"I don't deal in antiques, I deal in future classics. " ~Quinn Howling, April 6th, 2018
There's a 2-hour video hidden on youtube somewhere. It's a rant about where the automobile will be tomorrow. It's such a boring rant, that I can't even sit down and listen to it a second time.
The information is valuable, but the medium is just not correct. Let's adjust that, as this is an important topic to me.
The future of the automobile.
Let's begin with the obvious, where are we at now? What will this period be looked back upon as a point of history? Currently, we're in the very embarrassing, Hybrid Era. If you own one, that's okay right now, but like a teased mullet of the 80's, you're going to look back from the future and conjure a feeling similar to that of forgetting you used to be a birthday party clown.
The Present: The Noisy Era.
Right now we're in an interesting tug of war battle. It's quiet but expensive as the world, and it's consumers are trucking along with the industry created momentum, that each year the new car should be the better one. The car industry shot itself in the foot. 'Each model year needs to be an improvement on the previous' is a great sales tactic to maintain sales momentum. However, it's heavily dependant on the idea that something new will always be better than something old. Since the 1930's until the late 90's that wasn't an issue. Technology increased at a steady pace, and there always seemed to be some new gimmick to glue into the dash that kept people hooked.
This was broken, with the war on oil. I'm not sure personally what the reserves of oil are internationally, I haven't seen them myself. What I am sure of is the sociopathic greed demonstrated by the legally human corporations. Even though by law these businesses are considered their own unique identity, they demonstrate child-like lusts for infinite resource. The war on oil, convinced us, that oil is in short demand. Whether that's true or not, I'm not sure. I do know it's become an impatient desire to squeeze the consumer even further for a higher price at the pump.
Boiling a frog needs to happen gradually. If done too quick the frog realizes what's going on and hops out of the pot. This boiled the consumers, and they too started hopping out of the pot. The immediate scramble was a pure electric switch. An all or nothing choice. The major manufacturers were surprised by this sudden trend and had nothing really prepared. The electric car wasn't really on the menu.
A last-ditch panic by the manufacturers was the introduction of the hybrid. "Hey consumers, we hear you! You want an electric car because gas is just too expensive. Here is an electric car, but just in case you need, it's got a gas engine in it too. Our friends at the oil companies are good friends, don't forget them!"
Thus was born the 'Hybrid Era'. Essentially a facade of an electric car with two purposes. To softly introduce the general public to a new idea, and to softly pull away from the cuddle of oil. All companies, including car manufacturers, are always married to the money.
Why is this an embarrassing era? The hindsight of these topics will be much more obvious with the passing of time. It'll be clear that these mechanical nightmares of dual-drivetrain cars are an extremely inefficient application of the request for efficiency. It's like jumping your bike as a 6-year-old, and feeling like you're the worlds best stunt person, only to revisit that same little kink on the sidewalk when your 25 to realize you probably didn't jump at all, your imagination made a big deal of nothing.
It's important that this era happens, as much as it's important that it's over with. The electric car is in its angsty teen years, and soon it'll be sleeping around in it's early 20's.
Each era over laps the previous. We're nearing the end of the Hybrid era and are already in the solid beginnings of the resistance. I see it every day at work. People come to the circuit with their performance cars that are too loud to be used at our location. It's a common association that speed is loud! Big noise is the result of big power, and we are to expect that performance cars are, and should be loud!
Performance purists pour over the romance of the tone of a motor. It's something to behold when a v12 with individual throttle bodies and dual exhaust growls past you at a high rev. Watch any petrolicious video and you'll hear the description of an 'orchestra' of sound, as the cars rumble around the auditory mirror of canyon walls, reflecting their engine notes back into the appreciating ears. I too love the sound of a high revving, small displacement motor, where some crave the whistle of air being torn into a compressor of some kind.
