The world is changing more rapidly than you think. How rapidly? Consider this:
1. The world's first commercially available, fully autonomous car has arrived.
2. It didn't launch in Detroit, Tokyo, Frankfurt, or Beijing. It launched in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show.
As a certain mermaid once said, it's a whole new world.
The car is called the Navia, and it's manufactured by a French company called Induct. According to the firm's website, "the shuttle carries people independently and in complete safety, thanks to its onboard lasers and sensors that enable it to avoid obstacles in its path, or to stop if it detects a pedestrian" [linkage ours].
What's more, the Navia is fully electric, and it can carry up to eight passengers. It's operated by touchscreen: passengers hop in, then use the screen to tell the Navia where they'd like to go. Then, they can sit back and watch the world go by. Or, you know, check Instagram.
There are a couple of downsides, though.
- For starters, the Navia is a low-speed vehicle, topping out at a not-so-staggering 12.5 mph.
- Also, though it comes with a pleasant canopy, the sides are open to the elements. That's great on summer days, but not so great when you're putt-putting around in the middle of a polar vortex.
- As you can see from the clip above, the Navia isn't the most stylish ride in town. It's a little like a golf cart with safety rails and a glandular problem.
- Oh, one more thing: the price. It's $250,000, or slightly more than two Audi R8s. Decisions, decisions.
Induct doesn't expect the Navia to suit the needs of most autonomous car fans. Instead, it built the Navia for "environments that need a simple, safe and environment-friendly mobility solution: pedestrianized city centers, large industrial sites, airports, theme parks, university campuses or hospital complexes."
CES AS A LAUNCHPAD
Last week, we wrote about infotainment systems and how tech companies like Apple and Google do a better job of managing those systems than automakers do (a fact that's become increasingly obvious to car companies). Many tech companies are also spearheading advances in autonomous vehicle technology.
Those systems -- navigation, safety, music, communications, and so on -- depend on software, and over time, it's likely that software will become the #1 criteria for new-car shoppers. Sure, we'll still expect our cars to zip from Point A to Point B quickly and safely, but we'll also place far more importance on how our cars entertain us along the way. Which means that in the future, one of three things will happen:
1. Auto shows will become much more like CES, or
2. Auto shows will take a backseat to tech conventions like CES, or
3. Auto shows will disappear altogether, since technology will be what matters most to consumers.
That's not so say that hardware will be completely unimportant. Even in scenario #3, there would still be automobile launches, but they'd be more like Apple's WWDC -- one-day, one-company events, rather than week-long group shows for the press and public.
At least, that's the future we envision. Feel free to share your own utopian or dystopian fantasies in the comments below.
P.S. For additional details about the Navia, check out the video below, shot several months ago as the vehicle was being tested in Luxembourg: