In our October Navigator Forum, we opened an area of conversation that will continue to run for the coming months.
On the face of it, our discussion was about the future of mobility seen through the lens of one of the world’s largest tier one suppliers to the automobile industry. The race continues towards a future where cars might be driverless and transport automated. However, almost as a euphemism for the impact such technologies depend upon and sustain, the conversation itself is one part of a much wider world of change that individuals and organisations are facing over the coming years.
The opportunities and challenges that brings are unchartered and exciting, considering the battle over data v privacy, a total mindset shift from boardroom to brass tacks and the rise in ‘living’ products, i.e., products that are never complete and always evolving, like computers and smartphones, constantly receiving new and improved software updates over the course of their lifetime.
Led by key speaker, Charles Degutis, Director of Multi-portfolio Management and Corporate Research at the Bosch Group, this is what we learned.
Mobility and the world we live in
From the ‘bone shaker’ bicycle to the first powered vehicle, the Daimler, in 1885; the first commercial taxi, the Hackney Cab in 1634, to the London Underground in 1863, the technologies around mobility have been evolving for centuries, but the business models around them haven’t moved much until very recently.
Today, mobility encompasses a range of challenges – there’s a dramatic trend towards urbanisation and with that comes congestion, air pollution and climate change. However, the pace of progress is growing and electric vehicles are practically enforced by law in some cities.
“Automakers are standing at an important crossroads: Do they want to be “mere” metalsmiths, leaving the field to innovative players to compete for data at the customer interface and hence becoming suppliers of vehicles (mobile data rooms) for Apple or Google? Or will they be able to evolve into grid masters, expanding their business model beyond simply constructing outstanding vehicles to accompany their customers with customised, vehicle-dependent and ever more important vehicle-independent product features and services throughout their entire lifecycle, 24 hours a day?” – Dieter Becker, Global Sector Chair, Automotive.
There are a number of things driving change:
- Whole world is electrifying
- Things are becoming automated (mobility itself is going from me driving my car to my vehicle driving me)
- We are more connected – both individually, in terms of device ecosystems and open-source software and information
There are a number of reasons to want to make changes:
- The environment (higher fuel efficiency)
- Safety – 90% of accidents are driver error
- Democratisation of mobility
- Reduced congestion – In cities, 90% of all cars are parked 90% of the time
- Improved productivity (on average people spend 56 minutes a day in traffic, but if you weren’t at the wheel that time could be used differently – which also opens up commercial opportunities)
There are two ways to approach change: evolution and revolution. Charles posited that to some extent, both have their place. However, there are also challenges to change, most notably:
- The need for different organisations to work together to make it happen.
- The cost and complexity of changes.
- It’s hard to find people with the right skills – a combination of safety expertise and a computer science background.
- Legal risk – defining the guidelines around risk is extremely challenging.
- The open world problem. AI typically learns using data from the past, but in the ‘open world’, it will inevitably come across situations that it has no frame of reference for because people behave unpredictably.
- Then there’s the enjoyment factor, where is the room for driving for the sake of enjoyment?
In addition to these challenges, there’s the question of who is responsible for driving it. Is it the responsibility of government? To some extent this already happens with things like congestion charges and higher taxes on high polluting vehicles.
However, we also see public frustration at government inertia – something that’s prevalent at the current COP26 summit. In that, there isn’t just a role for companies, but arguably a responsibility to the customer to be at least cognisant and at best part of the changes that are happening around us.
Commercial entities in a changing environment
What became clear over the course of our discussion was the scale of both the opportunity and challenge ahead for businesses, not solely in relation to mobility, but as we move increasingly into a world of ‘living products’ in an open world.
It is a world that artificial intelligence (AI), which learns based on information from the past, cannot currently look forward on. That means we need to ask ourselves; how can our existing approaches be prescient? How can we create bounded solutions in an unbounded world and provide a truly navigable framework for companies and individuals to step into in manageable ways?
Living products raise challenges around risk. For example, we saw recently what happened when a “faulty configuration change” at WhatsApp caused a platform-wide outage that also took down sister platforms Facebook and Instagram for 24 hours.
What we’re facing collectively is a moment in time when we can’t look to the past for solutions, which raises questions around the ethics, emotions and processes concerning customer experience. It hinges on shifting a legacy mindset across the board from cars to offices, shopping to fitness.
