It's a Tuesday morning in 2025, and you're running late, but your car—self-driving, naturally—senses you coming and gets ready to pick you up. Once you're inside, it syncs with your mobile devices, calculates the least congested route, and finds someone else heading in the same direction, so your cars can link up to save space on the road. As the car drives, you catch up on email.
This vision of the not-so-distant future comes from Ideo, who look at three ways that mobility will soon change on a new website. Self-driving cars, which are coming in the next few years, will be common in a decade or two. They'll be followed, Ideo predicts, by autonomous delivery vehicles and mobile offices that drive around to make use of vacant city space.
"We want to provoke a conversation about the future of mobility," says Danny Stillion, partner at Ideo. "I've always been passionate about the kinds of things that visual futurists like Syd Mead put out into the world, where it's very provocative. You either subscribe to it, dismiss it, or you get excited about the future and say, 'Oh, I'd love to commute to work that way.'"
The "Automobility" website details each benefit of the future vehicles, like the fact that autonomous cars will be able to make better use of space. "We're only using about 4% of the roadway surface during peak commute times," Stillion says. "So what we visualized is a way for basically making tailgating the norm. With sensors and today's adaptive cruise control, you can close to a distance where you're right behind someone else, so you're both driving more efficiently."
Driving will also be more fun. On the way home, carpooling with friends, your seats can swivel to face each other for an impromptu happy hour. "It opens up ideas about what the communal experience is in a vehicle, versus a single person in a car," says Stillion. "We're definitely thinking about vehicles as a much more social space, where you could have face to face conversation and socialize in a much richer way while you're in transit."
Autonomous delivery trucks will also make life easier. The trucks would come on demand, so if you need a dress or lunch delivered, you could get it almost instantly. A robot in the back would sort and resort packages as the route changes throughout the day. The truck would serve as a drop-off spot for packages when it's parked. By optimizing routes and delivering during off-peak hours, the trucks could reduce traffic and help save over $100 billion in gas costs in the U.S.
In their "inverse commute" scenario, the designers predict that more companies will start using mobile offices that can make use of parking spaces or other temporarily vacant space in crowded cities. When baseball season is over, a stadium lot might turn into a home for startups. Mobile offices might perch on piers or in parks to give employees a better view. At the end of the day, the office would head back to a garage to recharge.
Ultimately, the team at Ideo hopes to inspire cities to start planning ahead for new types of mobility, and car manufacturers to keep moving beyond traditional cars. "We want to visualize a future we're excited about," says Stillion. "We can start partnering together to solve some of the big systemic challenges we have."