Tailgate Parties In An Era Of Self-Driving Cars: Thriving Or Taking A Dive?

Tailgate parties might be curtailed with the advent of driverless cars.
Getty

Tailgate parties. According to the illustrious Homer Simpson, they constitute the pinnacle of human achievement (see the Any Given Sundance episode of The Simpsons).

Historically, tailgate parties started as a rite of college football attendance, offering a pre-game opportunity for camaraderie and spirited fun among fans of the teams playing. Cars fill a parking lot adjacent to the stadium holding an upcoming game, drivers and their passengers open the tailgates of their respective vehicles and then use that handy fixture as a platform to get a party going.

Let’s look at the salient aspects of tailgate parties and consider an intriguing question: namely, will they continue to exist in an era of self-driving driverless cars.

Some Background About Tailgate Parties

For anyone unfamiliar with what tailgates are, they’re that thing on station wagons (which admittedly don’t have the popularity they once did) that folded down at the back of the vehicle. Admittedly, having an actual tailgate is not a requirement to partake in tailgating. Nowadays, the trunk space of a car, the rear cargo area of an SUV or the actual tailgate of a pickup truck all work fine.

Tailgating has generally morphed into the overall notion of assembling in a parking lot, prior to a sporting event, and standing or sitting around near the backs of the parked vehicles, doing so to have food and drink, along with sharing in the excitement and spirit of being together for the upcoming game.

In fact, it doesn’t have to be a sporting event at all. Believe it or not, some people undertake tailgate parties for weddings, birthday celebrations, and a slew of other special occasions.

Anyone that hasn’t been to tailgate party might wonder what takes place at these proceedings.

Well, you might sit on the tailgate and joyfully banter with your fellow attendees. You might toss around a football or play lighthearted games of cornhole, horseshoes, ladder golf, or participate in the ever-present sport of beer pong. Be forewarned that some tailgaters are bound to get lit (today’s parlance for becoming intoxicated).

Surprisingly, you (usually) would even be willing to interact civilly with tailgaters that were supporting the opposing team (though this custom seems sadly to be eroding). Whereas you’d normally expect instant fisticuffs among fans of opposing teams, it used to be considered untoward to bicker and fight when everyone was there at the tailgate party for presumably joyous reasons.

Refreshments including soda and alcohol might be placed onto the tailgate. Food might be placed onto the tailgate too, though the proper etiquette for true tailgaters is to cook or grill your food while tailgating, rather than having prepared the food beforehand.

The act of tailgating for some events will at times overshadow the event itself.

Some people come to tailgate and then do not attend directly the sporting event that was the reason to presumably have the tailgating to begin with. They stay in the parking lot and just continue to party while the game is underway.

And, due to the advent of electronics and the internet, in many cases the devoted tailgaters can watch the entire game on a TV that’s plugged into the electrical power of their car.

Plus, it could be that your comfort level might be better by remaining in the tailgating area anyway, rather than having to squeeze into tightly packed stadium seats and only getting a limited view of the game due to a stadium steel post in front of you, or maybe have your view blocked as a result of some frantic fans that refuse to sit down throughout the game.

Curiously, some don’t pay any attention to the game and either head home or stay to just party until the stadium security says that the parking lot must be emptied.

It turns out that tailgating is mainly an American kind of activity, shaped due to our culture and to some degree perhaps our geography.

We tend to have large parking lots surrounding our sports stadiums, which some countries don’t do, along with generally good weather (not always, of course), and we have a car-focused or one might say car maniac mindset that spurs us to do nearly anything to involve our automobiles into our daily lives.

Advent Of Self-Driving Cars

Will any of the tailgating aspects change as a result of the advent of self-driving driverless cars?

Before we can explore the question, it is important to clarify that I am referring to fully autonomous cars, often considered at a Level 4 or Level 5.

A true self-driving driverless car is one that the AI is completely driving the car and there is no human driving involved. In contrast, a Level 2 or Level 3 car is known as a semi-autonomous car, meaning that there must be a human driver present and that the automation and the human driver are co-sharing the driving task.

All in all, I don’t anticipate much of a change in tailgating as the emergence of Level 3 cars continues to occur. These more advanced semi-autonomous cars are still pretty much the same as today’s cars, requiring a human driver for the driving act.

