From horses to powertrains... The next automotive revolution will be autonomous
Before the car, traveling by horse was a long and drawn-out rhythm of set routes in a landscape shaped by overnight inn stops, blacksmiths and stable hands. Within a decade, motorized transport had transformed people’s ability to move between different places and stimulated the rise of many new industries and services linked to the car.
The autonomous vehicle looks set to revolutionize our future on a similar scale. Its promise resonates with that brought by the dawn of the automobile era: time, freedom and a very different mobility experience. Moreover, it offers a various range of possibilities for those who are not able to drive. Beyond the automotive industry, many technology and service providers are looking closely at how to shape this potential of new consumption and lifestyles.
Rethinking how we use time and space
Let’s start with time. The autonomous vehicle is about to change the value we put on time. Released from the fulltime occupation of safely steering a car along its journey, drivers can switch attention to other activities while on the move – working, relaxing, communicating and being entertained. This new available time is something that many have a key stake in as it blurs the lines between home, work and leisure. Will individuals use it to extend their working day – preparing documents on tables that fold out, video calls on connected screens? Or is it time gained for surfing, online shopping and relaxing in a more personalized travelling environment?
For sure, car interiors are being redesigned to offer new configurations: Faurecia is focusing on creating a more adaptive, connected and intuitive cabin for these different scenarios. For example versatile seats that can either recline for sleeping comfort or swivel to facilitate conversations. Seats that are also equipped with sensors to monitor the condition of occupants to automatically provide massage and optimal ventilation to improve well-being and even a personalized private acoustic bubble. Faurecia is also integrating new technologies in the dashboard and door panels, enabling occupants to connect and control their surroundings through these smart surfaces or to receive information, be it sound, light, signals or movements.
Different industries and sectors – from retail to medicine - are exploring how to tailor a suite of innovative services to leverage this new available time with their customers, patients and students. There are many potential use-cases, some of which we can only begin to imagine. Such as health and wellbeing applications with personalized relaxation or training programs for a 20 minute commute or 2-hour trip to help occupants finish their journey feeling better than when they started, virtual retail experiences within the cabin, online distance learning or specific university MOOCs.
Changing the way people and goods move around
The autonomous vehicle will profoundly impact many sectors of activity, and industries will be disrupted in chain-reactions. Beyond the obvious area of logistics – with driverless trucks transporting goods to warehouses or cars that deliver shopping to your doorstep – think of the travel and leisure industry. How will highway-hotels evolve, since in the future we may reach distant holiday destinations refreshed after a night’s sleep in a self-driven camping car instead of an overnight stop en-route?
Perceptions of distance will change too. Autonomous vehicles will help traffic flow more smoothly and enhance the travelling experience by freeing up to 90% of a driver’s time. It could extend possibilities for commuters to live further from city centers or places of work and open up regions in a similar way to the introduction of high speed train networks.
Car sharing will play a major role in the future of driverless travel and expanding mobility to new users. However, it’s likely that the importance of a vehicle as a symbol of wellbeing, status and lifestyle – which appeals to everyone purchasing a car - will remain. But into the future, each will have an interest in maximizing his or her return on investment by increasing the utilization of vehicles. And the emergence of a wider trusted community of mobility providers (individual, private or public) will create the opportunity for others – children, older persons or people with disabilities - to move around more easily.
Change on this scale to how industries and society are organized and how we ourselves choose to spend our time requires significant reflection. And finally what about driving pleasure? Maybe tomorrow we will go to racing circuits for this in the same way that riders go to equestrian centers !