Autonomous Mobility Ecology

Retake on old thoughts.

Today 3.7 billion people live in urban areas and that number will double by 2050, but cities and industrial companies (such as the automotive players) still operate under the 17th to 18th-century mindset. Most of our eco-social constructs have expired and our urban, medical, educational, transportation systems serve the limited information input/output model of yesteryear’s society.

To be able to survive tomorrow, we have to step back and take a holistic approach. It is essential to recognize that this gap is not due to a lack of technology. Like in several other industries, technology has progressed leaps and bounds in the automotive domain as well. However, the supporting ecosystem has been lackadaisical at best. While electric vehicles are ready to go, charging infrastructure is lacking; in spite of 5G is at our doorstep, seamless connectivity is lacking. A zero-emission electric vehicle running in semi-autonomous mode on the current outdated infrastructure will not deliver wholesome value to the consumer.

The glory numbers that the automotive industry enjoyed over the last century are steadily evaporating. We need to understand that a terminology change from transportation to mobility cannot be a mere cosmetic exercise; rather the need of the hour is to get a 360-degree perspective where we can visualize mobility at the intersection of transport, energy, and communication.

There are several discussions in the automotive industry (and a lot of misunderstanding) regarding the definition of an autonomous vehicle. A car, unlike other consumer devices, has multiple channels through which experience can be delivered. Unfortunately today it’s a rather passive environment. The emotional attachment to the car is more consumer-driven than product driven. Imagining ‘autonomous drive’ as ‘yet another car accessory’ will not address the philosophical complexities that can potentially make autonomous vehicles as a key component of the first general intelligent ecosystem.

A ‘Car’ is probably the most immersive environment available. A consumer cannot sit inside his/her iPhone or Android phone; or inside a laptop or tablet, but one can sit inside a car and ‘experience’ its features. Unfortunately, today the customer gets nothing in return. There is no connection between the consumer’s existence and the metal, a mildly interactive box that is designed to take you from point A to point B. However, it will not be long before we realize that we as consumers are not observing information, but are becoming a part of it, i.e. we, as humans are sensory data that serve a bigger model of what reality is.

The computational power that currently drives these autonomous systems is impressive and as such holds some interesting applications. While we are more than a few years away from developing bio-mechanical pods (where the system connects to the pilot or travelers via a synaptic interface and instantly shares the same experiences), we can already now experience the cognitive outsourcing effects that technology is bringing. We trust technology around us to ‘host’ functions that we, as humans, once mastered. We are surrounding ourselves with sensors, algorithms and touch points that help drive our intentions faster and with fewer frictions (read ‘modern app-based’ utilities built into our mobiles and wearables) yet when we step into a car we are ‘forced to use’ a set of predefined, hard-coded interfaces that ultimately have no connection to us.

Here are some rules that we believe will govern the autonomous mobility systems of the future:

  1. An autonomous car should not have its own general intelligence within a silo. It must be a node within a collective decision-making ecology where buildings and roads are part of a common AI.
  2. The design and development process for an autonomous mobility experience (including software and hardware) starts with understanding data that will be generated/consumed /transferred by the ecosystem consisting of customers, network, energy, and the technology players.
  3. For the autonomous cars to function as per definition, it is essential that the road owners maintain it as per the specific standards. In essence, the road is the LINGUISTIC INFRASTRUCTURE for the apt functioning of the mobility system. The overall safety responsibility in the autonomous ecosystem will be a shared one to minimize and eradicate accidents.
  4. Personal customer experience WITHIN the autonomous vehicle is governed by the Customer wishes, based on the products and services the OEM and Third Party Partners (Layered Reality & Entertainment partners) provide. The external interaction will be governed by the CITY and the ROAD.
  5. Fully autonomous cars, when achieved in this ecology, will only be used by new models of the economy rather than individual ownership.
  6. GDPR and other privacy regulations will play a key role in shaping the customer experience as there will arise a need for a new information architecture, one that creates the balance between personal data and the ownership of that personal data in order to generate tangible value.

A new narrative is emerging, one that enables us to break the barriers of one-dimensional interactions and dramatically change our perceptions of identity, ownership, and society. In this context, Facebook became the world largest media hub, and while it does not create any content, it allows people to consume as much as media as they can without owning it. People do not buy CD’s; they pay to access music on Spotify. All of Alibaba, Uber, Airbnb, Netflix, and Amazon are operating under the access-based economic model. We are moving from a world of ownership to one of ‘access-ship’, and in that case, people do not need ‘cars’ in the traditional manner. They need practical solutions that fit their digital flow i.e. they need a touch-point.

The time is ripe to take responsibility for the fields of potential that lie beyond the digital obvious. We need to cease the silo-thinking mindset in terms of software, hardware, human, technology and commence on the path to become the machine before the machine becomes us.

Written by –

  • Aric Dromi, Futurologist
  • Anand Sethuraman, Mobility Expert