Stop trying to swallow the big cactus of mobility (1)
Private Life and Mobility
The perfect car for 2025 isn’t (just) self-driving, argues Alex Roy in his new column. He outlines his must-haves — and questions some widely-held industry views in the process.
Have you ever tried to eat a cactus? You don’t need to be Nostradamus to know a big, prickly log is going to be tough to swallow, and yet the dominant mobility narrative is exactly that. This very site’s title — 2025AD — suggests a Gladwellian tipping point for mobility defying what I like to call Cactus Theory, which is the notion that if two or more technological improvements generate a positive network effect, deploying them individually isn’t worth the effort.
If we want to solve pollution, traffic and safety, we need to chop up the cactus of mobility and invest time and money to deploy its component technologies as they become ready.
What’s really in store for the year 2025? It isn’t the all-or-nothing narrative the C.A.S.E. people are selling. What’s C.A.S.E.? It’s a slide in almost every mobility presentation I’ve heard that includes a car, and it’s very compelling if you’re trying to raise money or increase your stock price. Here’s what it stands for:
No one can argue that connectivity, autonomy, sharing and electrification don’t have their individual benefits, nor that they don’t generate network effects in unison, but between now, 2025 and whenever the four legs of C.A.S.E. reach harmonious ubiquity, let’s not overlook the near and mid-term benefits of each as they become available, and figure out what might look like.
In a sea of clickbait, 2025 AD remains one of the few publications attempting to cut down binary notions of what the future holds. “Full Connectivity Will Precede Full Automation” is but one example, which suggests a more realistic sequence for C.A.S.E.:
Level 4 autonomy
Level 5 autonomy
This is a sequence, not a timeline, because once the technological problems are solved, cultural and legal challenges will vary, and full C.A.S.E. ubiquity will take decades, even in the first world.
Since this is 2025AD, what follows is what I consider the ideal car available in that year. My goal? Maximize the safety and efficiency of that car — both for myself and the ecosystem in which it exists — based on the technology available.
To avoid any misunderstanding, I define L4 as geofenced autonomy, and L5 as anywhere/anytime/all conditions.
From hi-tech to low-tech to no tech, these are must haves for my privately-owned car in 2025:
I want to be able to share my car, on the fly, whether I’m in it or not. Oh, wait. I can do that now, but it’s fractured between services similar to Turo, the best (and most dominant) example in the United States. If I really want to exploit the sharing opportunities of 2025, sharing needs to integrated into the car on a much deeper level. Cybersecurity may never be 100% solved, but it’ll need to be much better for deep sharing integration to work. I want a single software platform aggregating all sharing services, with real-time data on passenger demand, displaying various tools that allow me to optimize use based on criteria like profit, proximity and trust.
If I’m not in the car and sharing in an L4 mandatory autonomous zone, I want a built-in cabin facing camera to monitor the passengers. Not just for how they treat the car, but to protect occupants from each other. Which means we need an Alexa-type audio monitoring system, with a visual and AI-driven backup; if one occupant threatens another, the vehicle goes to a police station. Also, the car will need a panic button.
I have enough connectivity for sharing right now, so what is the purpose of all this extra connectivity the C.A.S.E. people are talking about?
Any L4 system that requires 100% broadband connectivity is a problem. Why? Hardware fails. Power goes out. L4 cars must be capable of operating on their own. If they can’t, cities that depend on it will literally grind to a halt.
V2V, V2X, V2I?
All of it requires ubiquity to work. People who think that’s realistic by 2025 (or maybe ever) haven’t spent enough time talking to policy makers, auto makers, or the people who actually are going to pay for it.
You know what else needs to be able to operate on its own? Society. People. Us. Me.
Content? I have the connectivity I need for phone calls now and decent video now. Today. And I’ve had it for years. Facetime? It works most of the time. Do I need more connectivity for all the content everyone wants to sell me? Yes, if I wanted it. I don’t need any of it beyond calls. Teenagers think they need it, but they don’t. No one does, but if manufacturers/media companies can mandate not only autonomy but the removal of steering wheels, and then dump mountains of content and ads on us, say, in exchange for discounted or free rides…
Ug. I’ll skip the extra connectivity, at least until 2025 and/or AR gets really good, but that deserves its own article.
