In my last post, I alluded to something not yet covered here: the mobile workplace.
It is common for many Americans to work in the car. While driving this may mean having a quick phone conversation, or shooting off a text or E-mail stopped at a red light or in a drive through. (I don’t want to even consider dangerous activities like jotting notes while barreling down the highway at 75 MPH.) While stopped this may mean almost any activity that is currently done at a desk, from transcribing notes to market research, to business update reviews and meetings.
How might automated cars change this? The obvious answer is that workers could continue activities normally done while stopped while the car drives itself.
Let me give you an example of how a salesman might have prepared immediately prior to visiting a small, but established customer.
Fifteen years ago He would have tried to get to the customer location 10-15 minutes early. If successful he would have, from the customer’s parking lot, called his back-office support to find out what the recent business activity was. Any other issues that the support personnel remembered may have been conveyed then.
Today, (s)he will probably call back-office support (if there is any) from the car while driving to see if the last issues were cleaned up. Those issues would be pulled from a database instead of memory. Recent advances in mapping inform the salesperson about any likely travel issues such as accidents. He will therefore arrive much closer to start of the meeting. If time permits, he may review the customer’s recent purchasing prior to arrival using his laptop or mobile device.
With the advent of the automated car, the salesperson will arrive at the customer exactly when planned. During the trip, any and all visit prep can be accomplished. The old challenge was communicating with “home base.” The new challenge will be deciding to focus on the upcoming call on the drive, as any other work task can be accomplished.
This is an example of how an autonamous car might allow someone to do their normal “parked-tasks” while moving. What the automated car will really offer, though, is the ability to cease being a car as we know it. That is, the passenger compartment can become whatever is needed. Naturally, there will be some fantastic entertainment arrangements with surround, panoramic views. I would anticipate some interest in a planetarium-type setup as well, with identifying overlays. From a business standpoint, the vehicle could turn into a complete office with screens, communications and computing power, and printers. full-blown teleconferences could take place. What will be interesting is the specialized computing spaces. Will programmers code from the car, and only enter the office building to collaborate face-to-face? Will doctors have a full-blown (and sterilize-able) office and go on house calls again? Will CAD design happen in blacked-out cars going from job site to job site?
The next step will be moving away from white-color and going into blue collar work. While I don’t see an autonomous car helping with a clogged drain itself, quotes and invoices can be prepared in motion. Most important in this world will be delivery of parts mid job. There are few things more wasteful than paying a technician $60/hr (or $160) to go to Lowes to buy a $4 part. Or a $0.40 part. We’ll cover that automated retrieval in a separate post. While existing work vans already have extensive storage and organizational capabilities, there might be some savings in en-route kitting and pre-assembly. For example, if an electrician is going to install a fan, he could freely move around the van and get the parts needed. While the van may be barreling down the highway at 80 MPH, he can go and casually get out the components needed for the install, like wire, wire nuts, and the electrical box. He can even get the hole-saw ready and set aside any other tools. Finally, he can get his tool belt ready, clean his glasses, and report in to the office. While his rate may need to change to reflect the difference in productivity, the important part will be response time, and not looking “idle” while on the job.
Obviously, the mobile workplace has the potential to affect those employees that have a small work area filled with specialty tools. What other professions have that attribute?