Recent articles published by various groups and individuals have left me wondering why there is not a more coordinated approach to autonomous vehicles. If you think about the evolution of other technologies such as the mobile phone and the rate at which it has and is evolving, one has to wonder why we don’t expect or demand the same from our car manufacturers. Is it possible that given any sector in industry, there comes a point where the race to be best, becomes just a jog in the park with friends. Each participant in the industry becomes happy enough to stay with the crowd. Reflecting on the analogy with mobile phones, I see something similar happening. Gone are the days where two people could argue over their preference for a phone model based on whether it had a ‘back’ button or not. The handset offerings from a lot of the different manufacturers appear to be slowly morphing towards one setup. A touchscreen with icons that do exactly the same thing across all models, with slightly different graphical representations on the icons, but broadly similar. So what sets them apart? Slightly different shells, colours, sizes. Sounds like I have just described cars, doesn’t it?
My last blog post revealed my vision of how we would use cars, pods I call them, in the future. BMW’s honeycomb concept is close to what I imagine it to be. The articles analogy to how the music industry has changed reinforces to me that the car industry can change too, and should for the better. Another article highlights a benefit I had over looked up to this point, that is the car insurance industry. Less accidents, maybe none, and we can all say goodbye to a business that few of us admire. For me, the car insurance business trades in people’s misery. It is a space where your world comes tumbling down, either due to a lack of savvy on your part, or a complete stranger has wrecked it. The insurers proclaim to be ready to be your friend at that hour of need, yet when that hour comes, they drown you with paperwork. They make you the middleman until such point that they decide you are not worth fighting for, prefer to just settle, and then they shoot up your premium to recoup their losses. Enough about them, rather than fight with the insurers, let’s strive towards a world where we don’t need them.
Scepticism remains as to how soon we can realise this new world of motoring. Pioneering companies from around the globe are all convinced that they are following the right idea as to the best way to implement it. Volvo have a good name for building safe cars, yet their experiments remind me of the popular Scalextric car racing tracks. Surely this is old technology, albeit robust and well defined in the laws of physics. Surely in these days of wireless communications we can do better.
So here is a shout out to all of the companies beavering away on their own ideas as to how to implement the autonomous cars, either get together and amass your ideas to come up with a universal solution that will please the masses or at least just copy the market leaders like the mobile phone companies do. Rope in the legal heads with you so that the whole thing does not get buried on the legislators’ desks. Take inspiration from the frameworks already available and build on those. Take note of what your competitors are doing, and they are your competitors in the future. Take note of how they are doing it.
We are all familiar with this notion of young men and women driving their pride and joy up and down our streets endlessly on weekend nights. Here I ask the question as to what do these people get from this activity. If you ask them, all you are likely to get is the default response, ‘dunno, (slight pause) cause I like it’. You end up more confused about it. Some would argue that one’s car is a social place. They feel comfortable and free when sat in their car, with or without companions. Truth is, lots of us have had social encounters within a car, and if you have not, then it should be on your list of things to do. So how would autonomous cars fit into this realm. Here’s one possibility, tongue in cheek, you could now instruct your car to go and collect your boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancé/spouse while you continue catching up on the latest YouTube clips from the comfort of your sofa. Even more tongue in cheek, no need to find a secluded parking spot, just carry on moving. For the racers and those enthused by performance, you could race each others creations without being in the vehicle at all.
Or am I missing something? Is there something more fundamental in why so many of us enjoy spending time in our cars? That question will spark outrage with those forced to sit for long periods every day in traffic congestion. But therein lies an answer. We feel secure in our cars and that’s why we are reluctant to share them, hence far more cars on our roads than necessary. We can complain about our road network but the truth is, the long term solution must be one with less cars and hence less roads. I am way off my point now…….back to autonomous cars. Maybe it’s time to rename the car, I propose Transpod.
Imagine a world where you request via your wearable tech toy transport to a list of destinations for the coming week and prior to each event, a Transpod arrives and waits to bring you to your desired location. Over time, the Transpod learns your behaviour and suggests how improvements can be made. You need not concern yourself with how it runs or where it has to go next, you carry on with developing and nurturing your next big idea while changing locations. In a short space of time, you find yourself meeting people with similar interests in these Transpods and begin to share your ideas with them. The power of social media has taken a new turn, meeting people face to face in a human way, just like the old days. And it feels good.
Good to see that the evolution of autonomous cars is gaining momentum. I enjoyed the short clip of Nissans improved Leaf but was still left somewhat disappointed. http://www.engadget.com/2013/11/26/nissan-leaf-is-first-autonomous-car-on-japanese-public-roads
Not in the car or the idea, but in the faith of its creators. Why is there still a steering wheel in the car? For me, autonomous cars can shed lots of weight by going without all that engineering that connects the driver to the controls. Shedding weight means more efficient, and more efficiency strengthens the argument for them. I hear the cynics among you muttering that its in case the computer crashes, but as we should have learned from the Arianne episode, a computer crash is just another way of covering up a human error. I therefore argue, if one computer fails, have a back up computer, not a backup human. On a more optimistic and positive note, some claim that we could see this unfold in just six years. http://www.hybridcars.com/us-likely-to-see-nissans-first-production-autonomous-car-in-2020