Business | 02.03.2015

Driverless Cars and the Future of Commuting

For us Millennials, “Back to the Future” was a big part of growing up. The future the film was referring to was actually 2014. They projected flying cars and hover boards, not to mention time travel. Well 2014 came and went, and while the smartphone can do more today then what the equipment on Apollo could do when it was launched into space, we are still waiting for flying cars.  What we can see happening right before our eyes however, is driverless cars. The closest the mass market has experienced is smart cruise control that can measure distances between cars and hence slow down and accelerate as needed, based on a speed set by the driver.

You might ask, why would anyone even want a driverless car? Well for starters, it would reduce or even eliminate accidents, while also allowing passengers to be more productive on their commutes.  Long road trips would no longer be as cumbersome. The cynics are still concerned though. What would happen if they malfunction? Would they have steering wheels for you to take control if needed, similar to the autopilot functionality on planes today? The idea of letting a machine do the driving is something that will take some getting used to. There are already a few companies looking into it.

GOOGLE VS. UBER

In mid-2014, Google put their prototype on the streets for users to try out.

The question now arises as to why Google would consider building such a thing? Since they are not even in the automotive sector made this quite a peculiar project for them.  Building the car from the ground up was Google’s mission to ensure it was built without any restrictions. Here is an excerpt from Google on the process.

Some believe that Uber would be the first to benefit as Google Ventures invested $258 million into the transportation company  in 2013 and then even more in 2014.  The concept of a driverless taxi is very appealing.  However, the latest is that Google is planning to go head-to-head with Uber and offer an even more affordable form of transportation.  Interestingly, Uber is now investing significantly on their own version of the driverless taxi.  Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO, has publicly discussed this topic, stating: “The Uber experience is expensive because it’s not just the car but the other dude in the car.  When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber gets cheaper than owning a vehicle.” The rift forming between the two companies is something to keep a close eye on, especially now that Uber is heavily dependent on Google Maps and that Google have all the driving history of Uber rides.

APPLE

When you discuss Google, you have to talk about Apple.  There is speculation that Apple is looking to buy Tesla for “$75 billion within 18 months”.  Unsurprisingly, Tesla is also investing in the driverless car.  Elon Musk, the co-founder of Tesla, stated that by 2015, their vehicles will have the capabilities to be 90% autonomous.

MERCEDES

During the CES in Las Vegas earlier this year, Mercedes joined the party. They displayed a working prototype of their interpretation of the driverless car, with a focus on hyper technology and luxury.  The vehicle looks like it was plucked right out of the future.

This hi-tech car they are calling “Luxury in Motion” is expected to be available to all in the next decade.

SO WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

As this form of transportation becomes more common, the opportunity to transcend the oldest communications medium of all – the outdoor billboard – can finally come to fruition.  While geo-fencing is something that is leveraged via the smartphone, the automobile could also benefit from a similar capability with more accuracy. Looking at the Mercedes version of the driverless car, one can foresee how opted-in communication can essentially tailor-make brand messages that a passenger can engage with.

The driverless car could lead to the evolution of the taxi business and may even be accessible to all in less than 10 years.  While the smartphone is already enhancing certain aspects of the transportation business today, the very same technology could lend itself to a very different street experience in the future.

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Nadim Khouri
Head of Content and Experiences at OMD