Driverless Processes

Anyone engaged in business process redesign owes it to him or herself to keep track of the kind of new innovations that will be used to create radically new business processes in the future.  A good friend, Roger Tregear, shares this passion with me, and we often focus on a new category and then play a game were we try to imagine all the possibilities — the logical implications, if you would — of some new innovation.  For awhile we were focused on 3D printing.  Whenever one of us learned of a new 3D printing application, we would send information to the other to describe it and then speculate on how it would change business processes.

At the moment, we seem to be on self-driving cars — or self driving vehicles, I suppose I should say.  I just sent Roger an article on an Audi car that was running around a test track at 140 miles an hour, without a driver in the car.   Check it out:

Self-driving vehicles use a combination of sensors, GPS, and mapping software to orient and then move themselves toward goals set by humans.  Given the right set of algorithms, the can move without damage to themselves or others.  Their biggest challenge they will probably face are cars driven by humans that are fast, exceeding erratic, and thus unpredictable.

Self-driving vehicles are a good example of the application of intelligent software technologies.  They sense, they use logic to evaluate data, they take responses and follow established algorithms.

This is hardly a new innovation.  I first encountered self driving vehicles at Texas Instruments in the early Eighties.  A mail vehicle made its way around the TI factory following a sent placed on the floor, announcing its presence, and stopping for people who simply refused to get out of the way.  Next, I heard of self driving trucks on a visit to Chile in the Zeros — huge driverless  ore trucks that moved copper from open mines to processing sites using GPS navigation, following the same route over and over again.  Today, most of us have used GPS to navigate a car, so we know that such systems are quite good at laying out a street grid and navigating through it.  And those of us who have new cars with sensors know they are very good at spotting things rolling behind us as we try to back up, or even parking.  Combining these technologies to drive a car is an idea that it about to come.

So, can we imagine some new processes and the changes that will follow.  It’d be hard for a driverless car to pay tolls, but luckily we are rapidly moving to toll boothes without toll takers — dependent on scanned stickers to collect our money.  (I saw those in Chile a decade ago, when I experienced their highways where your car’s license was scanned when you drove on and then off of their toll highways, and got a toll added to your phone bill for your drive on the highway.)

I imagine that we will need a lot less in the way of highway speed patrols, and cities will have to learn to live without income from speed traps, since one expects that driverless vehicles won’t break the law.  (Of course I also imagine teenagers working to program their cars to go really fast, in contravention of the laws.)

I have read studies of stop-and-go traffic jams that indicate that most of them result from drivers making constant small errors as to when they move forward or slow down, resulting in stops that would have been unnecessary if everyone had maintained the same slow speed and not tried to change lanes to take advantage of gaps.  Presumably self-driven cars will avoid this type of problem.

Then there’s the design of cars.  The big front windows are very dangerous in accidents.  A self driven car doesn’t need windows to look through.  And people driving in such a vehicle are going to want to do other things.  You may spend your first airplane flights looking out the windows in awe, but after then, you begin to refocus on doing your email, talking with a neighbor, eating, watching movies, or catching a nap.  One can imagine vehicles being redesigned as offices, or conversation pits.

So here’s a challenge:   How are cars used by employees of your organization?   What could you do with the employee’s time, if they didn’t need to focus on the road as their vehicles undertook necessary travel.  What processes — like auto insurance claim checking, or auto insurance for that matter — would be significantly changed.  Or, better, what entirely new processes would be possible?

If you want a twist, remember that major roads will probably soon be fitted with wires that will allow an electric car traveling on such a road to pick up a charge without needing to be directly connected to the source.  Hence, electric cars will be able to go long distances and remain charged.

I invite readers to suggest some major process changes that might follow from driverless cars, or, more to the point, what people can do with the time given them as they move from place to place in cars that don’t require their attention.   Add them as comments to this blog so we can all think a bit about business processes to come.



One response to “Driverless Processes”

  1. Paul, I think driverless cars could be another of the seminal disruptive technologies like 3D printing, smart/mobile devices, sensors etc. At the link below is a fun ‘think piece’ we started on one of my training courses. We wanted to list the implications for public sector agencies if all cars on all roads were driverless. That’s not a likely scenario any time soon, or perhaps forever, but we came up with a surprisingly long list and I’m sure that other readers could suggest new entries.


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