The internal combustion engine wets the tip of a poets pen. Its complicated interworkings offers endless fodder for romanticization. Sadly though, the reality is, that these beautiful noises have become no longer a sign of power, but now a reminder of wasted energy. What once was an indicator of amazing performance with showmanship to match, now is dwarfed by the sheer drive shaft snapping torque of the small, compact, electric engine.
You yourself, the car person reading this, are hesitant to abandon your fond memories of performance cars of the past. You're part of the resistance whether you like it or not.
Loud isn't fast and you know it. The kid down the street with a broken header chevy cobalt isn't fast. In two ways. The sound isn't improving the speed of the vehicle, but it's also likely they're going to overload that little cobalt with idiot teenagers and veer into oncoming traffic one night, designing a page at the back of their year book. In memory of dumb teenagers, is also in memory of, human drivers.
Self-driving cars will happen. It's not a matter of desire, it's a matter of time, experience, mistakes and improvements. Although our electric age and self-driving age are overlapping, the self-driving vehicle is merely the infant sibling of the teenage electric car.
What's interesting about the up and coming resistance era, is the same grandpa fighting to keep his 99 V6 Camaro on the road in the next 30 years, will also be one of the earliest adopters of fully autonomous vehicles. It's really much easier now, to give up the idea that you need to pull the engine out to put a whole new crank, cam, oil pump, water pump, valve cover, and head gasket seals into your motor for oil retention. It's much easier to give up the notion that you need to have your oil changed at different intervals. It's much easier now, to let go of your reigns and accept the future of the horseless carriage.
The commercial success of the electric car isn't important, it will naturally occur with the commercial success of the self-driving automobile. But how will it become popular, what will break the resistance? Grandpa will.
I've realized I'm of the age that by the time I'm too decrepit to drive, when my eyesight and kidneys are failing, that it won't be much of a problem to give up my beloved license. The self-driving car changes the senior care industry. Like the mobility scooter, it revolutionizes the mobility of the disabled. There's quite a beautiful history of mobility vehicles throughout the years of the automobile and the future is no different. Everyone deserves a high quality of life.
This commercial success will be the initial socially acceptable use of self driving cars. These are a group of people that the general public doesn't mind being the guinea pigs testing the integration of this new idea. It's a morbid thought, but for most able-bodied people, this will offer them convenience in their lives, and so it's a risk the public will be willing to take.
Another way that the public will be introduced to self-driving vehicles will be in other commercial elements. No one likes to come around the corner in a hurry to work, just to get stuck behind a garbage truck. It's annoying and slow moving. Often there are a few workers running around trying to get their job done, without getting in your way. A problem with the garbage truck is the driver's compartment is in the way. It's big, bulky and takes up the entire front of the truck. Not only is that valuable space that could carry a larder load of waste, but it's also blocking access to putting garbage in from both ends.
A self-driven truck can have two, even 4 workers hanging from it. It can carry a larger volume of garbage, but also be purposed to pick up recycling at the same time. Quietly gliding from stop to stop with a few small hand controls for one of the hanging workers to override it's path if necessary. This opens up both ends of the structure to have multiple people, or collection types being loaded quicker. Additionally, it's quiet, the electric drive makes no noise as it moves gently through the neighborhood.
Subways are expensive and destroy city landscapes just to be put in. They're an amazing concept at moving huge groups of people around sprawling urban areas, but the subway system itself is just that: A system. The whole city needs to be torn up, and carefully placed tunnels, rails, and elevated rails need to be placed strategically to move the most amount of people where they need to go, while balancing the needs of the residents and users of space near by. It's an engineering nightmare.
Having a constant flow of street cars that can move onto, and off-of road ways freely, will greatly improve the usefulness and flexibility of public transport. In addition, it changes how public transport can be utilized. The freedom from fixed schedule routes can be a designed learning process. Interaction with riders before, during and after the ride to find out their individual needs can allow algorithms to design and alter routes based on the needs of the riders naturally and gradually. Currently, surveys are conducted and routes adjusted manually, often riders needing to adjust their days around how the public transit functions. By sharing their attempted route plans before the day, tracking how each riders day flows, and learning their future transport needs, the system can adjust accordingly.
