When I arrived in Seoul two years ago, I saw a successful trial of autonomous cars driving through the streets on a 5G network. Seeing what could be achieved by two-way data sharing between devices and a network changed how I viewed everything.
Since then, I’ve connected everything in my life to 5G. By using devices for all the stuff I don’t want to do, life has become so much less stressful. But I’ve never thought about using the cars I saw on the streets that day. That’s down to my love of cycling. I wouldn’t give that up for anything.
Cars are computers
Five years ago, Elon Musk said: "We really designed the Model S to be a very sophisticated computer on wheels [...]". Five years on, this approach is behind a paradigm shift in the automotive industry.
The push towards computers has overhauled the car industry, forcing automakers to reinvent themselves. Their recruitment is increasingly about finding software developers and their value increasingly in their semiconductors. Indeed, last month, McKinsey wrote an article on the impact of semiconductor shortages on the automotive industry.
For me, the more interesting shift in cars is in how we share them.
My car is your car
The only reason I own a bicycle is I can’t find a good bicycle to hire. That will change one day, but for cars, the change has already happened. Uber, Didi, Tada or Kakao have made car-sharing widespread. The next step is sharing cars that don't have human drivers and finding a way for those cars to move around safely and sustainably.
Just as subways in top-tier cities now operate close to autonomously, it's easy to imagine two years from now electric cars driving autonomously all around Seoul.
What would it look like?
In short, a world where transportation is as much about the telecom networks as the car.
Korean telecom operator, LGU, has grasped this point, recently making 100 billion Won investment into Kakao Mobility. The investment is to build the necessary infrastructure for a driverless, automated taxi system throughout South Korea. Interestingly, LG Energy Solutions has also made a move into 'BaaS' ('Battery as a Service'). If you use an electric vehicle, then BaaS means that instead of buying a battery pack with the car, you would subscribe to a battery subscription plan.
These initiatives are likely to result in a world where fewer people own cars and more just hire them. It's hard to know exactly when and how this change will happen at scale, but Korea is undoubtedly on a path toward driverless cars as a service.
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