September 05, 2015
Autonomous Cars, Repair Shops, Robotic Repair

If your autonomous vehicle has a problem that does not impair its safe operation then it can drive itself to a repair shop without you. Then you can get an autonomous taxi (or autonomous rental if needed) to take you to work while your car is getting fixed. This has consequences for how the vehicle repair industry is structured as well as for the size of local businesses.

If your car can't make it to the repair shop then an autonomous towing flatbed truck could show up and, perhaps with some help from you, take your car away. Then once the car is fixed it can drive itself back to you.

Something changes in this scenario that might not be immediately obvious: the value of having repair shops near your home goes down. Your own time is not spent driving to and from the repair shop. Neither is the time of a tow truck driver. Even when humans are needed to get the car up onto a flat bed the humans who do it don't have to stay with the flatbed as it goes back to a repair shop. They can move on to other work.

Since repair shops do not need to be nearby they can be much bigger. A larger number of vehicles can be brought to a single location. Therefore the repair shop can get enough vehicles processed through it to spread the capital costs of automated repair equipment over a larger number of vehicles and therefore use less human labor

A highly automated repair shop can also operate 24 hours per day. Robots don't need to sleep after all. This increases the utilization of capital and lowers the break even threshold for automated equipment and therefore makes automated repair happen sooner.

The restructuring of the car repair industry will play out over years after autonomous vehicles first hit the road in sizable numbers. The ability to centralize repair to fewer locations will increase the demand for automated equipment which will cause companies to invest in its development. Since engineering development takes time and changes in industry practices takes time the restructuring process might play out over about 10 years once autonomous vehicles become widespread.

This restructuring is not limited to auto repair. Suppose you have some broken shoes. You might think it not worth your time to take the shoes to a repair shop. After all, you have to pay 2 visits: once to drop off the shoes and a second time to retrieve them. But what if your own vehicle can take the shoes to the shop, a shop employee runs out and fetches them, and then your car drives itself back home. Or perhaps the repair shop sends a vehicle on rounds to pick up stuff from customers. Or perhaps an automated courier service will send a UAV to pick up your broken phone and send it hundreds of miles away for repair. Suddenly the hurdles to using a repair service are lowered. This will lower the barriers to the use of shoe repair, computer repair, cell phone repair, and appliance repair and will make it easier to use repair shops that are farther from home.

The ability to use more distant repair facilities will cause changes in the structure of societies. We will not live as close to people in service industries. You won't need a corner shoe repair or a corner appliance repair shop. The amount of local business will shrink.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2015 September 05 10:17 AM 

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