Our sharing future is both terrifying and exciting

Jason Dooris

Jason Dooris is the CEO and founder of growing Atomic 212, Australia's fastest growing media and marketing agency on the BRW 2014 list. Over the past 20 years, Jason has held a variety of senior local and global industry positions including CEO MediaCom UK, deputy CEO MediaCom Europe, GM Saatchi & Saatchi NZ, GM Ogilvy & Mather Australia, GM Dentsu Aegis Australia and consulting practice director, Deloitte Asia. His vertical experience covers most categories with a particular focus on retail, automotive and FMCG.

Discussing the future in a realistic fashion is often a disappointing prospect. For all the talk of hoverboards, jetpacks and lightsabers changing the way we do things, the reality tends to end up being something as mundane as a slightly cheaper way to get around the city.  

But before you write off Uber and the likes as merely being exciting to those with particularly tight purse strings, a related piece of ‘futuristic’ technology is tantalisingly close: Driverless cars.  

While traffic lights change and even city-street layouts are already adjustable depending on the time of day, a shared, interconnected network would allow roads to be updated in real time, meaning traffic jams could be a thing of the past.  

But, even more exciting – for marketers, anyway – are the possibilities this presents in terms of ensuring wastage is virtually eliminated. If you know exactly who is riding a given car and exactly where they are, the opportunity to serve relevant, contextual ads goes through the roof.  

Who will drive the driverless revolution?  

After a years-long whispers campaign, this month Apple finally let the world’s worst-kept secret out of the bag, with CEO Tim Cook telling Bloomberg, “We’re focusing on autonomous systems”, before going on to say the Cupertino company’s automotive plans were “a core technology that we view as very important”.  

Then, in an interview with Channel Ten released hours later, Ford Australia’s CEO, Graeme Whickman, said the company was not going to sit back and let upstarts like Apple, Google and Tesla own this new pie, and that it aimed to have its own automated offering on the roads within four years.  

“2021 is our aim,” Whickman said. “We plan to have viable, fully automated commercial vehicles operating by then.  

“Doing this, we can instil confidence in the public that it works.”  

Finally, a piece of legitimately exciting ‘future’ technology that will be mass produced by globally established companies – meaning they’re something you’ll be willing and able to buy – within the next decade.  

Except for the part where you’ll be willing to buy it. Because what’s the point of owning a driverless car?  

An autonomous, anonymous fleet

While it’s easy to think of a driverless car as the means by which you’ll be able to do away with the grind of driving yourself to the office every morning, thereby catching up on a stack of work – or even some sleep – on the commute, what the driverless car will really do away with is car ownership.  

Elon Musk has long touted the ‘Tesla fleet’ – a service that will take Uber to school, as owners will simply put their car to work for them at any time they’re not using it – as a benefit of the autonomous car:  

“You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost.”  

You’d think it will only be a matter of time before the average punter forgoes their monthly car repayments in favour of this fully automated service, which in turn is better for the planet, puts an end to the hassle of parking, and gives anyone whose house is attached to a garage the space to create a truly bitchin’ man cave or she shed.  

And while this intriguing future is achingly close, an iteration of it actually already exists.  

On yer bike, China  

China is a fascinating market for myriad reasons, but one area showing huge growth is on-demand bike sharing services.  

As cars proliferated in China over the past four decades, cycle usage went into freefall, with the Financial Timesreporting, “The proportion of commuters cycling to work in Beijing fell from more than 60 per cent in 1980 to 12 per cent in 2014”.  

However, bike-sharing services have led to a huge uptick in Chinese people hopping on the trusty pushie for the daily commute. In fact, it’s got to the point that, according to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner Mary Meeker, these on-demand bikes are the second-most popular mode of transportation, behind only cars, and outstripping the likes of buses, motorbikes and electric scooters.  

Furthermore, “Two-thirds of those bike riders use sharing programs three or more times per week.”  

On the one hand, this is having a devastating effect on local bicycle manufacturers, because these share bikes are custom made to better fit their purpose.  

“Bicycle shop owners say sales are slower this year and some are shutting down,” Yu Yuefeng, a managing director at Phoenix, China’s oldest bicycle maker, said at the recent Canton Fair.  

“Some factories are switching to produce shared bikes and this is driving up the price of components and causing problems in the supply chain.”  

It’s surely a forewarning of the problems automotive industries are set to endure in the coming years as the autonomous automotive revolution kicks in. 

But problems in one industry’s supply chain means some other business must be doing well.  

Building sensor networks  

Interestingly, the data generated by China’s share-bike systems makes them attractive for researchers, because the duration of travel, departure location, arrival location, and time elapsed is explicitly recorded. Bike sharing systems therefore function as a sensor network, which can be used for studying mobility in a city.  

Furthermore, the opportunities this presents to further advance machine learning are astronomical.

In fact, Mr Yu of Phoenix bikes is relying on it for the future of his own business, comparing China’s bike-sharing services to tech companies:  

“These Internet companies care more about gaining traffic, data and market share,” he said. “So they push their app, build their platform and only think about profits later.”  

And well might they, because the future of the biking economy may not be repairing punctures and replacing brakes, but selling the data each person who puts their bum on a seat imparts during their ride. If, that is, the sharing apps are willing to part with said info (and, presumably for a profit, they will).  

The coming months and years of China’s two-wheel disruption will inform auto companies how they can continue to make money long after people stop buying cars.

Tags: autonomous vehicles, emerging technology

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