Industry Insights

The machines that will change the world again

In many parts of the world it is a long weekend in celebration of Easter, and many parents will be hearing those famous words “are we there yet?” as they set off in their motor cars for a vacation (these are the ‘machines’ of the title in case you are wondering).

Motor cars and our love / hate relationship with them is a subject close to my heart.  After all, automotive manufacturing was my first taste of work.

In Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic, “The Wind in the Willows”, impulsive and obsession-prone Mr Toad was driven to reckless behaviour and jail by his obsession with the motor car.  Or perhaps you prefer to think of cars as change agents as portrayed in ‘The Machine That Changed the World‘, James Womack, Daniel Jones and Daniel Roo’s foretelling a future of lean production based on insights into a century of automobile manufacturing.  Or maybe your view of automobiles is moderated through the perspective of an industry that freed people from the constraints of place and reshaped global industry, our cities and it lives.  Maybe you just think of the hyper-stylised ‘Fast and Furious’ franchise (yes, number 8 is out).

My point is, cars have played a big role in many lives for over a century and in the next I believe they will take a central role in the FMCG value chain.  But it won’t be as transport, they’ll be resurrected as something quite new.

What if…

I want you to think a few decades into the future. If current trends persist then it’s likely that you will own little (multiple-ownership and sharing now being the norm), have next to no privacy and be surrounded by all manner of artificially intelligent devices. I’m sure some of you this sounds like a nightmare, but I suspect will be better off than we are today; well, I hope so.

One of the things that you probably won’t own outright is an automobile. That’s because the new business model will all be about sharing, and that business model will be enabled by self driving vehicles. Just imagine being able to walk to your front door and within a few moments a vehicle is waiting there. It’s already had conversation with your calendar bot, so it knows where you want to go and when you need to get there. If you’re going shopping it’s probably already decided the best place to pick everything up. I guess it could also just go fetch it for you.

This self driving vehicle is more like a helpmate or willing assistant, but it’s also a room now (take a look at this stunning Hyundai smart home / car combo for a taster). It just happens to be room that moves, but like all rooms its place in which social interactions take place. And unlike cars that you drive yourself there is no need to worry about paying attention to the road whether you’ll get there on time. The Internet of all things and cognitive computing will take care of all of that (take a look at Olli from IBM and Local Motors to see what we can already do in this respect)

Room with a view

In my version of the future it seems likely that the things that we would normally do around the breakfast table or slouched on our couches may well take place in this new room. The alarm goes off, you shower and dress, and call for a ride to work. Our room on wheels arrives (or undocks from where it was left), configured as a breakfast room and commuting workspace. You usher the kids into the room and the food is all there; the room stopped at the deli on the way and paid with your subscription, naturally.

Off we go! No need for conventional windows in this room, rather the space is taken up with displays flowing with media from the families favourite brands and news channels (okay, cartoons and video bloggers or their future descendants). Let’s pretend that mom runs her own business from rooms like this all day long, moving from customers to suppliers and business partners. It doesn’t even have to be the same vehicle every time, as the smart systems involved can optimise utilisation about human beings and for the vehicles themselves. She can step out of the breakfast room (I’m thinking of something a little like Olli again) with the kids at school, and step into that sleek limo’ version that creates the right impression every time.

Science fiction? Maybe. Take a look at this video and you decide.

The opportunities for brands

The last 20 years have disrupted many of the familiar rhythms of life in the developed world. How many families really sit down to breakfast together any more? Do families gather around the television in a single room? Some, but the trend is firmly away from this familiar territory in many parts of the world.

To me it seems likely that a positive side-effect of self driving vehicles in our busy life is that they will create time and space for us to reconnect with the people around us. If an unintended side-effect of social media has been to create distance between people, then these new rooms on wheels may close the gap again.

The opportunity brands is in being able to deliver sophisticated media to a relatively captive audience in an environment that simply bristles with electronics and connectivity. By sophisticated I mean highly personalised and contextualised (the vehicle knows whose is in it, where it is going, waiters come from, the intent behind the journey and much more). The media delivered this channel can be highly interactive: an ad can show a dress, then offer to take the occupant on a short detour to actually see it. The vehicle could then pop back later to collect the dress (after a few up-cycling nips and tucks) and take it to the customer.

AdAge ran an article at the end of 2016 that predicted that the “Next Big Mobile Ad Platform – Your Car”, and I agree.  Companies such as StickerRide act as an Uber for ads on the outside of vehicles, but the real opportunity is inside.  Consider windscreens as platforms for augmented reality advertisements based on the world outside, high fidelity podcasting and streaming into the cabin, and geo-local promotions to the audience in the vehicle.

Last thoughts

A fun fact: Kenneth Grahame married the daughter of the inventor of the pneumatic tyre, so important in the design of the modern motor car to this day, and into my imagined future too.

Perhaps this all sounds a little far out to you. I’m not so sure. Look at the advertisement for the latest model and you’ll see the beginnings of extensive media connection into the vehicle. GM are already working with IBM to deliver brand messages through he GMOnStar service.  From the press release IBM Watson “”will learn the driver’s preferences, apply machine learning and sift through data to recognize patterns in their decisions and habits. This information will allow brand and marketing professionals working with IBM and OnStar to deliver individualized location-based interactions that directly impact their target audiences.”  Today.

The automobile has changed the world in so many ways already as a mode of transportation, but in my view it’s new life will be as a shared living space, a more social and human-centric evolution.  Sign me up!

Playlist for this blog

Oh Wonder, Ultralife

Ashley Maher, Got to Go

Caitlin Canty, Southern Man

Down Like Silver, Wolves

St MatthewPassion, Bach

IBM, Distinguished Engineer

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