Autonomous vehicles (AVs) have massive power to disrupt because they challenge the way we think about car ownership, transportation, commerce and city planning. In a course taught by frog CEO Harry West, Executive Director Turi McKinley, and Vice President, Head of Venture Design Ethan Imboden, Columbia students learned how to use human-centered design to identify the unmet consumer needs AVs will create. Then, they developed business plans with products or services built to precisely meet these opportunities.
Student teams conducted user research, designed interfaces, created renderings and built prototypes. Some let their varied backgrounds—business, engineering, psychology and education majors among them—inform the focus of the projects. They brought shape to their AV visions using wireframes, sketches and 3D-printed models. At the end of the course, each team shared their business plan at frog’s Brooklyn studio.
Self-driving cars are often the first image of AVs that comes to mind, but student teams explored the varied ways we may soon see completely new form factors that look little like modern cars at all. By keeping quality user experiences at the core of interactions, there is no limit to AV application. A range of trends for AV-enabled businesses emerged during the shareout, each with the capacity to generate increasingly new and varied opportunities.
Whether for work, errands or recreation, driving to the store is a large part of daily car use. Instead, students imagined rolling retail units delivering inventory to customer doors at the push of a button. In cases where vehicles were small and full inventory was not an option to transport, others saw businesses built on rolling virtual demo centers. Along with being a means to pick up goods, some saw AVs as rolling storage devices, ready to deliver what you want, when you want it with the help of proprietary mobile apps.
Teams explored services that use AVs to enable job creation and satisfaction, connecting people to career positions they would not logistically be able to get to otherwise. Students explored ways AVs could provide access to those with limited mobility, such as to elderly or disabled populations. They thought beyond the actual ride in an AV to prototype products that outfitted riders with devices they could use to navigate their destination after they exit the vehicle—such as in the case of difficult terrain like beach sand.
With AVs, the ability to be on the go without keeping your eyes on the road opens the door to a lot of opportunities. One student team imagined sleep as a luxury, forecasting a need for rolling nap pods that will offer customers a little downtime wherever they may be. Other teams imagined entire living communities on wheels that takes real estate’s old fundamental rule of “location, location, location” out of the picture altogether.
Titled “Introduction to Human-Centered Design,” the course is part of an ongoing relationship between frog and Columbia, which will be taught again in fall 2017. It functions to unite students from different disciplines in a way that mirrors how businesses are looking across traditional organizational silos to encourage collaboration.