What is the future of transport?
I'm often asked to speak at company events about future technologies, sustainability and what the future looks like. Today I was honoured to speak with an outstanding team of engineers about Future Skills, Technology and Human Emotion.
As part of this talk I told a "day in the life" story, featuring ideas on the future of transport and human emotional well-being. I've retold the story below, and included more details on some of the concepts it covers. Buckle up!
A future of transport and work scenario
Analysing the photos I took yesterday, and conflating my biometric, heart rate data, my watch knew I had been rock climbing for the first time in decades, so suggested I get an early night.
Instead, I decided to celebrate with a nice cup of "peppermint tea".
Overnight, my watch analysed my biometrics and compared with previous data to determine that my "tea" might have actually been a couple of beers.
Given my schedule for the day ahead, my watch decided that it was probably best to let me sleep a little longer. So it adjusted my alarm to give me a few extra, valuable minutes of sleep, waking me in a light-sleep phase, while ensuring I have enough time to make my meetings.
The forecast is for a warm day, so my windows had already been opened to let the breeze in and my coffee was already prepared. As I picked up my coffee and sat down for breakfast, Alexa gave me some headlines that would be important for the day ahead, and told me I should probably get a move on.
47 minutes later my watch alerted me that the car was 5 minutes away, so I should grab my bag. As I was leaving the house my phone alerted me to the fact I’d left my documents on the kitchen table, so I popped back to get them just in time, as the car pulls up silently next to my door.
I got in the car and it whisked me off, offering me a selection of beverages and snacks, from the in-car vending platform, along with a polite suggestion that I might benefit from a paracetamol - which I gladly took.
11 minutes later I was at the terminal. When I exited the car, it whisked off again, driverless, to serve its next client. As I walked to the terminal, the screens presented personalised information to help me get the gate. Along the way I am discretely scanned, identified and weighed, and receive a notification with my seat and bag-slot allocation just before I reach the vehicle.
There’s no queue, and the four passengers are all aboard in no time, so as we lift off I marvel at the countryside below me. As we increase speed, I grab the VR headset because I know I only have 20 minutes to catch up with my wife and kids over breakfast before I arrive in the city.
Arriving in the city, my first appointment goes well, but my watch reschedules my afternoon and calls a flying taxi to take me home - it’s been a long week and from the emotional and physical measurements it took in the VR conversation, and my biometrics, it knows I’ve been under a lot of stress and need to be with my family today.
How much of this is sci-fi? How much is real?
This story pulls together several themes, ideas and technologies into what would have seemed like a work of science fiction in my childhood, yet, today we are on the brink of such things.
So let’s look at some of the concepts in a little more detail.
I touch on biometrics in a couple of ways, understanding my sleep cycles, determining alcohol intake and, more broadly, stress levels in the virtual reality environment.
Had one too many?
From the alcohol point of view, I don’t think it is currently possible to determine if you have had a drink directly from the heart-rate measurements available on your wrist. However, if you take heart rate, motion and spoken data into consideration it should be possible to spot patterns over time, and correlate them to other data points, like social media photographs and message exchanges.
Moving beyond the wrist, when combined with other sensors like the Continuous Glucose Monitors (see the interview with Levels) or at-home urine testing (see the Bisu interview), it would be absolutely possible to differentiate peppermint tea from beer.
I currently use an app called Pillow to monitor my sleep. My wife can’t understand why I need an app on my watch to tell me “Last night you didn’t sleep enough.”
There are other apps on the market, and indeed Apple has its own (quite rudimentary, imho) version. I like the way Pillow works and the fact it doesn’t store any of my data in the cloud. I particularly like how it adjusts my alarm clock to wake me from the lightest possible sleep cycle, whilst being as close as possible to the actual time I want to wake - this helps ease waking and helps you feel more refreshed.
Emotional Awareness Technologies
In this story I talk about how the VR experience was able to provide data that indicated I might be stressed and need some time off.
VR is an incredibly powerful platform for training and delivery therapeutical practices. Immersive experiences can create much greater empathy, allow create assimilation of information and have a strong positive carry-over into the real-world. Additionally, as discussed in this article about how emotional sensing technologies can allow a much greater, deeper understanding of the human reaction.
All of this can be used for very significant good, but also has potential for misuse and abuse. Check out this fascinating white-paper by XRSI and Emteq on the safety of data in immersive environments.
Future of Transport - Electric Propulsion and Automation
Whilst the pandemic and chip-shortages have slowed the rollout of electric vehicles, significant progress has been made in this sector.
As mentioned by Mairead McGuinness, Commissioner for Financial Services, Financial Stability, and the Capital Markets Union at the European Commission in the recent Bloomberg Sustainable Business Summit we’ve rapidly moved from car manufacturers dragging their heels to demands from them for more roadside charging points.
This rapid electrification is creating new opportunities and challenges too, but is also in itself helping create an answer to one of the (many) problems that delayed the development of renewable energies. The very cars that need the electricity, and create the new demand for renewable, can actually trickle back some of their unused battery charges to help overcome short term peaks and demands across the energy grid.
This idea also carries some other interesting developments - first, noone wants to get into their car to find the battery flat because last night the grid sucked all the power from it, and second, there’s new business models and regulation required for that kind of thing.
Related article: Future of Transportation, Will Electric Vehicles Take Over?
But beyond this, road fleet electrification is helping make a reality other electrical propulsion dreams such as flying taxis and electric powered space flight.
In car vending
As cars become more connected and move to autonomous driving, they become data centres on wheels. The amount of data they can gather about you, your habits and needs will only increase, and it’s a topic I discussed in this previous article on the startup ecosteer.
This article looks at the future of electric vehicles, and how the data ecosystem will evolve as they become more prevalent. It happens to be one of the most read articles on the site, so if you haven’t checked it out yet, do so here.
In a world where autonomous vehicles are a shared resource, and dispatched for specific jobs at specific times, the time you spend in the cabin is going to be prime retail estate. With that, we’ll see the passenger cabins of shared vehicles transformed into data gathering and commerce focused spaces. Whether that’s with the personalised vending machines I mention in the story above, or the VR experiences Audi trialled with Disney.
The Metaverse and Personalised Mass Media
Hidden in the story is a line that describes how screens provide me with personalised information on mass media screens.
This small sentence has profound impacts, and hints towards the rapidly developing but under-noticed "metaverse".
The metaverse is essentially the coming together of Virtual, Augmented, Mixed and other Immersive reality technologies in the real world. At some point in the future, the line between digital and physical will be non-existent.
Whilst Google Glass was a bold, but ill-timed step in this direction, today we see the metaverse creeping into our lives across games like Fortnite, in advertising and in airport lounge trials.
Fortnite: My (much younger) cousin leaves Fortnite running so he can get information about his friends, their whereabouts and openers to meet up in the real world.
Airports: Technologies such as the Parallel Reality that Delta Airlines announced at the 2020 CES are being developed that allow multiple people to see different information on the same screen, simultaneously.
Ads: Another example of the technology in action can be found in realtime sports and virtual advertising.
As an additional illustration of the future importance of this trend, Facebook has over 10,000 engineers working on this technology. Ten thousand.
The metaverse and the risks associated with the data in that environment are a key piece of the Emteq and XRSI white-paper I mentioned earlier.
So much more
There’s so much more to unpack from that story, including data sharing and privacy, location asset trackers, the impact on transport infrastructure and the re-growth of rural communities in a newly distributed work-force. But for now, I will leave this here and encourage your comments and questions.
Tell me what you think
What do you think? Share your thoughts with me, and leave a comment below.