Innovation Spotlight

Technology Advancements & The Future of Mobility

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 edition of Mobility Magazine.

Only a little money, a little work, and some early adopters stand between us and innovations that are already technically feasible.

Bill put his coffee down on his desk, reached up, and answered the phone by touching the base of his jaw. “Relocation Management, Bill Jacobsen,” he said.

“Hey Bill, Peter George here with Global Moving and Storage. I am at the Smith residence, and we have a delay. Our moverbot is stuck at the top of the stairs flashing a ‘refuse’ code. Looks like the armoire is too much for it to handle on the stairs. I’ve called central, and they’re sending someone over with a powered exoskeleton. We’ll just have to get it downstairs the old-fashioned way.”

Bill chuckled. “The old-fashioned way,” he thought. Bill was well into his second century and still going strong—one of those lucky enough to still be healthy when rejuv treatments were made widely available. He could remember when “the old-fashioned way” meant you put the furniture on your back and hoofed it down the stairs. The powered exoskeleton was just coming into vogue when he was well into his first career as an owner-operator. 

Bill was not overly worried. Peter and his wife, Molly, did not trust the bots with the breakables, so they still packed all the dishes, glassware, and expensive stuff by hand. They rarely had a claim. They’d get everything wrapped and loaded, and then send the truck off to Scottsdale. Peter and Molly would sleep at home tonight, and a new crew would handle the unload at the destination. Bill would wait to notify the crew in Arizona. It should not take the truck more than 20 hours to travel 1,700 miles, so it should still be able to make the scheduled unload the morning of the second day. 

Bill enjoyed being in the relocation business. After his first “retirement,” Bill started RM Inc. to stay busy. He loved talking to new people, and there was never a dull day in the world of relocation. Many people thought relocation would go away over the years, with virtual presence and most work done by bots.

While the need to relocate people decreased to some extent, the rise of a truly global economy and the explosive growth of off-planet colonies and industry fueled demand. Differences in culture and language meant business was still conducted face-to-face, and physical presence was much in demand. And of course, virtual presence was still subject to the speed-of-light limit, so workers needed to be physically near the work they did whether it was around the globe or off-planet. Even a two-second transmission delay could spell disaster in critical industries such as energy, construction, or medicine. 

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Bill’s phone buzzed again: “This is Jim Eyberg. I can’t seem to get hold of Alicia.” Jim was the spouse of Karen Eyberg, CEO of Space Mining Inc., one of Bill’s biggest clients. They were preparing for a two-year assignment to the U.S. colony on Mars. 

“What can I do for you, Mr. Eyberg?” asked Bill.

“Alicia sent me a note that we need passports for Mars, and mine is expired. I don’t understand—Mars is a U.S. colony!” Jim protested. 

“Yes, it is, Mr. Eyberg,” replied Bill. “And you will be traveling through the lunar station at Tycho, which is a Chinese colony. The Chinese will want to see your passport, and then U.S. customs will want it again on Mars, since you went through Chinese jurisdiction. It’s the best routing we can get you to meet your schedule. I can send a car to take you to the passport office.”

“I don’t understand why I have to go in person,” complained Jim. 

“The passport folks are just like that, sir—they want to see that it’s really you,” said Bill. “Should I arrange for a car?”

“Oh, no, I’ll have Karen send our car back from downtown to get me. Thank you, Bill; we appreciate everything you and Alicia are doing. Karen and I have moved three times with this job, and I still can’t quite believe we are going to live on Mars!” he exclaimed. 

Bill said goodbye and smiled again. Yes, never a dull day in relocation.

Seem far-fetched? Far from it. Self-driving trucks, powered exoskeletons, off-planet relocations—all are technically feasible today. In some cases, the technologies to support these activities already exist. All that is required to make this future a reality is a little money, a little work, and some early adopters. 

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Adoption is often the difference between “just a good idea” and “mass-market presence.” The first mobile phone call was made 45 years ago, in 1973. It took another 10 years before Motorola released the first commercially available mobile phone, at a retail price of $3,995. Texting was introduced in the ’90s, and phones that combined voice, text, email, music, and internet came into popularity with Apple’s iPhone 3G in 2008.

Mass adoption of mobile phone and smartphone technologies has dramatically changed the way we live, work, and socialize. The future is not built on wild fantasies, but on the popular adoption and implementation of current technologies and concepts. If we look at the world today, there are several ideas that are just starting to take off and will easily be the way we work a few years down the road. 

Autonomous Vehicles

No single technology will have more impact on how we work than fully autonomous vehicles. Envision a world where going to work means getting into your car and telling it where to go, and then you get to focus on something else. The car will also have Wi-Fi, allowing you to connect to the internet and work email, review data, and edit documents and spreadsheets. You can arrive at your workplace having already tackled a variety of tasks from the car. 

Autonomous vehicles will also significantly reduce congestion and accidents, while allowing for increased highway speeds. Commutes of 100 miles or more one-way will become commonplace, as such a trip could take less than 60 minutes, most of it productive time. 

As a direct impact on the relocation industry, we will likely see an end to the driver shortage in household goods moving. Autonomous moving vans will show up at the departure location, be loaded by a local team, and then make their own way to the destination to be unloaded by another local crew. Autonomous vans will be able to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, making more efficient use of a single vehicle and allowing for shorter transit windows. 

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How far in the future is this? Much of the technology required already exists; it simply requires additional investment and development to be market-ready. Legal hurdles and consumer acceptance will take longer. Experts suggest that fully autonomous vehicles could easily be available by 2025, but they will probably first see use in private, contained settings, such as gated communities and airports, or in limited-use geographies, such as urban centers. These initial applications will allow for further testing of technology and user acceptance.

Jeremy Carlson, an autonomy and mobility analyst with industry research firm IHS Markit, sees private vehicles with significant autonomy closer to 2025, and the possibility of no driver participation whatsoever within a few years after that:

“Even then, both [public and private segments] will remain at relatively low volumes, with significant growth expected about five years after the initial deployment in the segment—meaning increased growth in the latter half of next decade and through the 2030s.”

Telepresence 

In the future, will we even go to work? Or will various forms of virtual presence and virtual reality allow us to do all our work from home? As with most things, the answer is a little bit of both.

Read the rest of this article in the August 2018 edition of Mobility Magazine.

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