But I do think that tailgating will change in an era of fully autonomous cars, the ones that have no human driver and only an AI system doing the driving.

Your first thought might be that a car is a car, so why should tailgating change due to a car that is human driven versus one that is driven by AI.

Yes, you are certainly right that a car is still a car. The fully autonomous cars can just as readily have a tailgate or be used in a tailgating activity.

Here’s the rub.

Some pundits argue that true self-driving driverless cars are going to be utilized nearly non-stop 24x7, driving around endlessly, since the AI will never get tired of driving and the autonomous car can be continually kept in service (other than for say charging the car, or for fixing any breakdowns).

Furthermore, the endlessly driving autonomous car can be making money, presumably, during each moment that it is driving around. If you put the autonomous car into a ridesharing network and let people pay to use it, you’ve got yourself a (hopefully) big bucks money maker.

We don’t yet know whether the economics of autonomous cars is going to indeed make this into a heaven-sent flow of cash, but many believe it will.

Okay, if you go along with that key premise, I can now share with you why the tailgate activities of the future might evaporate.

It would seemingly make no sense to park your fully autonomous car in a stadium parking lot for several hours, doing nothing other than looking pretty, meanwhile it is not making any money as a result of providing people with rides.

Sure, you could “eat” the cost yourself and decide that you’ll pay to have the driverless car parked for hours at a time. That’s going to increase the costs of tailgating.

Some believe that all autonomous cars are going to be owned by large firms that put the driverless cars into ridesharing fleets. Thus, if you used a driverless car to get to the stadium, it is going to zip along to the next paying passenger and not stay there at the stadium, unless as I’ve mentioned you opt to continue paying for a fully autonomous car that’s a multi-ton paperweight for tailgating purposes.

I’ve said many times that I believe there will be individual ownership of autonomous cars, creating a sizable cottage industry of private owners that decide to use their driverless cars to get to work and then the rest of the day their autonomous car earns them dough by ridesharing.

If I’m right about that private ownership aspect, the problem remains that you would be losing the opportunity of ridesharing out your autonomous car during the tailgating activity.

Maybe that would be Okay for you, and you might consider it as part of your downtime for your self-driving car, but it won’t be the same as parking your today’s conventional car that otherwise wasn’t going anywhere anyhow and was not a money maker.

More About Tailgating And Self-Driving Cars

You could argue that maybe a tailgating party doesn’t need cars.

Perhaps have autonomous cars drop-off the tailgating attendees, they unload their barbecues and other tailgating accouterments, and they party without any parked cars.

I think that’s called a picnic.

And, consider another facet about the advent of self-driving cars that’s likely to change our world, dealing with the role and placement of parking lots.

There are pundits that claim we will alter the nature and locations of our parking lots once autonomous cars become prevalent. The logic is that you won’t need to have parking spaces anymore that are near to where humans want to be, since the driverless cars can simply drop-off its passengers and then go someplace else to park, perhaps a distant place.

Of course, in theory the self-driving car shouldn’t be parked for very long.

Anyone that owns an autonomous car will be desirous of minimizing the parking time and maximizing the in-motion customer paying time. Complex scheduling models will be developed that attempt to figure out whether it is better to keep a self-driving car going and going, aiming to be in the right place when a ridesharing request arises, versus being parked someplace and waiting for a ridesharing request.

For stadiums that host sporting events, they might decide to do away with the large-scale parking lots that surround the stadium.

Those massive parking lots aren’t much of a money maker and usually exist mainly so that customers will come to the stadium and buy tickets to see the game, plus buy loads of the merchandise and food that’s available in the stadium (that’s usually where the profit for the stadium comes from).

It is quite conceivable that stadiums will do away with those massive parking lots, perhaps turning the space into something more money making such as condos or retail space. They could do so without fear of losing customers because by-and-large those coming to the stadium will be riding in an autonomous car that do a drop-off and don’t hang around like today’s conventional cars do.

Conclusion

I know it seems somewhat sad that I’ve now suggested that having parked autonomous cars is seemingly unlikely, knocking out a key cornerstone of tailgating parties, and I’ve also now made the point that there might not be any parking lots in which to undertake a tailgating effort, which is another vital cornerstone for tailgate revelry extravaganzas.

A crying shame.

