traffic21

Surveillance, Transportation and Property Ownership.  These are a few areas you can get any attorney fired up about, and they’ll probably buy YOU drinks along the way, just for asking.

Here’s the main things to consider:

  1. None of what I discuss herein will happen suddenly.  Just like cell phones replaced phone booths, it will take time.
  2. You won’t likely be forced.  It will be offered with irresistible incentives.

Too often, we jump straight into the weeds, with the “can-vs-should” debates.  The problem with that is that it’s myopic.  The impetus for new technology rarely falls into “can” and “should”, but rather “feels right” or “provides targeted benefit”.  Cable TV exploded because it provided profit potential to the ISV’s and content providers, not because it was the “right thing to do”.

The same comparison could be used for the post-DARPA era of the Internet.  That could be argued equally as “should” and “should not” depending on how you view the “benefits” and “dangers” introduced by public Internet access.  It’s very subjective.  Yet, here we are.

Surveillance

Surveillance is already among us.  Online. In public.  But it’s going to expand much, much more than you might expect.  The reasons aren’t necessarily for national security or control.  They’re financial.  The main reason surveillance isn’t already more pervasive than it is, is due to untapped potential and untested legal boundaries.

When the tidal pressure of potential revenue rises high enough in the eyes of just ONE bellwether company, and they successfully overcome the obstacles, they create a new market.  The rest is obvious:  competition follows and the flood gates are open.  Sometimes that takes a large, famous player, sometimes it’s also a surprising upstart.

Also remember that not all “surveillance” is about watching what you do. Vendors rely on it to watch where you go, and how long you spend at each location.  Major department stores, as well as smaller electronics stores, and even Apple, are using this approach.

Insurance Indemnification and Profit

Insurance companies are going to gradually push for more transparency into the behavior patterns of those they insure.  In addition, insurance companies will find lucrative ways to share that information with current and prospecting employers (for a nominal fee, of course).

“We see you like frequenting this particular men’s club, which has a higher-than-average rate of crime.  That’s risky behavior.  We’re raising your premium – or cancelling your coverage.”

“We see you tend to visit the liquor store/fast food restaurants a lot.  That’s risky behavior.”

“Your family has a history of high blood pressure and obesity, yet we see you don’t exercise much.  That’s risky behavior.”

The personal GPS tracking services introduced years ago by Progressive and other insurance companies has been in the commercial sector much longer.  Employers want to know more than just where the vehicle is, and how it’s jiving with the logistics prediction models, but how the drivers are behaving with THEIR vehicles.  Hitting the brakes a lot?  Following too close?  Speeding?  Match those incidents with breakage and loss numbers and you have a self-correcting model for weeding out bad drivers.  Parents already have access to this type of service to track their kids’ driving.

That same model will expand into bus driving, commuter services (Lyft, Uber, taxi, limo), municipal and government vehicles (already many in use), and then one more threshold to cross:  The personal vehicle.

Hear me out, please:

With all the debate about “fair taxation” with regards to road maintenance, the traditional arguments have been lined up on the side of either higher taxes, or more tolls.  Taxes are debated as unfair and inefficient, since they impact people who may not even drive a vehicle, or even travel.  Tolls are debated as unfair to those with little or no alternative pathways to travel (work/home/school, etc.)

What if you were charged a usage fee based on how you use a vehicle?  What if you paid by the mile, based on the cost for maintaining each road you traverse?  Difficult to implement, maybe, but definitely NOT impossible.  The technology has been around to do this for years.  Is the public receptive to such a concept?  Who knows.

The section on “personal property” adds another dimension to this, further down the page.

Public Safety

Cops are already struggling to keep up with law suits and media scrutiny.  As a result, the discussions about body-worn cameras and GPS tracking began long ago.  The challenges they face will eventually pave the way towards broader use in the public.  For example, whether to adopt a store-and-upload or direct-connection infrastructure.  Each side has pros and cons to weigh from financial, technical and legal implications.  Once an acceptable solution is in place, expect this to roll out into the rest of society.

As always, safety vs. privacy debates will remain forever.  However, if you assume that privacy groups are against this idea, you’re wrong.

Schools will use them for teachers and bus drivers, to back them up in court.  Colleges will require their star athletes to wear them as insurance against sex abuse and domestic violence claim risks.

Doctors and nurses.  Teachers.  Food preparers.  Pilots.  Drivers. Service providers (plumbers, HVAC techs, electricians, etc.) will all find ways to employ this technology to either protect them, or differentiate their marketability.

Case law and legal precedent are piling up quickly.  It’s not a matter of ‘if’ anymore.  It’s only a matter of ‘how soon’.  It’s coming.  The money is fully behind it.  As another testament to the viability and longevity of vehicle tracking, is the increase in side markets who provide direct and indirect products and services.

The Boiling Frog

Whenever you ask someone if they’d willingly get a “chip” implanted in their body for security and tracking, very few will respond with “yes!”.  Most in fact will say “hell no!”

But it won’t happen like that.  The likelihood of people being lined up to install a chip is incredibly small.  The most likely, most practical, most fiscally and socially prudent approach will be to “offer” it, with incentives.

Imagine your credit card company says something like “We’ll give you back $X on your account for replacing your plastic card with a small chip” Or your medical insurance company lowers the annual/monthly plan rates for those who use a chip rather than fill out paper forms or carry a plastic card.  Or what if employers  offer incentives to staff who opt for an implanted chip to help eliminate the costs of door keys, smartcards, badges and Key FOBs?

Foolproof? No. Nothing is foolproof. Nothing.  But it’s not about foolproof.  It’s about financial gain and reduced burden.

