Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Park To The Future

Note: This is the third and final article in a special daily series being published this week on the topic of automotive innovation.

In my previous two articles (How Your Car Might Re-Invent More Than Just The Auto Industry, A Car of Tomorrow, Driven Through TRIZ), I outlined conditions under which systemic change occurs. Evolutionary constraints define opportunities for radical innovation that leads to shifts in industry - in some cases creating new industries. The automotive industry finds itself awash in evolutionary constraints, not just with its products, but with its customers and the environments in which their products exist. I presented some thoughts using influences of an innovation methodology known as TRIZ, and left you with a parting thought, which on the surface, probably sounded insane:

"An auto industry of tomorrow will need to build new cars that people will want to buy, not because they will have to drive their cars, but because they will want to park them."

In my final article in this special series, I want to expand on some innovations for this most unusual car of tomorrow I’ve proposed, and give away some ideas to any entrepreneur who has the vision, tolerance for risk, and business savvy to take these ideas and run with (or from) them.

Unlike the Norman Bel Geddes vision of the world of tomorrow, any utilitarianism suggested here is goaled to benefit the individual (who hopefully has just a hint of an entrepreneurial spirit). Done right, the potential for societal benefits are significant.

One assumption that I will make, looking out into the future of the next 1-5 years is this: People (at least in the United States) will still work at jobs that are primarily located away from their homes, and a majority of them will require vehicular transportation to get to their jobs or to public commuting options.

This means that for large pockets of the population, there will be predictable occurrences of large numbers of cars (existing and new) that park at work, park at shopping centers, and part at their homes. So why not develop innovations for the cars of today and tomorrow that leverage this predictable occurrence? Setting aside for the moment the entrepreneurial risk required to productize such innovations, I challenge automakers and anyone else who needs to innovate for a living to imagine just a few possible benefits of intentionally parked cars:
  • Many parking lots will be in range of commercial and metropolitan high-speed wireless networks. Create and enable car-friendly mobile computing platforms (similar to a BlackBerry or iPhone) that can be accessed by an owner with nothing more a web browser on their desktop for any one of a number of purposes (selling computing cycles to computing clusters, downloading movies, music, news or other digital content for later use, to name just a few examples). By creating a mobile platform that can exist outside of the workplace, not only can more digital products and services be delivered, and on a timelier basis, but countless hours of covertly wasted productivity in commercial IT networks and desktop platforms can be saved.

  • In several, large parts of the United States, cars are parked in parking lots that are subjected to extreme periods of heat, cold, and sunlight. In the case of long-exposure to sunlight, innovate high-efficiency solar charging systems that are integrated into sky-facing panels of a car with standardized, easy access ports in the car’s interior for recharging low-duty power systems such as simple batteries or common electronics.

  • In the case of long-exposure to sub-freezing cold, create compact materials that can act as efficient and useful thermal masses (heat sinks). Imagine bringing a small supply of cold-packs that will be frozen by the end of the work day (or overnight if you don’t park your car in a garage). Even in the coldest of cities, people use electricity to operate refrigerators and freezers. I challenge automakers to collaborate with the kitchen appliance industry to create new cold pack technology (new materials and efficient form factors) that are designed explicitly to lessen electrical loading by optimizing refrigeration duty cycles. (A person comes home from work, sticks their cold-cells in the refrigerator, and a few days later, takes the cold-cells back to work be “recharged” in the parking lot.) What would the savings to a person’s electrical bill be? Perhaps $5 or $10 a month? What would that mean across 1,000,000 refrigerators in daily operation? What impact would that have on the environment?

  • Parking lots full of car trunks represent hundreds or thousands of mobile lockers per lot. Create services that can leverage this resource to the benefit of individuals, commerce, and the environment. Innovate a securable, shared locking mechanism and trust model that enables a car’s owner to grant one-time access to a service provider at a pre-determined point in time. Imagine driving to work with a bag of newspapers or a bin of cans to recycle one morning. A recycle service, with a map of all cars that have brought materials for recycling that day to the parking lot can show up, remove just the recyclable materials from all cars that have registered their pickup request, and as appropriate, charge or credit the owner, depending on the business model. Think of a similar service scenario, but in reverse, for delivery of safe goods along a driver’s home commute. A driver registers with a major shipping service that their trunk is available for hire to take and drop off a secured, safe-package to a house along their home-bound commute. The shipper has a map that matches all deliveries on a given day, with all the secure trunks that match driver and route availability. Then the shipper makes one trip with many packages to the one parking lot. Packages are distributed to the appropriate cars, and the packages are delivered the same day by individuals who are already making the same trip home that they would have been making regardless of the extra stop. Imagine how much gasoline, ethanol, hydrogen, and entropy can be saved by leveraging simple efficiencies in large, predictable populations. I believe there are many business models that could recover startup costs and profitably leverage a predictable parking lot.

These are but a handful of ideas, I can think of dozens more. My point in doing so, and giving them away, is to set a small example. Sure, I’d love to know that any of these ideas was the spark that was used by a young (or older) risk-taker who went forth and transformed how we view and use the modern automobile. (Author’s note: In case of future windfalls or transformational profits derived from anything you’ve read in my articles, it’s ok to send me a small, landscape-profiled thank-you note which starts with the words “Payable To”.) However, it is far more important that you realize that innovation, at anytime, is a worthy investment, and in a recessionary or even a depressed economy, is essential.

Whether or not you’re an auto executive from Detroit, take the ideas I’ve given you, and do something, with or because of them. Think beyond your current business model, and your industry. Move beyond how things used to be, because the only guarantee I can give you about tomorrow, is that the world will change. Learn how to recognize the need for systemic change, and learn the tools, methods, and skills to be the agents of change. Don’t become the victims of resisting it.

If you succeed, and if my articles of the last few days play any part in your success, then my reward will be beyond measure. For you see, whatever systemic benefits you bring to the world as a result, my goddaughter and her generation will inherit them.


joshua said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Jim Belfiore said...

Thanks, Sharon! I really appreciate the kind words.