Before you cry too much into your tailgating beer, let’s see if we can find a means to keep tailgates alive.

In our streaming online world, how are stadiums going to inspire people to leave their homes and come to a stadium to watch an event?

Some assert that there is a shared experience that one gets by attending a sporting event in-person, and for which cannot be matched by simply watching it on your smartphone or TV at home.

Suppose stadiums decide that an important way to keep people coming to the stadium will be to provide a tailgating experience.

One trick would be to buy a bunch of outdated conventional cars and park them in the parking lot, sitting there for keeps. Those attending a sporting event at the stadium could reserve a specific parked car as their favorite one to tailgate with.

This might be a crucial attractor to keep people coming to the stadium.

The stadium might also try to make extra money by providing barbecues that are setup and ready to be used, possibly even catering your tailgating activity for you. I realize this seems antithetic to the existing tradition, but I believe that some of the tailgating facets are malleable and people might welcome having the tailgate effort become essentially “hassle free” for them.

One final point that might make you feel better about the future of tailgating.

Suppose that the cost of using autonomous cars drops so low that it is nearly trivial to rideshare in one. This would presumably be a boon for mobility.

It would also suggest that you could indeed use an autonomous car for hours at a time as a parked paperweight. If it was a relative pittance in cost, you would consider it the equivalent of the cost for the drinks and food that you bring to the tailgating activity.

There’s an added bonus too about the use of autonomous cars for tailgating.

Most agree that self-driving driverless cars will be outfitted with V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) electronic communications. This will allow the AI of one driverless car to communicate with the AI of another self-driving car, sharing roadway tips and insights, such as that debris might be up ahead on a freeway or that the traffic is snarled at the upcoming corner.

When parked for a tailgating party, imagine that the autonomous cars could communicate with each other. You might have them all honk their horns to the tune of your football team’s anthem. Or, maybe turn on and off the headlights each time that your team scores a touchdown.

Is that an added thrill for tailgating, or maybe it seems peculiar, but in any case the notion is that perhaps tailgating will remain as strong as ever, and you’ll be able to enjoy some great food, drink, and festive partying even in an era of true self-driving driverless cars.

I’ll drink to that.

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Tailgate parties. According to the illustrious Homer Simpson, they constitute the pinnacle of human achievement (see the Any Given Sundance episode of The Simpsons).

Historically, tailgate parties started as a rite of college football attendance, offering a pre-game opportunity for camaraderie and spirited fun among fans of the teams playing. Cars fill a parking lot adjacent to the stadium holding an upcoming game, drivers and their passengers open the tailgates of their respective vehicles and then use that handy fixture as a platform to get a party going.

Let’s look at the salient aspects of tailgate parties and consider an intriguing question: namely, will they continue to exist in an era of self-driving driverless cars.

Some Background About Tailgate Parties

For anyone unfamiliar with what tailgates are, they’re that thing on station wagons (which admittedly don’t have the popularity they once did) that folded down at the back of the vehicle. Admittedly, having an actual tailgate is not a requirement to partake in tailgating. Nowadays, the trunk space of a car, the rear cargo area of an SUV or the actual tailgate of a pickup truck all work fine.

Tailgating has generally morphed into the overall notion of assembling in a parking lot, prior to a sporting event, and standing or sitting around near the backs of the parked vehicles, doing so to have food and drink, along with sharing in the excitement and spirit of being together for the upcoming game.

In fact, it doesn’t have to be a sporting event at all. Believe it or not, some people undertake tailgate parties for weddings, birthday celebrations, and a slew of other special occasions.

Anyone that hasn’t been to tailgate party might wonder what takes place at these proceedings.

Well, you might sit on the tailgate and joyfully banter with your fellow attendees. You might toss around a football or play lighthearted games of cornhole, horseshoes, ladder golf, or participate in the ever-present sport of beer pong. Be forewarned that some tailgaters are bound to get lit (today’s parlance for becoming intoxicated).

Surprisingly, you (usually) would even be willing to interact civilly with tailgaters that were supporting the opposing team (though this custom seems sadly to be eroding). Whereas you’d normally expect instant fisticuffs among fans of opposing teams, it used to be considered untoward to bicker and fight when everyone was there at the tailgate party for presumably joyous reasons.