There is, however, a decent connectivity case to be made for insurance. If I’m driving like a baby, why shouldn’t I get the deepest discount possible? The best way to do that is a connection with my insurance company. Also, If I’m sharing my car to a human-driven platform, I want to know exactly what’s going on, and I want my insurance company to stop the car and alert me if something goes awry. I also want to invest in whomever builds that platform. Will it be Nexar?
But wait, there is at least one other argument for a lot more connectivity….
Level 5 won’t be available for a long time, but I still want options outside L4 geofences. What if I don’t want to drive? Given enough redundant connectivity, a remote teleoperation company like Phantom Auto could and should offer a chauffeur mode. (Not to be confused them with the tragic Phantom.AI.) Phantom Auto has a very interesting teleoperation solution I’ve personally tested on both sides of the control equation, and they’re only a round or two away from big things. I really hope they evolve their business model toward this.
Then there is the logical extension not of better connectivity, but of real-time data. The ultimate edge case? Rolling up on a crime the perpetrators don’t want you to see. Both Waze and RedZone announced navigation app functionality that included crime data, to some controversy. Ask anyone with a nice car in South Africa — where carjacking is rampant — whether they want this. Now why would anyone want to enable L4 sharing in an area where the car might be summoned by burner phone, immobilized and stripped?
Add hacking, and the possibility of occupants being robbed if not by each other, then by someone waiting for them, and it’s easy to see why vehicle and fleet owners will demand this data on the admin side. Even if they don’t, insurers will. I want this data updated in real-time with the accuracy of systems like the NYPD’s Compstat.
I’d love to have L5 available, but that’s not going to happen by 2025. Which means if I live in/near the right city/town, I want L4, but I still absolutely require an...
Open Operational Domain
By 2025 MY car has to be able to drive anywhere. If I cross a geofence into or out of a mandatory L4 zone, the car should automatically transitions into or out of L4 autonomy. (How? See Transition Warning Systems, below.)
For those who object to the notion of human driven cars altogether, you’ve got an uphill battle, but I’m fine with being forced to transition to L4 in a mixed-mode vehicle.
If you want to force me into sharing within geofences like the people behind the Shared Mobility Principles, that’s not going to happen, and I’m not the only one who feels that way. Study human nature. As long as governments want to tax and people are willing to pay, there will be those who pay to ride alone. Congestion charges — increased for single rider vehicles — will be structured like pollution credits in the US. Which brings us to:
All tolling must be aggregated and linked, if not to my license plate — something which will eventually go away, although maybe not by 2025 — then to my car. It’s not merely a question of reducing friction, but of fuel economy. Front plates and exterior transponders affect fuel economy, and windshield mounts are a blight.
EVs are not required for sharing, connectivity or autonomy. I’d love my car to be electric, but it doesn’t have to be. Full electrification is inevitable, but not by 2025.
Assuming I’m in an EV, my GPS/navigation should integrate 100% of compatible charging stations, with automated billing. Which means I want a single platform aggregating all the competing charging networks. Any EV that doesn’t offer this in-dash will lose to those who do.
Prediction: everyone will get onboard with this except Tesla. Upcoming networks are supposed to be faster than Tesla’s anyway, so this shouldn’t be an issue.
Let’s hope Plugshare raises some money so they can build this platform.
Now let’s get to all the things I want that don’t clearly fall under the C.A.S.E. umbrella, like incremental improvements to safety and content consumption....
About our author:
Alex Roy — an angel investor, entrepreneur, Editor-at-Large for The Drive, Host of The Autonocast, co-host of /DRIVE on NBC Sports, author of The Driver and Founder of Noho Sound — has set numerous endurance driving records in Europe & the USA in the internal combustion, EV, 3-wheeler & Semi-Autonomous Classes, including the infamous Cannonball Run record. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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