The Killer App For Driverless Cars

by Tom Koulopoulos

Few of us have even thought about this particular use of driverless cars. But once you know you won’t want to live without it.

The Killer App For Driverless Cars

This is the second in my series of columns on Autonomous Vehicles.

Of all the potential benefits to driverless cars, and there are many, I’m going to bet that there is one that you probably haven’t even thought about, but once you find out what it is you won’t want to live without it.

The temptation when you talk about a killer app for driverless cars is to look at things that we can already easily measure, such as increased safety, less urban congestion, or lower carbon emissions. However, what seems to be consistent with every truly disruptive technology is that something we’d never expected ends up being the one thing that fuels early adoption.

For example, when cells phones were first introduced nobody had any idea that the killer app would have nothing to do with voice communication but rather text. Remember when you had to cycle through three letters on each of the 12 touch-tone keys in order to type out a message? And what about the killer app for the iPad? Right, a breakthrough advance in technology with billions in R&D, all so that we could play Angry Birds!

Predicting the way any disruptive technology will be used is only possible once it’s being used. The same will be true of driverless cars. Still, where’s the fun if we can’t at least speculate?

I recently met with Matt Benson, a key player in the development of AV experiences and the head of Faurecia’s Autonomous Experience Initiative. Faurecia is one of the world’s largest automotive equipment suppliers with $23 billion in global sales and a venture fund which invests in startups in the AV industry. Their Active Wellness research runs the gambit from partnering with Stanford to study motion sickness in autonomous vehicles, to designing seating that uses biometrics to account for a passengers emotional and biological states, to the effects of cabin lighting and entertainment systems. This no longer sounds like the cars you know, right? And that’s the point. We’re in for an entirely new experience.

One of the more interesting things about the way Matt sees the evolution of the driverless car is the shift from the notion of a cockpit experience to that of a cabin. That changes the way you look at what a car is and how the experience can change radically from what we are accustomed to. His perspective creates a whole new world of opportunities that we may not have imagined, from the ability of the car to sense your moods and behaviors, to the opportunity it provides to change the way we think about the value of transportation.

Here’s just one glimpse into what we talked about.

First off, the amount being invested in driverless cars is staggering. If you add up all of the individual investments being made the total could easy top $1 Trillion by 2020, and that’s before we start to see any significant payback. So, here’s the big challenge. There is simply no way to retrofit existing vehicles to become driverless and we’re clearly not going to scrap the 1 billion autos already in use. The unit growth of global auto sales has plateaued over the past five years. So, the obvious question is how will this investment pay off in a market that seems to be pretty well saturated?

The answer is by addressing a glaring unmet need which is simply impossible to address with the current options in the market.

Here are some startling numbers that may help you guess what that need is:

  • A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science showed that the risk of death nearly doubles among seniors who are isolated.
  • The cost of nursing home care is on average $11,000/mo and is projected to rise to $25,000/mo by 2036. (These are for MA.)
  • An AARP study found that the total losses for children taking care of aging parents is $3 trillion nationally
  • On average there’s a reduction of $303,880 in lifetime wages and retirement benefits for a child caregiver.
  • According to a study by AAA, seniors are outliving their ability to drive by 7-10 years on average.
  • Boomers will be transferring over $30 trillion dollars of assets to their millennial and Gen Z children over the next 30 years.

Have you figured out where I’m going with this? The bottom line is that the cost of not having mobility for an aging segment of society that can no longer drive has enormous negative impact. At the same time the amount of money boomers will have to spend on retirement is unprecedented.

So, if I told you that you could help your parents gain another 7-10 years of safe mobility, independence, and physical and mental well-being, what’s that worth to you? Let’s get even more personal. What if I could promise you that when you reach that point you would get another 7-10 years of mobility and independence? Suddenly the ability to have driverless car takes on an entirely new value proposition. Part of the challenge in envisioning any of these new scenarios is that we are at the tail end of a very long period of incremental innovation in the automotive industry. In some ways the technology has certainly changed radically, however, as Matt said during our conversation,

“If you look back 10 years or 20 years, the cars that are on the road today really don’t look that different. The behaviors that someone had in a car even, let’s say, 50 years ago are not going to differ very much from those that they might have today. But going forward even 10 years from now, that might be quite different.”

I’d venture to say that other than having round wheels and doors the experience will be a radical departure from the cars of the last 100 years. Far fetched? Perhaps, but we come up with all sorts of excuses as to why a new a new disruptive technology can’t take the place of the current one until we experience it. And then we look back and wonder in amazement how we lived without it.

Design Driven Event 2019

This article was originally published on Inc.

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Thomas KoulopoulosTom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.

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