Re: How it will happen really
I agree, merely getting to the point where they can operate entirely autonomously on freeways but hand control back to you when you exit would be huge. While I certainly wouldn't mind being able to drive myself to the bar, have a few drinks, and have my car drive me home, the biggest win for me would be when I'm traveling on the freeway for more than 10-15 miles, and would rather be doing something else like working, surfing the web, talking on the phone, or maybe even catching a nap if the trip was long enough.
If I wanted to go to Times Square in NYC I'd have to catch two flights, and from the time I leave for the airport I have:
30 minutes to airport
60 minutes from arrival to take off
60 minutes first flight
>=90 minutes until next flight
150 minutes second flight
>=90 minutes getting off plane and reaching Times Square
That's at least 8 hours, assuming no delays. It is roughly 1000 miles to drive for me, a self driving car obeying all speed limits could probably do it in 14. If you add in sleep it is basically a wash. If I started out in at say 7 pm Central I could watch movies (or whatever I might do if I was at home on the night before travel) until I get tired, lay the seat back flat and catch some sleep, then wake up refreshed and miss the worst of rush hour with my 10 AM Eastern arrival.
My current car gets about 30 mpg on the highway, for that round trip with gas selling at about $2.20 currently that's only $150 - WAY cheaper than a round trip ticket AND far more enjoyable than a TSA groping and sitting in coach! It would still be a great deal even if gas went back up to $4/gallon. It would be even cheaper with an electric that's both more efficient and can be charged with renewable energy to reduce pollution versus an airplane (assuming enough others did this that there were fewer flights scheduled)