Exciting as that is, adapting to it from where we are now is going to be a journey – one we are continuing to explore across sectors and specifications in our upcoming Navigator Forums.
The move towards living products
The concept of living products provoked much contemplation in the discussion. What seemed apparent is that as fast as technology is moving, there’s a gap between where we are and being able to use the knowledge and intelligence that we have in everyday life in the real, or ‘open’ world. However, the wheels are in motion in the form of products that are ‘living’.
As AI continues to improve, vehicles will regularly receive software updates over the course of their lifetime, similar to what we know of PCs and mobile phones. The ability to update is even more important in a vehicle than a phone, because a car’s average lifespan is around 12 years compared to the two that you might keep your smartphone for.
However, the impact that living products may have on different industries, their involvement (if any) as part of an ecosystem that interacts with those vehicles is one such challenge and opportunity that is yet to play out.
Generating data v personal privacy
Data has become an increasingly controversial topic over the last 10 years. We know that technology thrives on it, we know that it’s valuable, but in the context of mobility it’s also essential. The only way to enable those living products to work is by feeding them information. That’s particularly important in terms of vehicle safety and how cars respond to different situations on the road (the open world problem).
However, the challenge between generating data and protecting or respecting personal privacy is a big one. The relationship that companies have with their customers is essential to this – it needs to hinge on trust. That’s made even more complicated by the question over who ‘owns’ the customer relationship.
One contributor highlighted that within a particular auto manufacturer, an ongoing dispute has arisen between the manufacturer and the distributor. If developers need to have direct access to the customer and their data to enable product evolution, then the role of the distributor comes into question, creating a treacle of internal politics that is certainly an inhibitor to progress.
A question of ethics and law
Another contributor felt passionately that the biggest hurdle to mobility and its evolution in the open world is ethical complexity and the legalities around that.
He highlighted a project that he had been involved in with a team of engineers. It was their job to consider all possible scenarios involving a particular driverless vehicle. The question on the table was about scenarios where accidents are not avoidable – if you must hit someone, who do you hit? The man, the woman, the older person, the younger person, or the child? When the question was put to different people the answer too was different. There were geographical differences as well as personal ones. The question of who is responsible for defining those parameters and making those decisions is arguably one of the biggest challenges and requirements.
Even with the nearly silent cars that are now on the market there is an ethical question that is just beginning to be defined by law. Knowing full well that while the sound pollution is minimised, the risk to those with vision loss is significantly higher. In 2015 the RNIB reported: “Pedestrians are 40% more likely to be hit by a hybrid or electric car than by one with a petrol or diesel engine in the UK.”
The contributor noted that issues like this may not be a problem if we were in a fully automated world, as in theory the vehicles would be able to mitigate any risk to people. So, the biggest challenge could lie in the transition period; what if there’s an accident between a human and an automated vehicle? Who’s responsible? Do we need separate roads?
Automated vehicles in a connected world
Another point of practicality that was raised was how this highly connected way of operating works on a global scale.
There’s a belief that driverless cars will also mean less individual vehicle ownership and more of a system of “use-as-required” – like a taxi. That relieves congestion and removes the need for space to be taken up with car parks, opening the possibility of creating more parkland.
However, some regions and countries are significantly less interested in automated driving or the concepts that come with it. Furthermore, while that logic makes sense in some cities, in other areas it seems entirely impractical if not impossible to implement.
As a case in point, one contributor based in Jeddah lives a very different lifestyle to ours in the UK. There, life revolves around the car. Driving is a form of entertainment, but it’s also highly practical. There is very little public transport infrastructure and there are large distances between cities, while the heat means it’s impossible to walk anywhere in the middle of the daytime.
What are the implications of this working in some areas and not others? What if you have an automated infrastructure in the UK but you go on holiday somewhere that doesn’t have an automated system? Are you going to get a driving licence to go on holiday?
With all of this in mind the conversation did not so much end as open the door to a much wider conversation around the changing world and the ways businesses can navigate it. How do we use existing knowledge to move forward? What do customers need from businesses to feel confident in the brands that they’re interacting with? What will your role be as a company as connectivity, living products, automation and the role of data continue to reshape the ways in which we live and work?
At our next Navigator Forum, we will be exploring the second in an ongoing series of discussions about the changing world around us and the impact it has on businesses and the customer experience, looking at buildings, clean energy and the role of the office environment.