June 8, 2018
Last month, I attended the Wall Street Journal Future of Everything Festival. The event focused on many “futures” including, but not limited to, money, art, cities and artificial intelligence. I decided to attend the “Future of Transportation” track.
Transportation has always been something that’s fascinated me. From an early age, I was obsessed with cars. Not necessarily the specific mechanics or how fast a car could get from 0-60, but the technology in the car: taking a handsfree call through a Bluetooth connection or navigating to a new location with a simple touch in the car's navigation system.
But the idea of self-driving cars or jetpacks or ride sharing never came to my mind as something I’d see in my lifetime; it was more of a distant dream - something I’d only ever see in movies like I, Robot. However, in my move to tech PR, I quickly realized my distant dreams would be a reality far sooner than I expected. And hearing from the leading minds in the space at the WSJ Festival confirmed this even further.
The Autonomous Vehicle (AV) Revolution…Cities Wait Patiently
If you haven’t heard about AVs in the last year, then you’ve been living under a rock. Every major car manufacturer is working rapidly to be the leader in the space, and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are partnering with the manufacturers to bring the technology to their customers.
As a city dweller, I always thought I’d see the first AV hit the streets in a city. I quickly learned this was not the case during discussions from Karl Iagnemma, president, nuTonomy and Chris Urmson, co-founder and CEO, Aurora. Both companies are leading the charge in the software behind AV’s.
According to the two of them, the truth is that AVs will arrive first in places where they’re easiest to drive. Imagine somewhere like Iowa or Montana, places that are less populated and have more open roads. Driving on the streets of New York City is hard for the average consumer - imagine how hard it’d be for an autonomous machine. Because of this, we won’t see AVs in cities like NYC and Boston for much longer.
The Culture of Sharing
A recent Pew survey showed that 66% of American adults were familiar with ride-sharing services but a mere 15% had actually used them, and 33% were unaware they even exist. More than I’d like to admit, I find myself using services like Uber and Lyft, and in recent times I’ve been utilizing the “carpooling” feature to cut down on cost. It was odd to me at first, getting in the car with a stranger, but I quickly got used to it. If I can allow a stranger to drive me around then I should be able to share a ride with one, right?
The topic of ride sharing was a large point of discussion in all the talks of the day. The self-driving car pros talked about it from a perspective of the generational, geographical and technical challenges that come with ride-sharing, specifically with a car that drives itself. They talked about how today’s cars are not necessarily designed for ride-sharing but that the ones of the future will be (imagine a divider in between seats).
Toby Sun, Co-Founder and CEO of Lime, a dockless bike and scooter sharing company, believes ride sharing will help global cities that suffer from traffic congestion and pollution. He also mentioned the cultural trend tied to ride sharing: no longer are the days where people are satisfied with only one option. People want alternatives that allow them to feel like they’re making individualized choices. Transportation is a strong part of this. Today’s consumer wants to be able to get to work via car or train or a bike and they want this to be a painless process. Companies like Lime are helping to support this new cultural shift through their services.
I am beyond excited for the day I get to buy a car that drives itself or for the day I get in my Lyft and there’s no driver to attempt small talk with. I do believe it will take some time not for the technology to come to the fore, but for the average consumer to wrap their heads around these various technologies like AVs, jetpacks, or space travel. Either way, it’s clear we’re on the verge of an unprecedented transportation revolution and I look forward to what the future holds.
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