Issue 372 – On mobile AV/homes, Ford wanting to shape our cities (again) and the Sirius dream
1 February 2018
We need to think big. Really big. As 2018 gets under way it’s clear the world is moving at breakneck speed and it’s getting harder to keep up.
In sustainability it’s no longer enough to think about the micro world we inhabit and can have direct impact on. We need to be more political and economic in our thinking so we can not just amplify sustainability, but shape the trajectory of our world.
Because right now the trajectory is all over the place and we humans (and the living things that support us) could be left well behind in the list of priorities driving science and the massive corporations that are taking its fruit.
Take autonomous cars. Late last year after speaking to Brian Haratsis we riffed on where AVs would take us, literally and figuratively. On the ground they’ll take us to a destination, sure, but what if the AV becomes a destination itself? What if the comfortable bed and facilities it could provide as we go overnight to another city became so comfortable we never want to get out?
Last week we came across an article that talked about that possibility.
It’s called Driverless Hotel Rooms: The End of Uber, Airbnb and Human Landlords – How driverless vehicles can enable on-demand accommodation for one night or 1000, and at rates 10 times cheaper than your rent bill.
It’s from Hacker Noon. Read it if you need a jolt to get over January.
On your good ship, AV-getabout, you’ve just landed in Sydney, the article starts. You go straight to your hotel room waiting on the tarmac, which then takes you to a tower in the sky at Bondi that’s like a Lego frame and slots you into place, allowing you to connect with additional modules should you feel like actually moving further than your AV lounge chair because even the food and laundry is delivered by drone.
“Your room begins driving itself towards Bondi and a live map displays on one of the side panels. You sit back and relax with some Netflix on the other side panel. Exactly six minutes later, a drone lands on the roof and lowers your order through a compartment in the ceiling.”
All of this is a threat to regular cars, the article says, with the usual 60-day supply of new cars in the US now up to more than four million unsold vehicles.
But this is where we think the article goes awry. It predicts “only 100 million on-demand driverless vehicles will be required to replace all 2 billion human-driven vehicles”.
Reason? Because, we think in our riffing, many people may never want to get out of the AV and may all want their own. Science and tech may soon deliver us everything we need without the need for us to move.
So at this point the discussion can go a little off the rails… as it tends to when you start talking about AV and artificial intelligence.
Maybe we will end up with the most sustainable solution of all, that we won’t need our bodies because we’ll upload our consciousness into cyberspace.
Mad thought, right? Well, over the summer we spied a newspaper item that said Google is working on just that.
Here’s the quote:
“Today the conquest of life includes the abolition of death, with figures such as Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, envisioning technologies that would upload human minds into cyberspace.”
Our author of the Hacker Noon article imagines we’ll avoid congestion by sending the traffic underground.
“The best way to achieve this is to route the driverless rooms through tunnels under the city while in transit, and to stack the rooms vertically when stationary. While in transit the rooms can connect to other modules like train carriages, and while stationary the rooms can connect on all sides.
“By decoupling accommodation and the physical location, we decentralise housing and empower the individual to instantly switch to alternative locations. If Bondi Tower 7 is charging a $50 overnight fee while Bondi Tower 36 is charging a $10 overnight fee, then your room can haggle on your behalf and relocate to the cheapest location that remains within your preferences.
“In fact these driverless rooms and ‘parking’ towers can leverage blockchain technology to remove the human landlord altogether.”
Does this sound like a way to foster human interaction and pleasant “grounded” lives? Where is biophilia in this scheme, or human connectivity?
It’s economics driving (excuse the pun) our future again.
Ford wants to control cities (again)
Meanwhile Ford says we need an overhaul of cities to deal with AVs.
In an article from January, the car company that brought us petrol-driven disasters when it could have stuck to the clean electric model around at the time (albeit with dirty coal fired power stations at the energy source) says it will bring AVs to the public in 2021.
And just like it did the first time, the company wants our planners to comply with city designs that cater to its/our future/needs.
Jim Hackett, the American carmaker’s chief executive, warned of “overwhelming pollution and paralysing congestion” if cities continue to grow as they are today.
At last, we hear you say, they get it.
Hackett adds that cities filled with cars had become a threat to “civic life”. (Can you believe you are hearing this? It’s like the tobacco companies offering cancer cures. Nice line in vertical marketing if you can get it.)
Ford will soon connect cars to “public transport, cyclists and infrastructure such as traffic lights and car parks to manage traffic”, Hackett tells us.
“Under Mr Hackett, Ford is seeking to bounce back against upstarts such as Tesla, which is seen as being well ahead in electric motor technology, and Uber, which analysts say could lead to fewer people buying cars in the future.”
Hackett wants “large pavements instead of parking spaces, with roads that direct driverless cars in order to improve traffic flows”.
Take paradise and put up a parking lot. Then take away the parking lot and make the whole lot a road.
(We thought our urban planning was heading to quiet biophilic urban villages within villages, and mixed-use eco/social interactions.)
And yet Ford, through Hackett, admits cars have led to diminished community lives, and that “parking lots overtook community centres. Fast food centres crushed the family diners and restaurants. Technology has been at the expense of our shared sense of belonging.”
And yet the man from Ford says: “The city’s transportation grid will mutate around what the cars need.”
Let’s not say we weren’t warned.
To counter this kind of powerhouse we need another kind of big picture. The one that comes from spirited individuals with free thinking and boundless courage who can take on anyone and anything, without fear or favour.
Like Jemma Green, maybe.
A few years ago we had grumbles of why we’d invited the relatively unknown Jemma Green to our salon for Greening the West.
A few years later, Dr Green now, has been intimately involved in some carbon neutral projects in Perth, working closely with Professor Peter Newman from Curtin University, has written for Forbes magazine on the issue of blockchain technology and its potential to usurp venture capitalists for start up businesses.
She’s spoken at the recent Davos festival of capitalism on the power of Power Ledger, of which she is chair and co founder (the method enables owners of solar panels to sell excess power through blockchain).
Now she’s about to front Richard Branson after winning a place in the finals of the Extreme Tech Challenge pitch competition in Las Vegas for Power Ledger, which according to SmartCompany has “landed grants from the federal government to implement its tech in a Perth ‘smart city’, and has gone from strength to strength since its $34 million initial coin offering in last October (now worth upwards of $100 million in digital currency Ethereum)”.
And she’s just done a gig as mayor of Perth!
Big heart thinking
Also thinking big are the people behind the campaign to save the fabulous Sirius building in Sydney’s Rocks, which is to be sold off by a recalcitrant state government that continues to be unaware that if it wants to invest in its future there is no more powerful capital than brand.
And saving the Sirius for public housing would demonstrate that in a world that is increasingly tough, disconnected and edging towards dystopia if we don’t pull our fingers out of the tech start up buttons, kindness is pretty much the most valuable brand power you can have.
So the announcement that the supporters of Sirius would try to buy the building at the mooted asking price of $100 million is not just exciting because of its boldness but also presents a great final opportunity for the government to show it’s not just listening, but responding.