Future Visions Pt.1

As CES goes on in town this weekend, seeing all the new products and technologies introduced gives me a few ideas on what might be possible in 10 or 15 years. I’ll cover a few of those ideas here over the next few days.

Idea 1: The idea of a personal car is outmoded

One of the bigger announcements at CES is Ford’s all-electric Focus. While this is good for now, the future of transportation isn’t limited to just personal vehicles.

Imagine Sunday night in the year 2030. You’ve got plans laid out for work this week. You get up each day at to be at work by 7, and you leave work at 5 at night. You share your weeks calendar with the AUTOMAT car scheduling system allowing them to know what time you have to be at work, any errands you have to run, and even suggesting you stop by the flower shop for your wife since your anniversary is Thursday.

The massive computers that run the system tell you what time a car will be by your house to pick you up in the morning each day. Yes, the car will pick you up. Using an advanced version of Google’s self-driving car technology, the cars will be able to autonomously drive you around the city, including from their nightly storage and recharge areas (possibly mall or supermarket parking lots) to your home. Think of it like car sharing on steriods. You can even get a discount for carpooling with friends and co-workers.

So what could cars look like if they’re going to be almost crash-proof and typically carrying only one occupant? Far lighter and cheaper than they can be made today. This, compounded with advanced battery technologies, will allow cars to drive hundreds of miles all day at higher speeds without having to pause for a recharge.

You could even sign your children up at age 8. No more needing to take your kids to soccer practice, since they can take themselves in one of these vehicles. They’ll have their own smartphone to control when they need to be picked up if practice ends early.

As cars become more connected, monitoring the cars performance and their occupants will become trivial. Computer systems could easily pinpoint malfunctioning cars before they break down and direct them to service or have replacement cars to your location quickly. The system could even notify you if you accidentally leave your gym bag or cell phone in the car. The vehicle would also have a self-defense system – it could determine if a human driven car was at fault in an accident, or capture the license plate of someone who may have hit the car in the parking lot.

Out of town trips? No big deal. Larger vehicles with cargo space for luggage are also available. Higher speeds would also be available on the highway to get you to your destination faster. Long day trips or multiple day trips might require users to swap cars (or stop to swap batteries) if they want to drive uninterrupted to their destination without stopping overnight at a hotel to sleep.

Larger societal implications

  • Reductions in number of auto fatalities. There still might be many caused by outside circumstances – pedestrians and cyclists jumping out in front of cars without looking, human driven cars, etc.
  • Taxi drivers and chauffeurs are put out of work – no one needs a human to drive a car anymore
  • Auto body and car repair shops see massive reductions in the amount of work they have due to fewer moving parts and more proactive maintenance schedules
  • Increased mobility for kids – ages 8 to 16 can now get around without relying on their parents (though safeguards in the system will be set to require parent permission to reserve a car)
  • Reduced number of cars produced every year because of vehicle sharing – how does this impact manufacturing?
  • Less differentiation between car manufacturers – people still might want to spend the money to reserve a Lexus or BMW but most of the safety concerns of larger and more expensive vehicles will have gone by the wayside
  • Increased patronage of bars – if you don’t worry about driving drunk, you can drink more ;)

So thats really just the first idea I’ve had taking up room in my head as I’ve read all the news pouring out of CES. Hopefully I can put together a few more articles the next few days.

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