You might have seen some news stories about CES over the course of the last week. It’s a huge tech trade show that starts every year off with a glimpse of what technologies are down the road. In many cases, not very far down the road either. One of the tech area that was most prominent last week was automotive; specifically, autonomous cars. While you might have heard about Google’s work in the area of self-driving vehicles, many other automakers – Audi, Mercedes, and others – are quite far along in developing this technology and Audi even let a car drive itself to Las Vegas from San Francisco to show how well their prototype works.
Maybe you find that creepy. Maybe the thought of sitting down in a vehicle that moves along pretty quickly and letting that vehicle control itself scares you. I guess you haven’t flown lately, since most airplanes do exactly that. Some even land themselves. So what is the business point?
This thinking isn’t new. Way back in the 1990’s engineers were re-thinking the automobile and the way in which humans interact (or don’t) with it. The Saab folks designed and built a car without a steering wheel. The driver used a joystick instead. As the Wired folks reported:
It turns out that the steering wheel is an excellent way to steer a vehicle, and really tough to improve upon. That’s why they’ve been used on ships for centuries. The key to controlling any vehicle is to make smooth adjustments to keep it going where you want to. Steering wheels allow this. Most turn 1,260 degrees—3.5 turns—from lock-to-lock, that is, from all the way left to all the way right. That allows the driver to make very precise corrections to get the car pointing the right way, or quickly make big corrections to, say, avoid hitting something.
There were other problems too but the business point is this. All of us need to constantly challenge our paradigms. Maybe we don’t need people to drive the cars, or even BE in the cars. BMW showed a car that you could “call” to you and which would go find a parking space for itself and park once you were done with it. That redefines how a designer might think about the vehicle. So the real question is this:
How have you challenged your paradigms today?