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What Will a Driverless Car Look Like? Automodules Anyone?

I guess you have seen all the hoopla around driverless cars? But to me they look very passé. Antennae sticking out everywhere; otherwise old wine in bottles. And they look the same as they do now. What’s exciting about that?

After all, when you have a driverless car you don’t need a steering wheel, controls, even a driver’s seat. That frees up a lot of real estate. You could some interesting things with that.

It also frees up a lot of time too. If you have a commute of 2 hours every day, how do you use the time now you don’t have to focus on the road and just listen to music.

When I was way younger (in Australia) you used to see what we called panel vans on the road. They were a commercial van, no windows. But many of them weren’t used for commercial purposes. They were used to satisfy, ahem, certain universal human needs. They were very good for that. You could fit a double mattress inside them. Some of them used to carry the message “Don’t laugh. Your daughter might be inside”. Down Under they were called “sin bins”. For the owners of sin bins it was all about lifestyle, not (automotive) performance.

There’s actually a big message there. Not everyone wants to go round a corner pushing 1.1 Gs, or go from 0-60 in 3.5 seconds. You can get hurt doing that.

Count me in that cohort, at least now. Full disclosure; when I was younger I rode motorcycles for many years, at least one of which was insane; in those halcyon days I was also in it for performance but times change when you get older.

Personally, at my now elevated age, I would like to have a car which does other things. As an introvert I want a vehicle that shuts other people out. Definitely no windows. I want my lie-down sofa so I can read my books, my computer on a desk, and a sound system with full 360 surround sound where I am in the right spot to get the full benefit. Oh yeah, I also want exercise machines so I am not sedentary, that’s very important to me. The vehicle can do the rest; I don’t want to be bothered with any of the mechanical details.

My wife is an extrovert. She wants a vehicle with plenty of windows and internal facilities for socializing plus a large screen TV. She has no interest in car performance; for her at best it’s an appliance.

My son wants…well let’s leave sin bins out of this for the moment although you get the point. But what he would admit to, is wanting a mobile space that provides for 3D and fully immersive gaming with other friends in full glorious surround sound. Let’s call it the mobile universe. He doesn’t care for cars either, at least not the ones that roar and go fast.

One of my two daughters (the other lives in San Francisco and has no interest in owning a car, either there or anywhere else) just bought a new car. She told me her top criterion was that it was totally compatible with the apps on her iPhone; she didn’t really care about all the car-y stuff. I think her top need for her mobile space is one of that it totally connected to Facebook and allows here to interact with her friends while on the go

Nowadays we expect millennials – our own kids included – to not want cars. That’s a given. But my wife and I are definitely not millennials, and we don’t want cars either – at least not the traditional kind. We do like the idea that a car will dispense with the driving part of the chore. But we want an altogether different kind of experience.

We want our own life spaces, just mobile. Let’s call them modules. Automodules. That’s what we want to buy. We don’t care about the wheels, engine, powertrain etc. etc. That’s the undercarriage; out of sight, out of mind; an ancillary detail that only motoring writers care about.

I think you should be able to purchase the module and the undercarriage separately. I expect the undercarriage to last for life and to be able to slot under any of the modules I care to buy to put on top of it. Instead of one automobile for each family member, we have several modules each with a different purpose, just like rooms in a house but personalized to the main user.

Oh, and I want something else. I want them to be able to dock into each other so I can build combined automodules with several purposes. And another thing; they must be able to be docked behind each other so they can form something like a mini road train. That way I can travel to Podunk with my family and/or my friends or colleagues with all of our personal man- and woman caves on wheels to retreat to while the automodule carries out the drudge work of doing the driving to get us there in one piece.

Home, office, work, interests, dating, tailgating. Surgery, astronomical observatory, genomics laboratory. That’s what I want my automodules to do for me once the driving piece is out of the way. Lifestyle, not performance. How about a Bingomodule?

That way I can redefine the community I am in. I can form a mobile hamlet with its own pop-up community. They can be friends, family, or nearby drivers, courtesy of those apps’, “find friends nearby”. Sort of like tailgating for adults, hookups for cars. Maybe it’s like going to a bar, except in this case it’s a DIY bar, built out of automodules. A mobile “Cheers”.

I want my automodules to be shape-shifting just like Transformers. I don’t want to be stuck with one physical automobile for several years, so boring and limiting. I want it to fulfil a variety of social purposes like a church hall – scouts, volunteers, choir practice, yoga, Zumba, amateur theater. The automodule is there to expand human possibilities, not merely to go fast.

It seems to me that as societies get more developed their consumers are looking for different things. Developing countries and the newly well-off want pizzazz and performance. Newly developed countries want luxury. Once you get jaded and aged, like Europe and other post-developed countries, you go for lifestyle. Same with people as they age. Aren’t most countries getting disproportionately aged as they develop? What does that mean for the current concept of cars? Doesn’t sound good to me.

You see, my worry is that currently all the focus is just on the technical wizardry of self-driving. But nothing else has changed. It’s like when cars were first introduced, when they had to be preceded by a man walking with a flag warning everyone that a car was coming.

Let’s make sure that we take full advantage of the new technology for self-driving. Sure, some people may still want to go fast and all (horse)power to them. But this advance opens up new possibilities that we haven’t yet thought about. Now’s the time.






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