Posted By Chris Chiappinelli, September 27, 2012 at 4:56 AM, in Category: Factories of the Future
On the occasion of California Governor Jerry Brown signing a driverless car law, I thought I’d share an open letter to the insurance industry about the implications of this brave new world of robotic chauffeurs:
Dear Auto Insurance Executive,
In my many years as a policyholder, your company has been a source of constancy in a mercurial world. We have witnessed many changes in that time, from a 66% increase in the number of cars per household, to the advent of texting. I believe these changes will pale in comparison to those we face in the next few decades, and I am eager to learn how you will navigate those changes.
No doubt you’re aware of Google’s efforts to create a driverless car—a vehicle that uses lasers, sensors, GPS, and control technology to navigate city streets and highways without human assistance. These cars have already driven themselves 200,000 miles without a mishap, according to Google. Earlier this year, Nevada became the first state to approve such vehicles for licensing and street driving. In this case, what happened in Vegas did not stay in Vegas. California signed its own driverless car law this week. Surely, more states will follow.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin has said he hopes the company’s self-driving cars will “[change] the world in all kinds of truly important ways, like reducing traffic and accidents by driving more efficiently…”
The effort portends a seismic shift in what transportation means to us, as well as the risks we take in getting from point A to point B. With computers in control, there will be no more distracted driving or dozing drivers, no more human fallibility to gum up the works. Accidents and driving-related injuries could well be reduced to nil.
As this new infrastructure takes hold, businesses that support our transportation system will need to adjust. Some may not survive. How might your company deliver business value in a world that does not depend on automobile insurance as it does today? How would the company replace the revenue it might lose in this transition?
Your policyholder & stakeholder
I wonder about the implications not just for insurance companies, but for the companies that manufacture products. The increasing intelligence of our vehicles is the reason we see automotive companies recruiting software and systems engineers away from outfits like Google and Facebook. The most coveted role in car development may no longer be designing the next-generation body style that will make car-lovers drool. It may be programming the app that creates in-car massages, or allows your car to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot. And that requires a very different kind of engineer who can blend the digital experience with the physical one.
The convergence of hardware and software is most obvious in high-tech manufacturing, where the next great smartphone is always just a couple of months away. It may be less obvious in industries such as automotive, but it is there, and it will only grow in importance. More manufacturing industries will follow. Your HR department should start preparing to woo software engineers and applications developers, because the new world of smart products is upon us. Just ask your driverless car.
Written by Chris Chiappinelli
Chris Chiappinelli is the online research manager for Manufacturing Leadership. He covers enterprise software, sustainability, economic trends, workforce issues, and emerging technologies.