drive. As they were standing near the surface parking lot adjacent to the building, her colleague summoned his Tesla from the lot, and driverless, it emerged alongside the curb to pick them up. She was, quite frankly, stunned.

Then last week, while doing some consulting work in the Twin Cities, I received a call from my brother. His son just acquired a new Tesla. Would I like to try driving it? Of course, I jumped at the chance.

Along with two of my nephews, Sean, the owner of the Tesla, gave us a brief orientation to the controls and off we went. “My Lord,” I thought, “This feels like it’s rocket propelled.” I’ve driven fast cars before, but this was unlike anything I had ever driven. Then the real “future” experience hit me. I shifted into self-driving mode, and we were navigating down a dark country road with me in the driver’s seat, and with my hands and feet off the controls. The car was literally driving itself.

You can read all you want about autonomous vehicles, but until you’ve actually driven one, especially at night on a winding road with no streetlights, you simply cannot fully imagine this experience.

I have written articles about AVs and when we can expect to be driving them. I have suggested that fully autonomous vehicles could be decades away. I was wrong. Tesla will be selling them within a year. You can buy a Tesla that is about 90 percent self-driving right now.

At first, it’s scary. But I quickly got used to it and I could imagine all of the ways this incredible device could make my travel easier. Suddenly, traffic-clogged commutes wouldn’t be so bad. I would read the morning news and emails on my iPad, or catch a few extra Zs. On a long road trip, I could relax and just enjoy the scenery or engage in conversation with my traveling companions. I wouldn’t have to worry about getting a speeding ticket. The car would automatically obey the speed limit. When I arrived at my destination, the car would find a parking spot and park itself.

The future is here, or almost. And I think I like it.

David M. Feehan is president of Civitas Consultants, LLC.