Jeff Pearce
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Editorial: The age of autonomous cars is full of opportunity | Canadian Insurance
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Editorial: The age of autonomous cars is full of opportunity

I’m a sci-fi geek. I read sci-fi, I’ve written and sold sci-fi. But I assure you the flying car is coming. It came up as table talk at the Property Casualty Underwriters Club luncheon back in March, and I sensed a degree of ambivalence to the idea. One exec—a clearly sophisticated pro who knows his business—suggested people just aren’t ready for that, while I played advocate for the future.

My opponent in this friendly debate argued—if I’m recalling the convo fairly—that pilots get massive amounts of training, and are we really going to let amateurs drive in the air? But I countered that ability will have little to do with it. It’s no accident we’re entering the era of telematics and vehicle-to-vehicle communication and the driverless car. The age of the flying vehicle doesn’t presuppose the age of the piloted flying vehicle. We’ll all be passengers, not drivers. Nothing terrible in that; we already hand over the liability and responsibility to others when we board an airline jet or a subway train.

What’s the most probable scenario? The cars won’t be like drones, which are essentially little helicopters, or anything like a jetpack. No, the most likely, practical way would be a massive urban magnetic levitation grid. It’s not so far-fetched: patents for this kind of stuff go back to the 1930s, and we’ve had maglev trains in Germany and Japan since the 1980s. The delay for sky cars is simply that you’d better get it right unless you want things falling down and going splat on people. We already have very crowded skies full of 747s, Cessnas, helicopters and yep, drones, but someone’s always steering those, which is often why things still go wrong. With maglev, however, you’ll have a preprogrammed guidance system working on laser sighting and transponders, and you’ll at last get your cool condo window view from Blade Runner.

And this will be a good thing. Just as with ground vehicles, say goodbye soon to road rage, as your flivver will only go at x speed to x locale, and it may not even fly that high. Goodbye to parking headaches, because why would you own a sky car that’s essentially a taxi? Far cheaper and less hassle to book your ride through an app, and it’ll park itself or pick up the next customer.

This future won’t put brokers or insurers into job lines. It’ll free them to concentrate on bigger risks, and we’ve still got plenty of those. The future is no bad accident that happens to you; it’s an opportunity, and in this case, the sky really is the limit.

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Copyright 2015 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the May 2015 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine