The Passenger Economy: What will you do when cars drive themselves?

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

Did you know that Britons report driving more than 10 hours per week? That’s an average of 85 minutes per day at the wheel, 22 days a year (with 32 hours spent stuck in traffic jams), and three full years over a typical working lifetime.

What would you do with that lost time if you didn’t have to drive?

It’s a question that a new report by Intel and Strategy Analytics tries to answer, imagining a future where on-demand, driverless cars have replaced traditional vehicle ownership. The term “Passenger Economy” is a way of describing the value of future products and services derived from this dramatic transportation shift.

What might you do as a passenger in an autonomous vehicle?

1. You might use the time to work

Imagine this scenario, as detailed in the Passenger Economy report: “Mr. Schmidt has three meetings during the day and a 7.00 pm business flight. His Mobility-as-a-Service provider has scheduled a vehicle for him for the day. His ride arrives promptly at 6.55 am to allow time for luggage storage.”

“Leaving him at his first meeting, the AutoCab retrieves a preordered salad for lunch, picks up his suit at the cleaners, and picks up some toiletries for the trip at the pharmacy, and then returns to pick him up after his meeting.

“Mr. Schmidt completes his meetings using the travel time between meetings to pay bills, manage bank accounts and schedule a review of gift options for his wife’s birthday. By 1.00 pm, he has eaten the salad, watched a summary update of news personalized for his interests, and taken a 15-minute nap with the side glass digitally darkened.

“At 5.00 pm, Mr. Schmidt arrives at the airport. As he leaves, he asks the vehicle to return some documents to his home before returning to the storage facility where AutoCab vehicles are in holding patterns for their next pickup or delivery.”

2. You might use the time to play

Here’s another potential scenario from the same report: “Nine-year-old Peter has grabbed his school tablet, which tells him his friends from the neighbourhood will be arriving in his driveway in four minutes and 30 seconds in their shared AutoBus.

“The 20-minute ride to school is filled with last-minute searches for homework and shared multiplayer gaming. The onboard security system provides for video supervision and security lockdown if needed.”

It might sound like science fiction. But considering that we already have Wi-Fi on buses, fast 4G (with 5G to come) and multiplayer online gaming.

3. You might get your nails done

Here’s another glimpse into the future: “Lyft creative director Jesse McMillin envisions themed ‘experience pods’ offering on-board beauty salons or touchscreen tables for remote collaboration will quickly be introduced alongside conventional vehicles,” says the Passenger Economy report.

“Extrapolating from the idea that mature autonomous vehicles are mobile, programmable rooms, one can begin to imagine a raft of new commercial services, including dining (from fast-casual commuting to remote vending), healthcare (mobile clinic and treatments), hospitality (pod hotels), and retailing.”

It’s a world away from today’s driver assist technology.

4. You might use the time to sleep

You’ve heard of sleeper trains, so what about autonomous sleeper cars? Imagine this…

“Miguel wakes up to another foggy morning in Cordoba, Argentina. Some things never change, he tells himself. What has changed, he learns as he dresses, is that his uncle will be arriving in Buenos Aires, 700 km away, at around 9.00 pm. Does he have time for a late dinner and catch up?

“A few short voice commands later, and it’s all sorted. He schedules his regular AutoCab, which will allow him time to work on the way there, and a Sleep-Cab for the return trip will allow them both plenty of time to rest, even if dinner turns into dinner and a few drinks. The low overnight rates mean they can comfortably snooze all night in the Sleep-Cab, before it gently awakes him in the morning outside of his apartment.”

Embracing Mobility-as-a-Service

Although it will take some time to disrupt the traditional model of car ownership (the report suggests this might happen by 2050), driverless vehicles could enable a new era of Mobility-as-a-Service.

Software-as-a-Service has already revolutionised the way we work by shifting software online. In terms of mobility, Uber- and Lyft-style ride-hailing services could form part of a new autonomous transportation network of shared vehicles, ranging from cars to delivery trucks.

Not only will Mobility-as-a-Service be more efficient, it should prove to be safer. Fewer cars on the road means fewer accidents, less pollution and less congestion. It also solves the problem of inner city parking by eliminating the need for it. At the same time, driverless vans, trucks or delivery pods will be able to run overnight when the roads are quieter.

The technology is capable, but…

Of course, while there are computational, navigational and connectivity hurdles to overcome, the biggest challenge to this futuristic vision of a Passenger Economy isn’t technical.

It’s cultural.

Yes, it will take powerful processors, 5G connectivity, billions of miles of testing, as well as new legislation to make driverless vehicles a reality on our roads. It will also need rock-solid security. Hacking a self-driving car is worryingly easy. But there’s a plan to stop it.

Yet all of these advances will count for nothing without consumer acceptance.

“Consumers’ perceptions of autonomous vehicles will need to evolve to where they believe and embrace as fact that these vehicles are 100 percent safe,” concludes the Passenger Economy report. “It is a generational type of change that will take decades to come to full benefit, but it will come.”

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