Autonomous vehicles, traffic-free roads, social cars and intelligent cities: where and how will technology most alter how we get around? This session takes a close look at the future of transportation—in the city that has long defined how we get around. Read excerpts from the conversation below. For a full transcript, click here.
Hensley: We’ve got a billion vehicles on the road today. In the next 30, 40 years, that will at least double. If you buy a car in the U.S., you can choose from about 280 different models. You’ve got a couple of fuel types on the market today; in the future, it’s going to be multiple.
We spent about $8 and a quarter trillion on the planet on the transportation of human beings and goods in 2010. What do you think the future of mobility will look like?
Baron: One of the technologies that’s here today is autonomous vehicles. They are not available for mass market, but we have prototypes and we can make cars drive themselves. It’ll be a real milestone the day that we can actually have the consumer sit in a car and literally take their hands off the wheel and let the car go down a public highway.
The technologies are here and there are issues around how we deploy them, but what really has to be wrestled with are the policy implications. The biggest motivators for this type of technology have to do with traffic mitigation, fuel economy, and safety. We don’t want to build more highways. In some cases we can’t get more traffic onto the highways. On the safety side, we have 40,000 to 50,000 deaths a year due to crashes. If you have a car that can drive itself, and if the car knows not to crash, maybe zero is not such a far-fetched objective.
We’re spending hundreds of dollars per vehicle to make them lighter, to get better fuel economy. Well, if you make these cars so they can drive themselves, you don’t need 10 air bags. You don’t need crash structures under the car. So there’s money there that can be transferred over to the electronics or sensors. There’s a lot of motivation for this autonomous vehicle technology. It’s clearly going to have to come initially from the government. If we simply wait for the market to take care of itself, it’s going to take a lot larger.
Kundra: The whole industry is going through a massive transformation. You can see it in terms of the intelligent transportation infrastructure. We’re already seeing data being mined on a real-time basis. Cities around the world are enabling cars to be more intelligently routed, allowing people to make intelligent decisions, and creating a level of transparency that had never existed before.
Government obviously has a huge role in how it spends money on infrastructure. When it comes to roads and the materials that are used to build roads in the last 30 years, you really haven’t seen a lot of innovation. But you have seen massive innovation when it comes to car tires.
Another question is: why can’t your car be social? Toyota is putting out a car called Toyota Friend, which literally addresses the issue of how your car can tell your dealer that it needs its oil changed. Why can’t your car, as its driving, aware of its context, tell you there’s a special Groupon deal available on this block? You’re going to see the social technologies fundamentally change the way cars are engineered, beyond the autonomous vehicles.
Car companies are going to be able to have much better insight into what their customers want on a real-time basis, so they can actually manage that relationship with their customers and drive these innovations.
Littlejohn: Parking and parking availability are a key part of the ecosystem. The way that ecosystem is managed is that data has to be captured and integrated. People want the system to understand where are you starting from, where are you going, and have an application pull up everything that’s relevant. It has to allow you to set your preferences, because if my preference is to get there as quickly as possible, the options may be different than if my preference is to get there as green as possible or as cheaply as possible. The concept of urban mobility is all about managing this complex ecosystem, pulling the data, and then adding intelligence to it.
Prasad: You could argue perhaps that beyond the linear increase in the number of vehicles, there’s an exponential increase in the number of interactions that vehicles are having with just about everything, whether it’s entities within the vehicle, the Bluetooth phone in your car, or whether it’s speaking to a traffic light near you.
In the future, I really see this coming together of motorized and non-motorized mechanisms of mobility. I don’t think we should trivialize the non-motor pedestrians and bicyclers. That’s still going to be a significant part of who we are and how mobility will be managed in the future.
It really behooves us to take a view that’s not centered necessarily in Detroit, but looks at what Detroit offers as an immense power of knowledge and wealth in terms of its manufacturing history and manufacturing depth.
Zielinski: Thomas Friedman says the world is flat. I think transportation is flat. There’s more equality amongst modes—cleaner, greener, safer, healthier, lighter, more equitable, more lucrative, more nimble, more tech-supported, with integrated way-finding and fare payment and traffic management. It’s hipper and sexier. It’s no longer the big, heavy machine thing. It’s this really cool, forward-thinking, interchangeable ecosystem.
It’s going to be about moving less. We can design cities so we can take shorter trips. We can have local production and distribution, like urban farming, which is really happening here. And also tele-everything—telework, teleshop, telecommerce, telemedicine, tele-education. The industry cluster is beyond vehicle manufacturing and embraces the information technologies, real estate, tourism, finance and economics. There’s going to be an industry opportunity globally and then some regional cluster development. I see it being less cookie-cutter andmore that we map out and we listen to the needs of our communities.
Baron: With my own kids, you can take away the keys to the car, but heaven forbid, don’t take away the cell phone. The interests today are different than the interests when we grew up. We used to like to drive cars. Anybody here remember fahrvergnügen? It’s becoming obsolete. There will be a demand from society and from the younter generation who are looking at transportation much differently than we used to.
Prasad: What we’re seeing is an evolution of new ways by which consumers are going to influence and shape both product definition and the experience of mobility and what it means to take multiple modes of transportation to get from A to B and back home.
Kundra: The winners in terms of innovation are going to be car companies that close the technology gap between what’s happening in the consumer Internet and what’s happening in the car and do so in a very safe way. Artificial intelligence becomes really important. Voice recognition becomes really important. Technologies we’re just beginning to see become mainstream now are going to be part of the way cars are hardwired, so you get that fluidity you feel as a consumer, whether you are on your iPad or behind your PC or using a mobile device.
Zielinski: These kinds of systems allow us to live in places that have all of these amenities and to get around more easily, so we don’t actually have to own a car. In general, sustainable transportation, if optimized, should really save money. So we’ve got a conservation side.
Bill Ford often talks about Ford as a transportation company rather than a car company. How are the smaller entrepreneurs actually getting into transportation in a way that’s beyond the darned old battery? I love the battery thing, but there are so many more things than that for really smart entrepreneurs. There are the iPhone apps and the small services that connect the dots between the different sorts of public infrastructures. Everybody wins because we’re creating a system that serves an economically vital, livable city. People will want to live there. There’s greater access for everybody. The benefits are going to spread if we actually deliver the systems that we need to.
Littlejohn: There’s going to be a whole cottage industry to take advantage of car sharing. It’s different than ride sharing. It’s asset sharing, purchasing as a cooperative. And I think there’s going to be an influx of providers at the intersection of data handling and social media that are going to take advantage of this.