Refreshments including soda and alcohol might be placed onto the tailgate. Food might be placed onto the tailgate too, though the proper etiquette for true tailgaters is to cook or grill your food while tailgating, rather than having prepared the food beforehand.

The act of tailgating for some events will at times overshadow the event itself.

Some people come to tailgate and then do not attend directly the sporting event that was the reason to presumably have the tailgating to begin with. They stay in the parking lot and just continue to party while the game is underway.

And, due to the advent of electronics and the internet, in many cases the devoted tailgaters can watch the entire game on a TV that’s plugged into the electrical power of their car.

Plus, it could be that your comfort level might be better by remaining in the tailgating area anyway, rather than having to squeeze into tightly packed stadium seats and only getting a limited view of the game due to a stadium steel post in front of you, or maybe have your view blocked as a result of some frantic fans that refuse to sit down throughout the game.

Curiously, some don’t pay any attention to the game and either head home or stay to just party until the stadium security says that the parking lot must be emptied.

It turns out that tailgating is mainly an American kind of activity, shaped due to our culture and to some degree perhaps our geography.

We tend to have large parking lots surrounding our sports stadiums, which some countries don’t do, along with generally good weather (not always, of course), and we have a car-focused or one might say car maniac mindset that spurs us to do nearly anything to involve our automobiles into our daily lives.

Advent Of Self-Driving Cars

Will any of the tailgating aspects change as a result of the advent of self-driving driverless cars?

Before we can explore the question, it is important to clarify that I am referring to fully autonomous cars, often considered at a Level 4 or Level 5.

A true self-driving driverless car is one that the AI is completely driving the car and there is no human driving involved. In contrast, a Level 2 or Level 3 car is known as a semi-autonomous car, meaning that there must be a human driver present and that the automation and the human driver are co-sharing the driving task.

All in all, I don’t anticipate much of a change in tailgating as the emergence of Level 3 cars continues to occur. These more advanced semi-autonomous cars are still pretty much the same as today’s cars, requiring a human driver for the driving act.

But I do think that tailgating will change in an era of fully autonomous cars, the ones that have no human driver and only an AI system doing the driving.

Your first thought might be that a car is a car, so why should tailgating change due to a car that is human driven versus one that is driven by AI.

Yes, you are certainly right that a car is still a car. The fully autonomous cars can just as readily have a tailgate or be used in a tailgating activity.

Here’s the rub.

Some pundits argue that true self-driving driverless cars are going to be utilized nearly non-stop 24x7, driving around endlessly, since the AI will never get tired of driving and the autonomous car can be continually kept in service (other than for say charging the car, or for fixing any breakdowns).

Furthermore, the endlessly driving autonomous car can be making money, presumably, during each moment that it is driving around. If you put the autonomous car into a ridesharing network and let people pay to use it, you’ve got yourself a (hopefully) big bucks money maker.

We don’t yet know whether the economics of autonomous cars is going to indeed make this into a heaven-sent flow of cash, but many believe it will.

Okay, if you go along with that key premise, I can now share with you why the tailgate activities of the future might evaporate.

It would seemingly make no sense to park your fully autonomous car in a stadium parking lot for several hours, doing nothing other than looking pretty, meanwhile it is not making any money as a result of providing people with rides.

Sure, you could “eat” the cost yourself and decide that you’ll pay to have the driverless car parked for hours at a time. That’s going to increase the costs of tailgating.

Some believe that all autonomous cars are going to be owned by large firms that put the driverless cars into ridesharing fleets. Thus, if you used a driverless car to get to the stadium, it is going to zip along to the next paying passenger and not stay there at the stadium, unless as I’ve mentioned you opt to continue paying for a fully autonomous car that’s a multi-ton paperweight for tailgating purposes.

I’ve said many times that I believe there will be individual ownership of autonomous cars, creating a sizable cottage industry of private owners that decide to use their driverless cars to get to work and then the rest of the day their autonomous car earns them dough by ridesharing.

If I’m right about that private ownership aspect, the problem remains that you would be losing the opportunity of ridesharing out your autonomous car during the tailgating activity.

Maybe that would be Okay for you, and you might consider it as part of your downtime for your self-driving car, but it won’t be the same as parking your today’s conventional car that otherwise wasn’t going anywhere anyhow and was not a money maker.

