The Autonomous Vehicle Is The Innovation That Will Reshape The World More Than Any Other

In his TED talk, technology designer Bran Ferren discusses how we can build miracles that will stand the test of time the same way ancient cultures did.

Growing up in a family of artists, technology designer Bran Ferren thought that art and design and science and technology were two separate worlds. He discovered engineering by rebuilding old radios and visiting museums, but on a "life-changing" trip to Rome’s Pantheon he realized that miracles can be born through a marriage of design and technology.

At first, the young Ferren staring up at the Pantheon’s ceiling, believed it to be a modern structure—that it was too high-tech to be the original. When he learned that is was 2,000 years old, the ceiling became a symbol for game-changing design.

Ferren went on to wonder what today’s Pantheon is. He speculated that it could be the Internet, but that the Internet seemed more like a tool, like the specially designed concrete created for the Pantheon. Today’s Pantheon must be something "anchored in designed, physical objects," he said. Today’s Pantheon must harness the ideas of many, like the combined miracles that came together in the ancient structure.

The example he came up with was the autonomous vehicle, which he declared "will be the key to redesigning our [landscape]." Using GPS, mapping systems, HOV lanes, machine vision, and information sharing, this invention that has been in the works since cruise control came about in the 1930s uses these inventions in one product to revolutionize crucial elements of transportation. Not only will it change the design of the vehicle itself—a design that has been essentially the same since its beginning—but the autonomous vehicle will also remake entire cities and roadways. In addition, we will "recapture vast amounts of productivity," including saving time, cutting back on emissions, and improving safety.

"Art and design are not luxuries," Ferren announced. He urged parents to pry their children away from their smart devices, to take them out into the world to discover the incredible designs—old and new—that make up our landscape. He urged us to realize that failure and perseverance are necessary, that we must apply the tools we already have and the discoveries and inventions of others in order to build miracles.

Painting by Paul Corio.

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  • Dirk Jehmlich

    There is one additional reason why autonomous driving will change the meaning of mobility substantially. It will set free mega-years of time which is the most valuable thing in life.

    We have 24 hours a day and that’s it. But autonomous driving could save us an extra hour a day – the time people spend in traffic in China and the U.S. every single day. This is 72 billion hours a year in both countries, that could be used for creative thinking. It’s almost like a time-making machine. If a social entrepreneur finds a way for these drivers to donate 10% of their new free-time to his or her NGO, it would be the biggest NGO on earth with 3 million full-time volunteers. It would have brain capacities bigger than every corporation on that planet.