So, you might scoff a the chip.  But your children might be faced with a choice which makes the chip the obvious lesser of two evils.  Imagine asking your great grandparents if they’d spend the money to put as many TV’s, computers, phones and tablets in their house as you have in yours.  Would they jump up and say “hell yeah!” or more likely consider it a waste of money?   The same generational context applies every time.

Personal Property

Cars.  Forget for a moment the current state of technology and the current state of human-controlled, pedestrian interlaced transportation services we rely upon.

Self-Driving Cars

When, not if, the technology is available for self-driving vehicles which can interact with human-controlled vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles, and the unexpected (animals, debris, weather, etc.) BETTER than humans can interact, how will the public accept it?  Remember: I’m talking about gradual, not sudden evolution.

If you expect major car manufacturers to be hesitant or resistant, you’d be wrong.  They’re fully in on this concept.  The money is behind it.  Not just Google or Apple either.  Ford.  GM. Honda. Lexus.  NissanToyota, Volvo, and Volkswagen are in on the game. Even Cisco, Delphi, QNX, and NVidia have their irons in the fire.  And of course, there’s always Tesla.

Also, what if the car, being self-driving, no longer needs to be ‘owned’, but rather ‘leased’ or ‘borrowed’?  This provides a new hybrid service of part mass-transit, part ushered.  A vehicle you don’t have to operate, you just enter and sit.  A vehicle which is shared, like a subway, but without sacrificing privacy.  Like a subway, you don’t HAVE to pay for inspection, registration, or gas.  You pay a pro-rated amount based on your usage.

Consider these scenarios:

  • You have a small car.  You need to deliver a sofa from a friend’s house.  Push a button and a truck shows up, complete with a power-lift and dollies.
  • Your car breaks down.  You push a button and a nearby unused self-driving car arrives to fill-in.
  • You’re at work all day.  Your spouse, child, relative, calls to ask for a ride to an important event.  You send your car to drive them.  You don’t have to leave work.
  • You stay home for a week, vacation, sick, whatever.  Instead of paying a flat, annual ownership fee, you are charged a pro-rated fee based on actual usage.
  • You send a car to take your kids from one place to another, with safeguards that prevent them from picking their own (unapproved) destination, or stopping at another (unapproved) place in between.

The potential benefits range from reduced DUI events, car-jackings, accidents (remember, this relates to a future state of the technology, not today’s), and faster travel (humans tend to drive slow or erratic, machines can handle faster speeds more reliably).

Now that you don’t have to own the vehicle, you don’t need to carry annual (separate) insurance either. You’re not driving it.  The vehicle service would carry the insurance and pass that along as a portion of their hourly/daily/weekly subscription cost.

Oh, and you won’t need to worry about parking, towing, booting, denting/scratching, or upkeep.  The vehicle service deals with that.  And you don’t need a driveway or garage anymore, at least not for a car.

So, you’re thinking “Not me!  I’m not giving up my 1967 Chevy!”  No problem.  You get to keep that.  Along with the fees and logistics requirements.  Also, because you “own” it, you incur a higher cost.  Based on various amortization and risk models, the cost of owning a typical car (averaged across the US) per month includes:

  • Purchase loan payment
  • Insurance payment
  • DMV Title (apportioned)
  • DMV Registration (apportioned)
  • State inspection*
  • Gas
  • Oil, transmission fluid
  • Tires, wiper blades, light bulbs, washer fluid, brake fluid, brake pads
  • Parking*
  • Garage space, driveway

Commercial space could shrink because less area would be required for public parking.  You enjoy a ride to the store, shop, and hop in the next available car as you leave.  Nothing needs to “wait” around for you unless you request it (and pay more).

Instead, speaking potentially here, you’d pay one fee, based on the actual time you used the vehicle:

  • X minutes = $Y

The fee would include pro-rated, apportioned amounts for maintenance, logistics and telemetry services, infrastructure fees (taxes), and vehicle insurance.  The rider would be covered by their medical insurance.  The service would provide liability and mechanical coverage.  Some overlap, but after apportionment is applied, the per-rider costs would be VASTLY different.

Imagine how much it would cost the rider to take a taxi, when the taxi company wouldn’t need to include the salary, insurance, or benefits for the driver.

For those of you thinking the rider injury risk would cause the insurance portion to outweigh the cost benefit, consider that the aggregate claims against similar transportation services (taxis, uber, lyft, limos) is FAR FAR FAR lower than the claims incurred by personally-owned vehicles.

Finally, the best analogy of self-driving cars and ownership for IT professionals is to compare it with virtualization.  The advent of piling more virtual machines onto a physical machine, yielding higher efficiency of time, resources, and portability, are nearly identical.

Sharing vehicles without incurring the direct ownership burden is almost identical to running multiple virtual machines on a single VMware or Hyper-V host.  Adding the self-driving component is much like adding DevOps to the data center.

Conclusion

Whether you like it or not, many of these changes are coming.  They will take time, and there will be bumps and hurdles.  There will be human resistance as well.  Just as other turf battles have occurred between taxis and Uber, between buses and taxis, and between airlines and trains, expect insecurity to play a huge role.

There’s also the 800 pound gorilla of automation and employment.  The added automation here would eliminate most (if not all) jobs for taxis, and buses.  In fact, buses are much simpler to adapt to autonomous driving than personal vehicles, due to their consistent and predictable routes and schedules.  In many cities, they get a dedicated transportation lane as well.  Automation will impact human jobs for sure.  Then again, it takes fewer people to build a house today than it did one hundred years ago.

Thank you for reading this!

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