The Future of Transportation is Driverless, Shared and Networked

Steven Montgomery, VICE

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To get to work tomorrow we’ll ride in vehicles of metal and rubber, like always, but also of bamboo and carbon dioxide, blue jeans, soybeans and tattered old dollar bills pulled from circulation. They’ll be shared freely, hailed by the push of a button, and some will have no pedal or steering wheel.


This is the future Ford Motor Company imagines. The company that played a key role in our most recent industrial revolution is asserting its place in the era to come by expanding our idea of transportation beyond privately-owned vehicles to include ride-hailing, bike-sharing, on-demand shuttles, and services we haven’t even dreamed of yet.


This new vision of mobility didn’t emerge out of nowhere. The seeds for a new age are planted within the old, asserts economist and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin in a new VICE documentary, The Third Industrial Revolution. The film, whose world premiere was presented by VICE Impact and Ford at Tribeca Film Festival Saturday, claims we are witnessing a radical change in the way our society manages, powers and moves itself.


Over the next six months, VICE Impact and Ford will bring the film’s messages about mobility innovations and global sustainability to audiences across the country. “As the population grows, so does the challenge of moving people and goods – not to mention the time and money wasted in gridlock and the air quality concerns it creates," said Ford president and CEO Mark Fields, "We want to work with communities to offer even more transportation solutions for people for decades to come to improve the environment, economy, employment and overall quality of life."


This new era in mobility is part of a new industrial revolution made possible by innovations in communication, energy, and transportation, Rifkin claims. Of the three technologies, the first—in communication, aka the internet—is the most familiar and mature. With it, we collect and analyze huge amounts of data, which has made our whole economy more efficient.

Energy is the second pillar of Rifkin’s theory. Today we rely mainly on oil and nuclear power, which demand massive companies to extract and distribute the energy. The fuel sources of the future, wind and solar, work best in a decentralized fashion. If each home or office building generates its own power, energy can be networked and shared regionally. It’s essentially an internet of energy.


All of this leads into the third pillar: transportation. Innovations in data, sensors, machine learning and connectivity are driving dramatic changes in transportation and logistics. Rifkin proposes that auto manufacturers will shift from simply producing vehicles to being the aggregators of the global automated mobility internet, managing society’s transport services and logistics.


Ford is at the forefront of this transformation. It seems strange that Ford, built on selling privately-owned cars, trucks and SUVs to families, individuals and businesses, is now championing a future that includes many different mobility solutions. But when faced with quickly growing global populations, the need for new mobility solutions seems much more urgent.


Though automobiles will continue to be a defining, beloved feature of American life, our society needs to create new, more sustainable ways for people to get around. As Bill Ford said, for most of his life he worried about how to sell more cars and trucks, “but today I worry about, what if all we do is sell more cars and trucks? What happens when the number of vehicles on the road doubles, triples, or even quadruples?”


So, Ford is marrying traditional steel-and-rubber with software, electric power, sustainable materials and operations, analytics and services. This year they announced a five-year, $4.5 billion plan to introduce 13 new electric models, some of which are self-driving. They operate 74 operations facilities that are zero waste to landfill, and their 12-month trial of new plug-in hybrid Ford Transit Custom vans in London is working to reduce local emissions and create cleaner air. They’ve also unveiled plans for a driverless car for commercial ride-sharing and ride-hailing.


These are incremental steps in a long-term transition to more access to mobility for all. While the future of driverless vehicles on smart road systems seems far off, these smaller shifts are already underway and are fundamentally altering the business model for the transportation industry.


More people are biking to work or participating in bike sharing programs. Non-car delivery businesses are proliferating as new apps make these services even more accessible in cities today. And the sharing economy is becoming more deeply entrenched in our ethos as a society.


“We understand customer priorities are changing,” says Fields. “The world is moving from just owning vehicles to owning and accessing shared vehicles. This is causing us to think very differently – it’s not just about selling vehicles, but also providing transportation services at the same time.”


In the next five to 10 years, we’ll see the introduction of autonomous vehicles, and the expansion of connected vehicles and devices via new internet infrastructure. In the next 30 years, we anticipate operating systems that connect all modes of transportation to one another to allow us to do the impossible, like potentially eliminating traffic accidents and significantly reducing emissions – perhaps even granting universal access to mobility. That's a future we can all get behind, whether you own a car, share a bike or hail a drone for a ride to work.


For more on the Third Industrial Revolution, visit VICE Impact.

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