When we think of autonomous vehicles, we usually think about fast, cheap personal transport. But Volkswagen wants the self-driving revolution to make shops and services just as mobile as it makes people, and has presented some mockups of how that might work at a retail and services trade show in Hannover.
VW calls these self-sufficient pop-up shops "Pods," and envisages them silently arriving and setting themselves up wherever they're needed. Based on a common electric driving and autonomy platform, they're about bringing services to places of demand, and you can easily imagine them taking the place of the lunch trucks that visit work sites all over town. Not to mention, taking the jobs of the friendly lunch truck drivers, but we hardly need to labor that point.
Volkswagen has taken a group of Pod concepts to present at the Hannover Trade Fair. These wooden mockups are deliberately vague in their appearance – "exactly what these Pods will really look like later is of secondary importance at this point," says VW. And that's certainly true, they can look like whatever you want once the tech is ready.
Thus, the demo here is really about stimulating the imagination around this mobile retail service – so let's take a look at what the company has come up with. Firstly, a mobile Health Care Pod that gives patients a two-way video call with a doctor in some other location, complete with a "diagnostic chair and monitor" and the ability to collect data from smartwatches and diabetes chips, and facilities for robotic blood tests. This one feels a long way off, but it could potentially save chronic illness sufferers a few trips to the doctor's office for regular prescription checkups.
Secondly there's a Retail Pod – in this case, one that laser-scans your body and presents a bunch of options for tailor-made clothing that's made and delivered at a later date. Very much pie in the sky.
The two most convincing concepts are the Barista Bar Pod, a mobile automated cafe complete with Wi-Fi for customers, and the Energy Pod, which bowls up to concerts, festivals and other large public gatherings and offers mobile device charging.
It's interesting to think about what other kinds of services might fit this kind of model, and which might end up taking advantage of self-drivers in other ways. A mobile car battery replacement service, for example, might sound like a good idea, rolling out to you with a selection of batteries charged up and ready to go. But it's probably easier and cheaper to have a service that stores a bigger range in a big ol' warehouse, and pops the right battery in a JohnnyCab to send it out to you.
Ice cream vans, on the other hand, would appear to be a good candidate for robotic transformation as customers are already trained to a degree to think of them as mobile services. What other businesses do you see as potential mobile autonomous services in the future? Let us know in the comments below.
Source: Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles
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