Digital Intern, This is Milk
In the first of our 'On the Horizon' series focused on future trends, we explore self-driving cars and their likely impact on society and business.
In this brand new series of blog posts titled 'On the Horizon' we will be exploring some of the future trends that we think are likely to have a widespread impact both on business and society.
When imagining the future, most people think about quirky and futuristic technologies, and understandably so. The number of life-changing technological innovations in the last two centuries has been overwhelming and the pace of change even more so. Innovations and developments in modes of transport can definitely be categorised as life-changing, both for business and society, and, although we take them for granted today, many of them would have seemed totally radical and in-achievable once upon a time. Just think about how futuristic the first cars seemed at a time when everyone else had horses and truly believed they would never be replaced, or how ridiculous the concept of flying across oceans and continents in hours would have been. Well, we are in that same situation today, although perhaps with slightly more open minds!
Short of flying cars, there is probably no other transport innovation that captives the minds of so many than the autonomous car. Rumours and ideas about cars that drive themselves have been around for a while but mostly they have been perceived as something that might happen in the distant future. The reality is that they are happening sooner than you might expect. In light of the release of Elon Musk's Master Plan, Part Deux we decided to explore current and future developments of self-driving cars and some of the possible implications for business and society.
Self-driving cars are no longer an idea of the very distant future and a testament to that statement is the amount of development and investment in them from many of the major automakers. There are at least 14 automakers that are betting that autonomous cars might be the next big thing. Google and Tesla are the most obvious ones, but many of the more traditional manufacturers such as Ford, General Motors, Honda, Toyota, BMW, and Audi are also heavily backing the production of such cars.
Furthermore, Nissan have announced plans to have advanced autonomous vehicles on the roads by 2020, Uber have announced they are opening an autonomous driving research centre and there are various rumours about an iCar by Apple. Clearly there is a buzz in the auto industry and companies are racing to finish and produce driverless cars. Although fully autonomous vehicles probably won't be introduced in the next decade, and there will have to be many changes in both legislation and people's attitudes before all cars become driverless, some estimates put the number of cars with self-driving features on the roads by 2020 at 10 million. Here are some video examples of already existing self-driving technology:
How will self-driving cars impact our society?
Let's explore the likely changes. If you knew that during your one hour commute on the motorway before and after work you don't have to hold the steering wheel or keep your foot on the gas how would your habits change? Would you have breakfast in the driver's seat while the car is actually driving you to work, or maybe catch up on news and emails? To take it even further, what if you could sleep in your car on your way to a meeting or another city?
And what about the local and global business? If you were the owner of a roadside hotel with revenue largely dependent on travellers staying overnight, your business may well become 'collateral damage' to this disruption. If that hotel owner doesn't stop to consider and prepare for the likely impact on their business, how long will it be before it's already too late to react?
Let's imagine we are an insurance company. Given that almost 90% of all car accidents are due to human error, some proponents of self-driving cars argue that if all cars were autonomous, safety will increase and road fatalities will be heavily reduced. If this happens how would our business model and insurance pricing policies have to adapt to accommodate for the disruption, and how early do we have to start thinking about it? What if self-driving cars were so safe that people were banned from manually driving on public roads?
Following that line of thought, maybe we should explore this future trend from the perspective of the USA Government. There are roughly 2.8 million truck drivers in the States and 9 million people working in transport. If truck companies replace their fleets with cost-saving autonomous trucks (since computers don't have to rest) what measures should the US Government implement to combat the rise of unemployment stemming not only from the truck drivers but from the aforementioned roadside hotels, restaurants, and gas stations?
Why should you care about who drives your car in the future?
As long as you still get from A to B, it doesn't matter right? Well yes it might be great for us all personally, but what about your business, your market or the wider economy? Some of the things we've imagined in this article likely won't come to fruition, and we haven't even really scratched the surface with all the possible outcomes (positive and negative), but radical change will happen, whether we're ready or not.
The point of 'Horizon Watching' is not about getting every prediction right but it is about keeping your eyes and minds open and considering what future trends will mean for your business or industry - and having a plan or at least an idea of how to react if they do happen. As an organisation it is hard to know whether you are in the middle of a disruption before it is too late but if you are equipped with the relevant information and have prepared in advance, the chances of coming out on top increase exponentially.
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(Blog first published 03/08/2016)