More About Tailgating And Self-Driving Cars

You could argue that maybe a tailgating party doesn’t need cars.

Perhaps have autonomous cars drop-off the tailgating attendees, they unload their barbecues and other tailgating accouterments, and they party without any parked cars.

I think that’s called a picnic.

And, consider another facet about the advent of self-driving cars that’s likely to change our world, dealing with the role and placement of parking lots.

There are pundits that claim we will alter the nature and locations of our parking lots once autonomous cars become prevalent. The logic is that you won’t need to have parking spaces anymore that are near to where humans want to be, since the driverless cars can simply drop-off its passengers and then go someplace else to park, perhaps a distant place.

Of course, in theory the self-driving car shouldn’t be parked for very long.

Anyone that owns an autonomous car will be desirous of minimizing the parking time and maximizing the in-motion customer paying time. Complex scheduling models will be developed that attempt to figure out whether it is better to keep a self-driving car going and going, aiming to be in the right place when a ridesharing request arises, versus being parked someplace and waiting for a ridesharing request.

For stadiums that host sporting events, they might decide to do away with the large-scale parking lots that surround the stadium.

Those massive parking lots aren’t much of a money maker and usually exist mainly so that customers will come to the stadium and buy tickets to see the game, plus buy loads of the merchandise and food that’s available in the stadium (that’s usually where the profit for the stadium comes from).

It is quite conceivable that stadiums will do away with those massive parking lots, perhaps turning the space into something more money making such as condos or retail space. They could do so without fear of losing customers because by-and-large those coming to the stadium will be riding in an autonomous car that do a drop-off and don’t hang around like today’s conventional cars do.

Conclusion

I know it seems somewhat sad that I’ve now suggested that having parked autonomous cars is seemingly unlikely, knocking out a key cornerstone of tailgating parties, and I’ve also now made the point that there might not be any parking lots in which to undertake a tailgating effort, which is another vital cornerstone for tailgate revelry extravaganzas.

A crying shame.

Before you cry too much into your tailgating beer, let’s see if we can find a means to keep tailgates alive.

In our streaming online world, how are stadiums going to inspire people to leave their homes and come to a stadium to watch an event?

Some assert that there is a shared experience that one gets by attending a sporting event in-person, and for which cannot be matched by simply watching it on your smartphone or TV at home.

Suppose stadiums decide that an important way to keep people coming to the stadium will be to provide a tailgating experience.

One trick would be to buy a bunch of outdated conventional cars and park them in the parking lot, sitting there for keeps. Those attending a sporting event at the stadium could reserve a specific parked car as their favorite one to tailgate with.

This might be a crucial attractor to keep people coming to the stadium.

The stadium might also try to make extra money by providing barbecues that are setup and ready to be used, possibly even catering your tailgating activity for you. I realize this seems antithetic to the existing tradition, but I believe that some of the tailgating facets are malleable and people might welcome having the tailgate effort become essentially “hassle free” for them.

One final point that might make you feel better about the future of tailgating.

Suppose that the cost of using autonomous cars drops so low that it is nearly trivial to rideshare in one. This would presumably be a boon for mobility.

It would also suggest that you could indeed use an autonomous car for hours at a time as a parked paperweight. If it was a relative pittance in cost, you would consider it the equivalent of the cost for the drinks and food that you bring to the tailgating activity.

There’s an added bonus too about the use of autonomous cars for tailgating.

Most agree that self-driving driverless cars will be outfitted with V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) electronic communications. This will allow the AI of one driverless car to communicate with the AI of another self-driving car, sharing roadway tips and insights, such as that debris might be up ahead on a freeway or that the traffic is snarled at the upcoming corner.

When parked for a tailgating party, imagine that the autonomous cars could communicate with each other. You might have them all honk their horns to the tune of your football team’s anthem. Or, maybe turn on and off the headlights each time that your team scores a touchdown.

Is that an added thrill for tailgating, or maybe it seems peculiar, but in any case the notion is that perhaps tailgating will remain as strong as ever, and you’ll be able to enjoy some great food, drink, and festive partying even in an era of true self-driving driverless cars.

I’ll drink to that.

Dr. Lance B. Eliot is a world-renowned expert on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and especially Autonomous Vehicles (AV). As a seasoned executive and high-tech entrepreneur...