It's likely that getting a majority of the population to accept their primary transport as self-driving will take a while. It is possible, but it comes down to two age-old human requirements: It needs to be affordable and accessible, but we also need the opportunity to take it for granted.
Now that grandma comes by too often and hangs out at the house far too much, now that getting to work on the public transit seems to have little to no issues, even when the operator falls asleep at their post, now that UPS driver complains that the FedEx drivers trucks park better on complicated streets, the general tone for the public is set. It's now second nature to trust the self-driving car. Messages, work and personal time, is far more important than the leisure and burden of driving the car. The consumer is now ready, and the self driving appliance replaces the old, driven one.
The acceptance era is purely built from a repetition of use, commonality of presence. We're used to them, and those feeling strange about them, are the minority. This is the era everyone now, dreams of, but it's a long road ahead.
Let's you and I, wander deeper into this projection. The human element has changed, and is quite important. The human's interaction, most importantly their average interaction has changed. There will still be people who enjoy driving, but it's to be expected, like the majority of the population now, the car's purpose is purely functional. Its purpose is to move the human experience from one location to another. For most people now, driving is merely a side effect, a chore of this desire to move around. Whether the majority of the population is controlling the vehicle or not, isn't very important.Kids now are growing up in Priuses and other hybrids, the kids of the future won't associate loud exhausts with fast cars. This is just what they've learned from experience. This concept continues infinitely. Children of the future will grow up in self driving cars, it's something of the norm. This is their average use of a vehicle and their human experience.
Personalization is predictable. Individualism is often culled but never squashed. People become complacent, bored with their everyday. It's only a matter of time where personalization is needed as a technology moves from being new and exciting, to regular and melancholy. It's at this moment that people grow impatient of the every day and begin to personalize. Niche markets are created. These are interesting, as niches have the power to influence the general public and curve the direction a trend moves.
A niche that will grow into a trend is the adjusting of scale. Like today's cars, you can buy all sorts to fit many different desired human experiences and commercial requirements. From tiny 50cc scooters, through to huge transport trucks. The scale is relative to usage.The current road structure exists because it's the culmination of thousands of years of humans building and using pathways. An important marker is the width of lanes, and parking spaces, being generally standardized to a similar size. This is not the most efficient way for people and goods to be moved around, short and long distances. This simplified scale is a requirement for the human operators to manage their expectations of traffic and road use. It's a reduced complication so that the human has less difficulty operating their cars.
Simply put, cars are all roughly the same size as the general populous of drivers can't make complex enough decisions to weave between a child and a cruise ship. It's just too varied, so to simplify and improve road safety, vehicles have been scaled to a similar size.
By this moment in history, the severe majority of vehicles moving around the road space are self-driven. The operation of a car for a human is left, like horses, primarily to pleasure or specialty situations. 99.9% self driving.
We're all passengers. Sleeping, working, socializing, playing. Anything but driving. With the human element removed from driving the design of the car is massively affected. This age has removed the need for the standardized sizing. Cars can be as small as a baby crib, to the size of a warehouse. With the communication and calculating happening between all the self driving cars. Your vehicle speaks to thousands of other vehicles kilometers away. Planning, adjusting, communicating, to millions of other road users, working together to get you all through quicker.
The road structure is now a limitation. The tiny passenger capsules need to get around the wandering warehouse, which is navigating around the moving doctor's office. Each vehicle is no longer sized for the human's ease of decision, but to the use of that vehicle. Size doesn't matter as self driving vehicles planning ability has huge, multi-ton vehicles buzzing past each other millimeters apart. Some vehicles are structured low, and smooth for express travel, others are large and raised to clear over the smaller vehicles below.
