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The Auto Time Capsule

By Jill George, Ph.D.

Jill George, Ph.D

Do you have any family tales about experiences with early automobiles? I find myself remembering old family stories of my great grandparents’ first experiences with their automobiles. My great grandparents, early auto adopters, bought one of the first available cars, with a crank. My great grandmother Mary, or “Mam” as she was called, insisted on driving it (and often came home with the bumper in the back seat). Sadly, the car was actually stolen right out of their driveway. I guess that was before things like locks and keys were considered critical. They loved the car owner experience so much they bought another one fairly soon after. It is interesting to think about how their experiences compare to my own with my SUV, and then to think about future auto experiences of my own grandchildren.

The Auto Time CapsuleWhat is causing me to think about this auto tale time capsule? Recently, I was lucky enough to see a historic auto event: the piloting of the first automated self-driving cars by Uber here in Pittsburgh. It is truly remarkable and “George Jetson-like” to witness a car that can navigate traffic and Pittsburgh bridges by itself. All this auto technology disruption has caused me to wonder, “What tales will my grandchildren tell about me and my auto experiences? What questions will they ask me? Will my SUV make it in to an auto museum as a memoir to the big, gas guzzling vehicle era?”

Imagine. According to Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, the premier electronic auto manufacturer, in the future, only art collectors will drive their own cars, as a hobby piece. Autonomous driving is part of the auto industry’s shift in the way cars are driven and owned, referred to as mobility, and it is expected that autonomous cars will outnumber human driven cars by about 2060 – 2080. Current big auto makers are buying software and hardware companies that can outfit existing auto products with cameras and sensors on the car exterior and software, monitors, and geo mapping on the interior. For example, General Motors has acquired Cruise Automation and is developing autonomous technology. Mobility in auto is a race between the big three and disruptive competitors, such as Uber, Google, and others to create the next best thing—self-driving cars that we can all afford. In fact, Tesla announced in October 2016 that, “all new vehicles—even its soon to be released Model 3 sedan aimed at consumers with tighter budgets—will have autonomous capabilities. And a completely autonomous system for Tesla vehicles is scheduled for release by the end of 2017…at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver,” Tesla stated.

According to the US Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx,;

“…in 2021, fully autonomous technologies will be in operation across the country for many use cases. Driverless cars will be deployed in multiple ways, both by being sold directly to consumers and by being utilized as part of a ride-hailing service. Autonomous systems will not just transform the consumer auto industry, but they will also be used in shipping and logistics. Trucking and shipping could see autonomous transformations, and unmanned aircraft could deliver consumers products as soon as 2018.”

But the vehicle itself is only part of the solution. What about the roads? The roadways need infrastructure to enable autonomous vehicles to communicate with the road and human driven vehicles. In the future, “smart” roads will include lines that can communicate with the vehicle as well as road signs with imbedded smart components that the autonomous vehicle can read. Perhaps autonomous driving will be limited to cities only, given the enormous investment in smart roads and signs.

Given all that, how will mobility impact our personal and professional lives? Provocative questions come to mind. Let’s start with the personal. “Will our children have to learn to drive? Will we send them off in a self-driving car to school, to music lessons, to sports games at a young age on their own? Will they imagine that in our current day, getting in to a car every time was a terrifying, white knuckle experience? I imagine our grandchildren will equate our driving a car to the experiences pre washing machine. That is, a washboard, a metal tub, and a bar of lye soap in terms of effort. Will they wonder how people were able to drive safely at all, given the traffic? Will they mock us for using paper maps in the car? Will we tell them how difficult it was to fold the maps back up? Can you imagine how they will howl with laughter at stopping to ask for directions or the thought of not being able to use the internet and drive at the same time? And what about drivers’ education classes and having to memorize the proper distance between vehicles or how to parallel park? In the future, our children will no longer need any of this.

What about impact on our professional lives? How will we spend the extra time we will have if we aren’t driving to work or meetings in another city? Think of what we could do with an hour or more added back to our discretionary time each day, commuting to work in a self-driving—and connected—car. Will we take advantage of the time and create more quality of life for ourselves with a nap, a movie, a podcast or a book? Or, will we feel compelled to get that extra hour of work in to meet the ever increasing demands of our customers? Very likely it will feel like we have created the “25 hour” day.

And what about the safety issues surrounding autonomous vehicles? After the Jeep security issue, many of us are wondering if autonomous vehicles will create opportunities for our auto’s computers to be hacked. How will the security of our auto computers be protected? What about autonomous vehicles driving alongside human driven vehicles where defensive driving skills are needed? Will autonomous vehicle sensors react within seconds and inches? I am also imaging the deer that darts in front of the car. Will the autonomous sensors recognize and stop on a dime for deer, squirrels, moose, and other animal hazards?

According to Jeffrey Zients, Director of the National Economic Council, safety technology for sensors will create a safe driving experience:

“We envision in the future, you can take your hands off the wheel, and your commute becomes restful or productive instead of frustrating and exhausting,” adding that highly automated vehicles “will save time, money and lives.”

Will we learn to trust our robot chauffeurs? Cars as we know them are becoming a thing of the past faster than many realize. According to McKinsey, the auto making leaders will offer their first autonomous cars in three years. Perhaps I will carry on the family tradition, be an early adopter, and buy one of the first available autonomous vehicles. I bet my great grandfather would have. And, I bet he would have felt a lot safer with a robot driving than he did when my great grandmother was driving.

Get more information on DDI’s Auto Manufacturing practice.

Jill George, Ph.D., is DDI’s Global Manufacturing Practice Leader.

Posted: 10 Jan, 2017,
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