A photograph of the panel at the Yolk Transport event taking questions from the audience.

What do you do when you want to experience an event that tackles the disruption facing businesses today, but you simply can’t find one? The answer is to create your own, which is what we’ve done with our Yolk series. For our inaugural event overlooking the Swan River, we invited the transport industry’s key thinkers, innovators and decision makers for an open discussion on the current issues and developments in their field. We bit into some big questions (alongside the bagels); what follows is a sample of the topics we chewed on.

Intelligent transport is en route

Hailing a driverless taxi from an app, commuting to work via the airways and calling your autonomous car to come and pick you up: it’s not technology fiction, it’s tech fact, and it’s not as far away as you might think. Intelligent transport is on its way to Australian roads, but are businesses, government bodies and consumers ready for the massive changes its arrival will bring?

The advent of autonomous vehicles comes with a huge safety benefit - hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved if the idea of ‘human error’ is taken off the roads - as well as an increase in productivity, with driverless cars giving people their commute time back. But major global innovators are looking beyond the day-to-day towards truly massive disruption of the transport industry by taking on car ownership itself. Many see car ownership in the future as a luxury, with getting around as simple as hopping into a driverless vehicle that picks you up wherever you are, and consumers paying for mobility as a service. In fact, businesses that were traditionally motoring brands are transforming into mobility purveyors - envisaging selling their vehicles as a product to deliver a service, rather than just as a car.

The sky’s the limit

The developments don’t end on the road: there are a number of companies testing drone delivery, but the next exciting chapter is the idea of using drones to ‘deliver’ people, easing congestion in cities by using the air as a means of getting around. The proposed hybrid drones combine features of a helicopter and a plane, and their challenge is to overcome the noise problem that makes helicopters an infeasible method of transport in densely populated areas.

A photograph of the audience at the Yolk Transport Event submitting questions to the panel via paper airplanes.

Technology isn’t the only roadblock

There are, however, hundreds of government regulations to overcome or update before this type of transport is a reality - for example, the regulation stating a driver must have two hands on the steering wheel at all times is somewhat of a challenge if the car doesn’t have a steering wheel.

And while businesses and infrastructure models may well be adjusting for the inevitable advent of intelligent transport, the question remains if the public ready for it. Recent surveys have shown conflicted public opinion on the topic of safety in driverless vehicles, particularly in relation to the ethical quandary of what to do when a crash is inevitable. If you aren’t sure where the conflict lies (or just want to engage in some rather confronting navel-gazing), just take MIT’s Moral Machines simulator for a spin.

Autonomous public transport has gotten largely positive reviews from passengers in trials around the world - in part due to the comfort provided by a human ‘operator’ who is riding in the vehicle and able to take over driving at any point. So even after the technology is in place, it might be some time before we see buses and trains operating totally unmanned—not dissimilar to the attendants that continued to ‘operate’ lifts for decades after they became automated some 100 years ago.

Where to from here?

Ongoing and imminent disruption in the transport industry means organisations are having to change the way they work at lightning speed. Big businesses are looking at the ways they can replicate start-up practices, becoming more lean and nimble, and empowering their employees and developers to work in this way with innovation capability programs and education in design thinking and human-centred design. Fundamentally though, these traditional transport businesses need to find new, innovative ways to provide new value for their customers, because these changes are coming, whether we’re ready for them or not.

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