It's likely that there are now multiple classes of vehicles interacting:
-Class 1. The typical vehicle expectation. Resembling the scale of the cars of the past. 2, 4 or 8 seat configurations. Their purpose is to communicate an expected length, width, height, weight, and speed, as well as their desired path and arrival time. Other vehicles of all classes absorb and adjust to this information.
-Class 2. This is a vehicle twice the size of a Class 1 vehicle. It's raised from the ground, so that 4 of the class 1 vehicles can pass below it at a single time. It moves at a slower speed, but the number of Class 2 vehicles using the road is fewer than Class 1. This vehicle is designed to move goods and services around, and may travel at a much slower pace than the Class 1.
-Class 3. This vehicle is larger than a class 2 vehicle. It is taller, and fits overtop the Class 2 vehicle. Its purpose is to be a wandering warehouse, and connect with Class 2 and 1 vehicles easily for distribution purposes. It is also used for specialty jobs moving large items like pre-fab housing and other structures. It is far less common than class 2 vehicles and a class 1 vehicles combined.
-Sub Class 1. This is a micro or personalized sized vehicle. Often used by those who wish to minimize the impact on road structure and resources, by students moving too and from education, children moving alone, or those who wish to travel at a further distance in a shorter period of time. It's a personal size transport that is 1/2 the size of a class 1 vehicle. Its benefit is reduced taxes and ownership costs, as it has less of an impact, but also less functional than a Class 1 vehicle.
These classes will interact with each other. Manuevering in complex manner of great accuracy and flexibilty. It's likely they'll only ever stop moving at their destination.
Class 3 vehicles glide slowly above all the smaller class vehicles passing below them. Class 3 are most considerate of other class 3 vehicles as they're the most likely of a collision. They plan their routes around the size of their load and other Class 3 vehicles moving. Their plan is projected globally, and Class 2 and Class 1(s) vehicles adjust accordingly.
Class 2 move quicker below the Class 3 vehicles. They're delivering goods and services. Often they can connect and meet up with a Class 1 or Class 3 vehicle depending on city structure.
Class 1 are a majority of the traffic, moving a few passengers at a time to different locations. These move smoothly, but briskly as well. This is a severe majority of the traffic, as they operate primarily for personal use but commercial as well.
Sub class 1 is quick and less gentle. Their purpose is to move passengers quickly, but take up the far less road space.
A great example of this structure is a shipping company: The huge Class 3 warehouse moves to the rough mid point where a majority of the deliveries and pickups are to be made. A class 2 can swing below, grab some larger orders that have a supporting road structure to match the size of a class 2 vehicle. Class 1's meet up with the Class 2 to move goods into smaller fingers of the city which may be older and not fit anything larger than a Class 1 vehicle.
Moving humans, goods, and services around is still the point of the road system, but it's structure is now broken. No longer are lanes, including oncoming, important. The communication and planning between all the various vehicles is so open and co-ordinated that the process is liquidated. Stop signs and traffic lights are relics of the past. Huge wide lanes, and building structures begin to develop to better suit the current users of the road, rather than the restricted ones of the past. As the city grows it's shape changes drastically as the automotive rivers through it, flow much differently now. Like water, they carve the land to suit their needs. Friction is friction.
Soft Cities:At what point is a recreational vehicle transfer from a getaway vehicle to a home itself? With the city swelling, jobs becoming more and more automated, and self driving vehicles destroying the scale of the average vehicle, what's stopping me from living in my Class 2 RV? I now work primarily for the entertainment of other humans, providing content and ideas they like, so there's no reason I can't just float endlessly from beautiful location to beautiful location.
The city structure collapses, and the endless need for your own land isn't any longer the only way to live. Rather, you can hunker down in a home that wanders freely, collecting resources needed between stops of interesting locations around the world. Sleep, work, live, on the move. Why be tied down by the city if it no longer offers unique conveniences?Beyond this, my mind gets a little fuzzy. What are your thoughts?