The car museum just got a new addition! Read on to know more about the exhibit ...
I just made up this catchy headline for some time in the future and if you are still wondering what the exhibit is - IT'S THE DRIVER ... Now that I have caught your attention, and internal voices clamoring on both sides, I will delve into the subject to provide my perspective. Before that a little bit about the picture below, if you observe closely the "Now" time horizon is between the second and third picture - there's enough evidence where there is assisted driving with the driver having the ability to take back control. The "Later" picture is in black and white to emphasize that futurists have been dreaming about "driverless" cars for decades.
Most of the commentary today is about the technology involved and the millions of sensors, software algorithms that shape autonomous driving. I'd like to take a slightly different yet simple approach to cars without drivers - the critics might brush it off as triviality, but in my opinion simplicity pays off always.
Take a look at the graph below, there are two dimensions:
• Y axis (Vertical): Car driving competency
• X axis (Horizontal): Time scale
The black line indicates - What you (and I) learn about driving over a period of time? We get better, and are in the unconscious competent zone while driving. The red line indicates - What the car learn about driving over a period of time?
When the car learns as much about driving
Driving is about making decisions - turns, braking, changing lanes, overtaking, adjusting speed, jumping a red light , speeding and so on. Some are routine decisions, and some are split second decisions. As we drive in different conditions, we start building a "driving sense". Many of these aspects are a science for example if you were changing lanes, here is a sample set of what a reasonable driver will consider to change lanes
- Distance between the car in front and yours, distance of the cars in the changing lane
- Perceived speed of the cars in the vicinity
- Lane merging or exit only i.e. road rules
- A misplaced confidence (happens with me all the time) that the next lane is going to get me faster to the destination than the one you are on
If you were to build this intelligence in a car, then the first parameters can be programmed and the last one can be a data based decision based on real time traffic information. So far so good, and when you break down all the events that happen during a car ride there is enough science in the decision making process. Of course, there's the art or skill where the driver makes decisions based on multiple considerations - for instance the kid in back seat feeling not so good, an instinct family decision to take a picture at the next exit and so on...
Am I playing down autonomous driving? Not at all, in fact on the contrary I think the technology investment has to be accelerated in this area. Will there be a world of self-driven cars only, I don't think so - however there will be enough on the road for it be common place. History can teach us a few things about technology mass adoption and I think there are key lessons to be learnt:
- Happens over long periods of time: New technology takes a long time to gain acceptance and be widely used by society - some of these can happen over decades and some in shorter period of times. Classic examples are ATM, mobile phones, laptops vs. desktops and many more
- Co-existence of alternatives: New technology spurs innovation, amplifies convenience however the alternatives or older forms will continue and not perish. There is the customer demographic who is resistant to change and feel comfortable with usage. There might be a point in time where it might not be economically viable to support the alternatives and may force consumers to adopt but this would typically happen after a long time. Examples here are ATMs never displaced tellers, electronic banking has not displaced checks and so on ...
- Unbeatable value proposition: The appeal of new technologies has to be unique and extremely compelling to encourage adoption. In my view the value proposition is around multiple aspects such as convenience, value for money, usability, accessibility and so on ...
- Symbiotic ecosystem: All of us live in communities, so for technology adoption to pick up pace, a thriving ecosystem is absolutely crucial. Once again I refer to the example of ATMs and ATM cards being widely accepted in a consumer's lifestyle. In the mobile economy, it is the services that is accelerating adoption.
I would let the readers to imaging the influence and relevance of these factors on autonomous driving. I submit my argument that automakers, Tier 1s, hi-tech companies have to continue their investment on perfecting this technology while paying attention to the adoption influencers.
A part of this blog has been inspired by my colleague Piyush's commentary on the role of managers in the technology industry