SUBJECT #03 — Sustainability
PROLOGUE: Possible futures fascinate French designer Alix Gallet. She grew up in Le Mans, famed for it’s 24-hour races. Her perspective on sustainability in the future, takes its starting point in speculations about just these mythical events.
By Alix Gallet
As a designer, I am into researching future scenarios. Most of the time, emerging technology inspires these scenarios. My latest obsession is self-driving vehicles.
Many children of the 20th century were dreaming of the sky being filled with flying vehicles.
15 years later, cars still drive around on the ground, but the fantasy of the future has changed. Cars will no longer surf the air, but will drive on their own – and the promises are huge. I am always very sceptical about technology today, especially when it comes to subjects like centralized data, super-synchronization and invisible user experience working like magic. I am not expecting services to come to me by magic, almost before I even know I need it. Thanks to algorithms.
On the contrary, I wish to create more user involvement and awareness of the user surroundings. It’s a political statement. Involvement when it comes to sustainability is a huge deal. It’s much more convenient not to care, than it is to cross the city and spend twice the money to go to the biological supermarket or to be obsessed with labels.
That’s our big challenge as designers – to design pleasant, while responsible experiences. I have to say I got a bit annoyed when I started to imagine the potential of self-driving car technology, especially when it comes to sustainability – just because it was too great to be true. Imagine that personal cars remain unused in general more than 90% of the time? We might no longer own a car but share it. In the future, the car will become a communal transportation service. Imagine if cars were generally part of the shared economy – how the amount of cars will tremendously diminish, and how much parking space will be freed? Traffic congestions will no longer exist, as traffic will be regulated automatically and the cruise will fasten because of the reliability of the computer – who drives safer than humans. This also means gas emissions will be reduced, although big trends point towards vehicles being predominantly electrical in the future, and being able to go back to charging stations on their own.
Besides the questions of sustainability, our transportation time will become more effective, we would be able to use this time for other things and tasks – now considering the cabin a living, working or even leisure space. Goods will be self-delivered, prospering commerce and multiple new services, while tremendously diminishing the amount of vehicles on the roads. No longer needing to have a license, people with the incapability of driving will now get the chance to become autonomous – our kids will be picked up at school and dropped right in front of home.
The impacts of such a technology on our society represent a big shift, and the reality of it is closer than you would think. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, predicts that these driver-less vehicles will be widely spread on our roads in a few decades, and that there might be good probability, that humans even will no longer be allowed to drive, somewhere in the future.
Google’s self-driving car prototypes already drove more than a million miles since 2009 – and last year Audi showed off their RS7 concept on the Hockenheim racing track. Each car manufacturer is releasing its own prototype and investing in high-tech services.
The news feeds are buzzing about this emerging innovation, and the evolution is constantly ongoing. The battle of which manufacturer might win this market is for sure going to be exciting – but the battle of getting consumers excited promises to be much more of a tough job. Despite the doubts about safety due to the uncertainty of technological advancements, risks of being hacked, we are facing the same ethical problems as we were, and still are, with AI development – the development of artificial intelligence. But let’s consider they’ll be fixed by the time they hit the market.
I am wondering, if it is really the future – cynical as some might consider it – how are we going to get rid of our passion for cars? Some men are so crazy about cars, they even compare their own, with their wives. Objects of desire. It’s a matter of style, technology and emotions – something, which is hard to explain, and such a strong symbol. Tell me which car you have, and I’ll tell you who you are.
I come from Le Mans, and if there is one place where car lovers have been meeting every year since 1923, it’s there. Whether they are interested in mechanics, vintage cars, automotive sports – or whatever. I love the race of Le Mans – even though I am not really fond of racing. It’s fascinating.
During one week, the city turns into a big celebration, welcoming people from all over the world. This year, 263 500 visitors came to follow its mythical 24 hour race. The race that was portrayed in movies, books, comics and songs. Many legends were born there, the suspense is always «au rendezvous».
Le Mans is also the race where technical innovation is most likely to be implemented on streetcars and is a huge marketing tool for manufacturers.
So what about self-driving technologies? If autonomous cars are supposed to be the next big thing for the market to reach, can we see them running the 24 hours any time soon? Is it so unrealistic? Implementing such technological advancement in racing can be the key to both adoption by users, as it has been for electric vehicles. Le Mans is the perfect case study. If you manage to sell a dream there, it’s a win. LET’S WONDER WHAT A RACE LIKE LE MANS WOULD BE LIKE WITHOUT PILOTS?
There are many questions to solve. How will the myths of the race change, without the pilot? What’s so fascinating about these cars racing? What kind of car-lover is likely to visit? What kind of activities and services can we imagine? Will a new racing culture emerge? Who will be the first to benefit from this race? How would we brand it?
I know the circuit by heart, have good connections and can for sure get awesome material to draw up some ideas. So I have decided to take on an immersive research, by investigation through interviews, experiences, video, photography, and cultural material to define future trends for automotive sports in order to provide a meaningful and exciting understanding of what a future with autonomous vehicles can be like for us. The users.
As I said earlier, many legends were born in Le Mans.
Alix Gallet is a French designer based in Paris. She works as a consultant and a trend forecaster while experimenting with projects about technology, politics and public space.
SUBJECT is an ongoing feature series inviting artists, designers and creative entrepreneurs to share their point of view and interpretation of a given subject. To inspire, open up horizons and start conversations – because more perspectives make a better story. SUBJECT is curated and edited by Sidsel Søgaard Spas.