Intel finds seven trillion reasons to build self-driving cars

A new study sponsored by Intel predicts a new "passenger economy" based on self-driving vehicles, enabling ride-hailing services, freight delivery and in-car services, worth $7 trillion by 2050.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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Intel self-driving car
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Intel self-driving car

Intel opened a self-driving car research facility in San Jose to develop systems which it can provide to automakers.

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A major self-driving car trend from this year's CES was not how autonomous cars will work, but what passengers will do in them. A new study from Intel suggests not only how passengers will spend their time, but how much that time will be worth.

By 2050, the study says, self-driving vehicle services, including ride-hailing, cargo delivery and in-car entertainment, will be worth $7 trillion in what Intel calls the "passenger economy".

Paying for a robo-taxi is just the tip of the iceberg in this major economic shift. The study, sponsored by Intel and written by research firm Strategy Analytics, proposes that passengers might use video conferencing for work or have a self-driving car go pick up lunch, making it ready for a meal on the road. The study's dollar figure takes into account advertising served to passengers, delivery services both heavy and light, and passenger time saved due to the fact that this technology allows for more efficient driving, with fewer traffic jams.

The current transportation economy, including trucking and car services, is huge, but the need for human drivers means that people in vehicles usually must remain focused on the road. When reliable self-driving cars hit the market, currently projected for 2021, former drivers will be left with little to do. As the vehicles progress, automakers may even design cabins with more social seating, facing each other as opposed to looking forward. The Intel study predicts that all the time drivers currently spend during the daily commute will turn into free time.

Intel Passenger Economy growth chart
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Intel Passenger Economy growth chart

Strategy Analytics, in study commissioned by Intel, shows that self-driving vehicles will create a $7 trillion economy by 2050.

Strategy Analytics

The largest chunk of the projected sum, about $3.7 trillion, will come from regular people using self-driving car services. Most of these people, representing about 50 percent of current drivers, will probably not own a personal car. Autonomous cargo delivery and other business services make up another $3 trillion slice of the pie, while new services, which could involve anything from a mobile manicure to meal-on-wheels accounts for another $200 billion.

Journalist Greg Lindsay, brought in by Intel to comment on the study, said "self-driving cars will make as big of an impact on society as the advent of affordable cars did in the last century." He said that, as in-car time becomes more productive or enjoyable, people might opt for longer commutes and live further away from cities.

Aside from the new passenger economy, the study notes that self-driving cars could save 535,000 lives between 2035 and 2045, due to their inherent safety, along with a savings of $234 billion over the same period in costs that would otherwise be caused by collisions.

Intel entered the self-driving car fray earlier this year, opening its Autonomous Driving Garage in San Jose. It competes with other tech companies, such as Google and Nvidia, automotive equipment suppliers and automakers themselves.