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Transportation

What Will We Be Doing in Our Self-Driving Cars?

Probably not working, new research surmises.
Check out these future commuters multitasking aboard a self-driving Mercedes-Benz F 015 concept car.
Check out these future commuters multitasking aboard a self-driving Mercedes-Benz F 015 concept car.Mercedes-Benz

The latest news from the self-driving revolution: Uber’s new driverless fleet in Pittsburgh welcomed its first (non-paying) passengers, Boston announced a plan to test-drive autonomous vehicles on city streets, and Tesla rolled out safety-related software improvements to its Autopilot system. As the sci-fi prospect of a truly driverless future continues to creep inexorably closer, it’s time to ask: What are we supposed to do with ourselves in the car when the robot is at the wheel?

This is a question that Michael Sivak, who heads the University of Michigan’s Sustainable Worldwide Transportation research consortium, has been pondering, and in a new report co-authored with his colleague Brandon Schoettle, we get the beginnings of an answer. The average American now spends a total of about an hour a day in their vehicle, time that might theoretically be liberated and put to more productive use once we’re all ferried about by robo-cars. But the report concludes that 62 percent of current U.S. drivers would be unlikely to see any increased productivity, either because they’re unwilling to ride in self-driving cars—or they’d spend all the time watching the road anyway.