Forget about self-parking vehicles, hands-free highway travel, and automatic braking. Driverless cars could change the entire car industry, car ownership, and anything connected to transportation. What’s more, such vehicles should arrive by the end of this decade.
“Disruptive innovations… don’t attempt to bring better products to established customers… they are simpler, more convenient, and less expensive products that appeal to new or less-demanding customers” Clayton Christiansen, The Innovator’s Solution, pg.34
At last Thursday’s VLAB, Thilo Koslowski urged the panel to identify truly disruptive applications of driverless vehicles. What new or less-demanding customers could a driverless car serve? What functions could such cars accomplish better than current alternatives? Cars that drive themselves will further democratize transportation in the following ways:
1) You will no longer need the ability to drive to utilize a private vehicle.
“What if in the future you don’t have to drop your kids off at school anymore? The car will do that for you… Think about your lovely eighty year old mother-in-law, who’s a little too old to visit you. But now she can. Every weekend!” Koslowski offered these examples of immobile consumers who could utilize driverless cars.
Presently, auto makers target neither children nor the immobile elderly, but self-driving cars will soon serve their needs. Such consumers won’t want to buy cars; they’ll just want transportation.
What’s more, public shuttles, busses, and taxis may all someday be replaced with driverless cars. These new vehicles can respond to requests far faster than any human, and may provide safer transportation options. Imagine Uber or New York taxis without drivers.
2) You won’t need to keep a car close by to enjoy immediate access.
We keep cars near us primarily for ease of access. Driverless cars, though, can come to us. If you live on a busy street, just tell your car to park somewhere else. When traveling, let your car drop you off at the entrance to Disneyland and find a spot on its own. Don’t spend hours driving around trying to park it. Or when you need a rental, the car will come to you.
Better yet, why not rent your car to someone during its usual downtime? Think about all those hours your vehicle sits un-utilized. Or let’s take it a step further, as Koslowski did. Why own a car at all? Zipcar, famous for convenience, could actually drive right to your door. Sophisticated algorithms could plan for transportation demand and allot resources accordingly. Luca Delgrossi of Mercedes, however, believes car ownership won’t disappear any time soon. “We like to drive. We love cars,” he said.
Marteen Sierhuis of Nissan responded by observing that people drive approximately 48 minutes a day. “How many of those minutes are enjoyable?”
3) You won’t need to be present with your car when only your car’s presence is necessary.
Your car can take itself to the mechanic. Or more likely, dealership. Whoever controls the software and permissions directing cars to new locations could determine where cars are serviced. Partnerships between software startups and dealerships, anyone?
4) New companies currently create new industries through vehicle automation, autonomy, and driverless technology. More will come.
Panelist Josh Switkes, CEO and Founder of Peloton Technology, built a company and created a new business sector in the process. Peloton utilizes truck to truck wireless communication, as well as truck to server, to make cargo transport safer and more efficient. His products can potentially triple the profit margins of his clients.
Peloton represents one of the first firms in a new industry that leverages new vehicle technology, and more will certainly follow.
The VLAB panelists did, however, suggest obstacles to adoption of driverless technology. Koslowski emphasized that consumers must learn to trust machines, and develop reasonable expectations. Nissan’s Sierhuis hinted at the immense legal hurdles faced before all fifty states allow driverless cars on their roads.
The most difficult problem on Sierhuis’ mind Thursday night, however, was how to let a driver know what a car is thinking. When humans and machines try to solve the same problem at the same time, chaos often ensues. Facing an impending accident, you either want the driver or the machine in control; not both.
Even with driverless technology in its nascent stages, the car industry promises to change dramatically, and fast. It’s time for entrepreneurs to dream up applications for tomorrow’s drivers.
Thilo Koslowski, Vice President & Automotive Practice Leader, Gartner
Josh Switkes, Ph.D., Founder and CEO, Peloton Technology Inc.
Corey Clothier, President and COO, Induct Technologies USA
Marteen Sierhuis, Director, Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley
Luca Delgrossi, Director, Driver Assistance & Chasis Systems NA, Mercedes-Benz R&D North America
Sven Strohband, Partner and CTO, Khosla Ventures
(Written by Eric McClellan, VLAB Marketing Committee Blogger. Eric coaches start-ups in UX design and external communications.)