What is a door?
The marriage of motorvehicle and microchip has been a long time coming. My first experience with electro-mechanical intercourse was the thin metallic overture that my friend’s 1974 Chrysler made to its occupants. A Moog-inspired voice would warn “A door is ajar, A door is ajar!” which elicited a typically adolescent: “A door is not a jar, it’s a door!” [giggle about here].
Sometimes called driverless and other times autonomous, robo-motives herald our economics in this age of [western] abundance. Unlike it’s 60s counterpart, the jet-pack, self-driving cars trade dimension-defying contortions of near-earth exploration for ease-of-use.
Simply put, the convenience of not driving and arriving promises to extinguish notions of freedom and redemption long associated with experiencing space. Indeed, the virtual capacities of these vehicles may, to use a 19th C term, annihilate our appreciation of ‘what is.’
But let’s be structural functionalists for just a moment please. These vehicles take us well past the mono-railish Sleeper cars envisioned in the 70s by Woody Allen. More importantly they provoke incredible value-adds for isolated-elders and family finances.
Mobile Independent Long-Term Care Homes (MILTCHs). This is where I figure the big driver-free investments will land. Nobody likes to see old folks tucked away in a dark institutional corner. The MILTCH will not only make travel available, it will make it relentless. And it will be successful because (a) a large cohort of highly liquid itinerants already exists and (b) the Internet of Things (IOT) will make placelessness the norm among the discognescenti.
In a 2015 Sector Report, the US International Trade Administration values the domestic RV industry at about $37.5 billion and estimates that more than 9 million households now own one. Importantly, that same report shows that “while middle-income consumers between the ages of 55 and 64 historically have had high RV ownership rates, customers between 35 and 54 are now the largest group of buyers. Although they are only one segment of the total potential MILTCH subscriber base, these folks represent a sweet-spot for what the gaming industry calls lifetime customer value or LTV: the expected contribution of a single player to a game (aka, trailing cash flow).
Now take a close look at the form factor. Today we primarily view driver-free mobility through a micro-vehicle lens. They’re cute and very small. Going forward we can fully expect the footprint to scale. Note the prototypes above compared to the driverless freight vehicle, below. This is ideal for the MILTCH because we know that even the tiniest vehicle temporarily provides a secure, comfortable, and private place to dwell. When that basic capacity is coupled with spaciousness then the social dynamic central to human existence is more or less assured.
The real game changer though is the IOT. It engages a near limitless palette of virtual tools to customize and sustain the MILTCH’s physical properties. Bitcoin-enabled payment means you can buy fuel, purchase fast-food at drive-throughs and purloin Amazon-inspired gifts for the grandchildren. Inside you and 20 socio-demographically aligned peers will enjoy 360-degree virtual reality. Are you in Arizona today or Alaska? Are you watching the Revenant or has your bunkmate just been mauled by a bear? Hey who knows? Who cares? Central heating and cooling systems will keep you feeling fresh. Should someone in your party feel anxious or morose, then not to worry: Vapes and ubiquitous SSRI aerosolization will take the sting out of being strung-along. Hygienic? You bet. Self-sealing catheterization and a national sani-dump network will facilitate a worry-free, accident-free, lifestyle. The MILTCH will take driverlessness to a new level of uninterrupted comfort.And that all adds up to autonomous vehicles emerging as a trackable, self-cleaning, mobile ecosystem that ensures Seniors wake-up to a new experience everyday, whether they know it or not.
Well, there’s Collaborative Uber Luber (CUL). Each morning after your car drops your kids at school and you and your spouse at work, it spends the rest of the day lubricating your wallet as an autonomous member of the Uber fleet. At $23.52 an hour your Bay area vehicle will generate almost $825.00 a week or more than $41,000 per year. Keen on taking transit on the weekends? Bonus. Let your car loose for deliveries or, better yet, local respite for long-haul, long-term care passengers.
My early years were dedicated to eccentric pursuits. Life was lived in peripheries: in tall grasses and cardboard boxes, on civic sidewalks, iron fence railings, rooftops and iced-over ponds. On these edges I knew no time, no place, no self. Everything was pushed aside and I went unnoticed into a secret margin that was unavailable to – or unwanted by – the adults in my life.
A single experience in a car changed all of that. One lovely Sunday afternoon my eleven-year-old self was lifted from the smooth nylon threading of a red paisley passenger cushion and I was placed in my father’s lap. That uplifting was an invitation to a master class in locomotive arts. That day I would guide our Pontiac Parisienne down Jefferson Avenue.
I was no stranger to cars. I lived in view of Detroit, the Motor City. Windsor, my hometown, called itself the Automotive Capital of Canada. I owned sticker books filled with decals of motor oils, vintage models, fuel treatments. One long summer holiday I even slept in the rear footwell of our 1954 Buick Century as we visited distant relatives and long gone households.
But on that particular Sunday, while my father gradually increased our velocity to some 50 km/hr, I approached a hither to unknown place. Truth be told not much was happening in the driver’s seat – little fingers grasped hard at the wheel; puny arms splayed wide and rigid at the elbow. Otherwise? My brain, my body, my being engaged a new force, a bespoke inertia.
It, a seamless changeless difference engine of privilege making me a sum of inherent, persistent order. Notionally an algorithmic auto motive itched. Practically the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of my neighbourhood faded behind the yellow pinstriped tarmac that centred my attention. There I was in the mainstream. I was in command and felt, for certain, completely out-of-control.