A future where we no longer have to drive ourselves around is coming. We’ll all be able to sit back and read, catch up on emails, or perhaps watch a movie while our car takes care of the driving for us.
At least that’s the impression that the audience got on Monday evening, at a Tech Panel hosted by San Francisco’s The Bold Italic called Gearing Up: The Future of the Car.
The panelists included:
- Dan Preston of Metromile, a company that takes a data-driven approach to driving and also now offers per-mile car insurance;
- Danny Shapiro of NVIDIA, a visual computing company that has been looking into solutions for vehicle infotainment systems and self-driving cars;
- Ezra Goldman of Upshift, a car share program that solves the “pick up and drop off problem” (at least in San Francisco). They deliver the car to you and let you to drop it off anywhere you like in the city when you are finished with it; and
- Steven Rahman of Samsung Research America, which claims to be developing the next generation of discovery in software, user experience, and services for future products.
When asked what their ideal future car would be, interestingly none of the panelists chose an actual car (instead giving answers like: “my smartphone” and “one that self drives”). Several key themes arose during the event.
Across the panel, there almost seemed to be a shared consensus that autonomous cars are going to be awesome, and that they’re not that far away.
Damon Lavrinc disagreed. He thinks that regulations and other public policy factors affecting the approval of autonomous vehicles mean that it’ll be at least 10 years before we can sit back and let the car take control of its own wheel.
As Uber developer Eric Butler pointed out on Twitter:
The panelists think that trucking and mass transit will be the first groups to trial the use of autonomous vehicles. Shapiro pointed out that we’re already seeing trials by trucking companies, who are testing out the use of autonomous vehicles with human supervision in large convoys.
Overall, it was a friendly crowd for the discussion of self-driving cars. As I noted on Twitter:
I doubt the panelists would have met such an enthusiastic crowd anywhere other than in San Francisco.
Not surprisingly, Goldman was the most passionate advocate for car sharing and its role in the future of the car.
He noted that because the vehicles in car share programs get updated much more frequently than privately-owned vehicles, there is greater scope for technological advancements to gain exposure and acceptance among consumers.
Goldman acknowledged that there is still much work to do for car share companies, including solving car sharing for low density areas, and building out models for different demographic groups—such as families—who may find car sharing less accommodating to their needs.
He laughed at the idea that we are at a car sharing saturation point with Zipcar, saying:
We are kind of in the AOL days [of car sharing].
What are some of the cool technological innovations we can expect to see in future cars?
For one thing, we’ll be wearing wearable devices that will identify us to our car. This not only means we no longer need a key, but it will also allow the car to automatically adjust to our prefered seat height, temperature, and music. Our car will also detect when we are sleepy, for example.
Per-mile car insurance (Metromile is already offering this) means that those of us who drive infrequently will no longer have to subsidize heavy drivers through our insurance premiums.
The experience of owning a car will also become more like the experience of owning a smartphone or tablet. Our cars will be upgradeable after purchase, so we won’t have to rely as much on expensive servicing and manual upgrades.
Lastly, while we wait for fully autonomous cars to become available and gain approval, we’ll start to see small steps towards this innovation. This might include cars that we can leave to park themselves.
Too Far in the Future
While it was a fascinating panel discussion, the Gearing Up panel seemed to be focused too far into the future and was preoccupied with autonomous vehicles.
It would have been nice to hear more about some immediate trends and forecasts.
For example, what does the near-term future look like for electric vehicles? (The panel did note it would be incredibly difficult to implement infrastructure like electric-car charging highways in the US, which is already being pursued in countries like Norway and Germany.)
While the panel did note that our future autonomous vehicles will be highly connected to one another, it would have also been nice to hear more about how they will connect. For example, what Tesla’s recent decision to open up their patents means for the future of cars, and what the role of open-source will be for cars going forward.
Hopefully a significant one.
What excites you most about the future of the car?
Kirby is the Storyteller at Prospress, an eCommerce software company standing on the shoulders of WooCommerce. When she’s not blogging for Prospress, Kirby likes to read, write her personal blog, and dream about Australian beaches. You can connect with Kirby on Twitter or Google+.