When Henry Ford made the car a mass-market success, people applied their immediate point of reference to its name, calling it the horseless carriage. Their point of reference was out back, eating oats and whinnying.
We come full circle. People look to experience the driverless car. Their point of reference is in the garage, complete with steering wheel and gas pedal.
Some brand manager, somewhere in the world, will make their professional career by giving this new means of conveyance its permanent name. For now, however, we make do with the driverless car.
The driverless car revolutionizes passenger travel in a way we have not seen since the birth of the commercial airline. It’s hard not to anticipate how its presence upends our practices, behaviors, beliefs, organizations, and industries.
In this spirit, I share with you—in no particular order—predictions gleaned from my wool gathering on how the driverless car transforms our world.
One. The concept of being “stuck in traffic” becomes as quaint as the thought of breaking a wagon wheel on a Conestoga Wagon trundling toward California in the 1860s. The optimization of traffic flow reduces the number of jams. Further, we no longer pay close attention to our speed or our progress, as we do today, with our eyes constantly on the road. Nine times out of 10, we find ourselves mildly surprised at how quickly we arrive at our destination, as we find ourselves lost in thought or otherwise preoccupied in our driverless car.
Two. The percentage of elderly people who, by their wishes, “age in place” in their homes increases. To be home-bound no longer means being unable to secure the basic necessities of life: groceries, prescriptions, the laundry, etc. People send their vehicles on errands for them. Or, conversely, providers of daily necessities such as groceries find they can affordably provide home delivery to their repeat customers.
Three. People who choose to drive a car are viewed as reckless, similar to how people who drive motorcycles without a helmet are viewed today. A vibrant hobbyist community of drivers remains, however. Members of auto clubs keep their driving skills sharp on the weekends at private tracks and, in some cases, back roads in the country. They favor leather jackets. The steering wheel stands as a powerful symbol of individualism and self-empowerment.
Four. The demand for vacation rentals in attractive places increases. The family leaves their home Friday, after work. They set their driverless car to their destination—perhaps a lake house. They sleep most of the way there, arriving refreshed Saturday morning. The tax in personal energy to get away for a long weekend approaches zero. Innovation around the time share—helping people connect to novel, leisure experiences—increases.
Five. The demand for professional interior design increases. People spend their time in their driverless car looking at its interior as opposed to the road. They aspire to make the experience as aesthetically appealing to them as possible. A vibrant aftermarket of designers grows to meet this need. The dull, utilitarian shell that characterizes the driverless car belies its posh interior.
Six. The expectation of quiet and of a smooth ride increases. People are no longer distracted by having to drive their cars. As a result, they more acutely experience every bump, every rev, and every shift in gears. The electric car is viewed as the preferred mode of propulsion in large part because it is quieter than the gas-powered alternative. A quixotic striving for the acoustically perfect driverless car begins.
Seven. The appearance of homelessness, if not the underlying causes, disappears. The more innovative social service agencies come to find that, while sleeping in one’s car is viewed as undesirable on many counts, staying overnight in a driverless car as it circulates through town offers a number of advantages. The shelter on wheels shepherds clients to agencies that provide sustenance.
Eight. Road and outdoor signage, which seemed a permanent fixture to the previous generation of drivers, disappears in remarkably short order. The in-vehicle navigation systems in the driverless cars prove to be a superior means of getting people from point A to B. Pedestrians, forgetting their smartphones as they leave the house, lose their way with alarming frequency. Navigating by compass through the neighborhood becomes a retro hobby for school-age children.
Nine. Fleet economy for passenger vehicles improves by 30%. People are surprised by the remarkable inefficiency that drivers had suffered from their constantly starting and stopping in city and suburban traffic. The West breaks from the petro kleptocracies, causing them to collapse.
Ten. The companies that offer auto insurance find their business decimated, as rates fall to a tenth their levels before the advent of driverless cars. The net economic surplus to consumers proves to be enormous, redirecting billions in spending on risk mediation to more productive uses. The companies that remain in the business of underwriting automotive transportation form an oligarchy to regain pricing power. They focus their energies on insuring against the catastrophic failures of the road networks, which happen rarely.
There you have it. My 10 reveal my native, perhaps naïve, optimism.
What are your 10?
About the Author:
Doug Collins serves as an innovation architect. He helps organizations big and small navigate the fuzzy front end of innovation by developing approaches, creating forums, and structuring engagements, whereby people can convene to explore the critical questions facing the enterprise. He helps people assign economic value to the process and ideas that result.
As an author, Doug explores ways in which people can apply the practice of collaborative innovation in his series Innovation Architecture: A New Blueprint for Engaging People through Collaborative Innovation. His bi-weekly column appears in the publication Innovation Management. Doug serves on the board of advisors for Frost & Sullivan’s global community of Growth, Innovation and Leadership (GIL).
Today, Doug works at social innovation leader Spigit, where he consults with clients such as BECU, Estee Lauder Companies, Johnson & Johnson, Ryder System and the U.S. Postal Service. Doug helps them to realize their potential for leadership by applying the practice of collaborative innovation.
© Doug Collins 2014
Innovation Architecture® is a registered trademark.