Imagine a world 10 years from now. It’s late on a Thursday evening in 2029, and Trina, the leading salesperson at a pharmaceutical company, has wrapped up a deal with a customer after four days of intense legal negotiations. In years gone by, she would have returned to her business hotel on the outskirts of town before tackling the four-hour drive back home the following morning. She would have missed seeing her children before school on Friday and would need to arrange for someone else to take them to school.
For businesses, perhaps the most significant changes will be in how we can use and manage travel time more effectively – and as a society, we’ll need to consider how such changes fit with a desirable vision for a good work/life balance.
However, on this occasion, Trina has another option. To keep up with industry best practice of the late 2020s, her employer has specified that all salespeople who drive for work should use cars that are capable of what the Society of Automotive Engineers calls ‘Level 4 automation’ – vehicles that can drive in a fully automated mode under certain conditions. In the period 2027–2029, global collision statistics for such vehicles showed conclusively that suitably equipped vehicles were 62% less likely to be involved in a crash than non-equipped vehicles. By 2029, vehicle manufacturers were able to support automated driving on all of the UK’s strategic road network. Although Level 4 capable vehicles are considerably more expensive than lesser models, the economic case around safety, business risk and productivity was overwhelming for Trina’s employer.
As a result, once Trina has completed the five-minute drive to the highway, the vehicle can manage the rest of the journey in a fully automated mode until Trina is required to resume control for the final few miles back to her home. If anything unexpected happens, the automation systems can bring the vehicle to a safe stop. In the meantime, Trina can tilt the seat back and sleep in comfort while the car completes the trip using the most efficient route – and she can wake up refreshed in time to see her family in the morning.
This may sound fanciful but in September 2018, Volvo debuted a concept vehicle that would work along the lines described above. The Volvo 360c was promoted as a car that could potentially compete with short-haul flights, offering its passengers the opportunity to sleep in the car while it racked up hundreds of miles overnight. This concept offers insights into the potentially transformational impact of vehicle automation in the years ahead. However, the changes might not all be perceived as positive by travelling workers…
Back in 2029… It’s now Friday morning and, having taken the children to school, Trina is making the two-hour drive up to the head office to report on her successful deal. Once again, the car can complete the majority of the trip with Trina as a passenger, sat in comfort and with 5G connectivity. Where driving used to be a sanctuary away from the pressures of work, now there is no escape. This is the flipside of vehicle automation for travelling workers: while the car grinds out the highway miles, Trina grinds out the emails.
Realistically, the technologies to achieve Level 4 automated journeys are many years away. When such vehicles arrive, it is anticipated that they will bring substantial safety and efficiency benefits. However, for businesses, perhaps the most significant changes will be in how we can use and manage travel time more effectively – and as a society, we’ll need to consider how such changes fit with a desirable vision for a good work/life balance.