When is a car no longer a car? When does it become…a moving thing on wheels?
The ‘automobile’ is now roughly 133 years old — that is, if you count Karl Benz’s first ‘Patent Motor Car’ as the first.
In some ways, the car hasn’t changed at all. To this day, every car has four wheels and engine, and a chassis. And if your definition of a car is exactly that, then we will have cars likely for the rest of time.
But if your definition of ‘car’ is a little more sophisticated…then read on.
Because the car has also gone through remarkable transformation, so much in fact, that within the next five years, the car may become extinct.
Confused yet? Let’s clear this up.
High tech movement
The finer details of the car have changed almost year on year for 133 years. Little advances like power steering, electronic braking, stability control, satellite navigation, and even heated seats, are all incremental advances in car technology.
More recently, we’ve seen the emergence of autonomous control. The early version of this started in the way of adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and lane departure systems. It’s now fast advancing to the increasing levels of full autonomy.
Ultimately, it’s all leading up to autonomous driving level 5, where there will be no need for a human at all. That’s the end game for autonomous, or self–driving cars.
But if a car is self-driving, is it still a car? Or do these vehicles become something truly revolutionary?
The answer lies in how we use them. If a vehicle no longer needs human input, then it’s nothing more than a moving room. And in that situation, you can use it for almost anything you can think of.
When we covered the self-driving car revolution a few years back, I argued that in the near future, any room in your home could become your mobility centre.
Think of it like this…
You have a small 3-metre by 1.8-metre room. You open the door to get inside and in there you have a chair, a screen or two, lights and some storage.
Except this room moves. On your command the room detaches from the house. It then ‘drives’ on the roads to a destination of your choosing. You don’t steer, control the speed or route to the destination.
It’s all done with autonomy. The moving room connects online and to smart city networks — traffic lights, maps, local services and other ‘moving rooms’ on the roads.
Along the way you can work, relax, sleep, watch some TV, maybe even prepare a meal. You might even decide your moving room has a kitchenette in it.
These rooms are fully customisable. And it’s quite possible you may even have two of them attached to the house.
This might sound a little futuristic, but it’s what the potential of self-driving ‘cars’ has in store. And it’s the same vision that companies like SoftBank Group Group [TYO:9984] and Toyota Motor Corp [TYO:7203] have.
Toyota and SoftBank are working together on self-driving cars. They just announced a new joint venture they call MONET — short for ‘mobility network’.
And they don’t see these as ‘cars’ either. They envisage them as ‘mobility-as-a-service’.
As their joint announcement explains:
‘Possibilities include demand-focused just-in-time mobility services, such as meal deliveries vehicle where food is prepared while on the move, hospital shuttles where onboard medical examinations can be performed, mobile offices, and many more.’
SoftBank will develop and build the IoT infrastructure needed and Toyota will develop the mobility service — the vehicles.
This is the kind of revolutionary thinking we love. It’s how we think. It’s why we continue to expect the self-driving car trend will be one of the biggest trends the world has ever seen.
These vehicles will no longer be cars. They could become something completely different, whatever you want them to be. And they will change not only industry but the very fabric of society.
The potential impact may be the catalyst for a global economic boom we have not seen before. It could impact everything from healthcare and welfare to public services, global commerce and trade.
The size and scale of this revolution cannot be underestimated. And it’s companies like SoftBank and Toyota that will make it happen.
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