Frederic Filloux publishes a regular newsletter called the Monday Note. It’s generally all about tech and new emerging business models. His latest post, called “Code, on wheels,” is about Tesla and the software revolution that is currently underway in the car industry. And it’s a good reminder of just how unique Tesla appears to be as a car company and how software is bound to infiltrate all aspects of our economy. Already you’re hearing people make a distinction around “pure” software companies. This is necessary because of how ubiquitous it has become.
Here is a a longish excerpt from Filloux’s article:
But the ultimate leap in value will be the creation of an application ecosystem. The limit will only be the imagination of app creators. As an example, airport operators are likely to develop apps to manage car traffic and passenger flows. Here is a use case: Your flight departing from San Jose Airport leaves in an hour. Your dual app system — one in your phone, the other in the car — checks the flight status, the gate, and the traffic. It notifies you when it’s time to leave. Once in the vicinity of the airport, the app guides you to the parking space nearest to the gate. An alternative and slightly more futuristic scenario involves you dropping your car in front of the terminal, then letting the autopilot send the car to the long-term parking lot a few miles away (this will soon become feasible as geofenced environments such as airports will be well-suited for Level 4 autonomous driving).
Again, this implies major changes in the way car software is currently handled. These scenarios require the car and the phone apps working seamlessly, exchanging data in real-time with the airlines, the airport, the navigation system of the car, the parking infrastructure, and eventually, the autopilot. We are not there yet, but by that time, the dust will have settled: either carmakers will have developed their own OS — along with the SDKs to foster the development of third-party apps — and/or, tech giants will have taken-over, leveraging their current market positions in the phone sector to impose their own norms. I always thought that Apple had that in mind when it hired legions of engineers for its Titan project and filed applications for self-driving cars to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. I doubt that they completely gave up on the idea of replicating what they achieved for the 500 billion smartphone market with the 3 trillion dollar car sector.
There are many in the planning world who are quick to dismiss autonomous electric vehicles as being more of the same. They’re still cars, right? For better or for worse, the internal combustion engine was massively transformational to cities — just as previous advances in transportation were. But what comes next is still mostly unknown because, even if you assume that autonomy is a foregone conclusion, it’s unclear how this and an app ecosystem could change how “cars” function in our cities. What will be the spatial impacts?
It is, however, clear to me that when things do start to really change, it will be because of software.