1616: Diego Rodriguez

Diego Rodriguez is an @IDEO Partner, founding faculty of @Stanforddschool and @medialab Visiting Scientist. He subscribed to FoT in October 2014.

1) What change do you want to see in the world of mobility by the end of 2016?

2016: Let’s Fork the Car!

We’re still designing automobiles that even Gottlieb Daimler would find familiar. But self-driving cars present a fork in the road, and we need to take it. So I hereby declare 2016 as the Year of Forking the Car.

Whence the fork? Chris Bangle usefully distinguishes between “cars” — emotionally evocative machines such as the Jaguar E-Type — and utilitarian transportation with a minimum of fuss, “auto-mobiles” such as a mainstream sedan. Building on that, let’s explore the four quadrants created when we overlay design point-of-view with driving autonomy.

As a thought experiment, it’s a fun one:

Credit: Piper Loyd

One: Human + Utilitarian

  • post-fork opportunity: None. Auto-mobiles in this category will cease to exist as human drivers become uneconomical for routine activities.
  • examples: present-day taxis, UPS trucks

Two: Autonomous + Utilitarian

  • post-fork opportunity: Big efficiency gains for the likes of UPS and Uber. A better commuter experience; passenger auto-mobile pods become akin to public transportation, with shared ownership.
  • examples: Cody the Mule, Google car prototypes

Three: Autonomous + Emotional

  • post-fork opportunity: The $100,000,000,000 question: what exactly is a car that’s as fabulous as a Mandarin Oriental lobby but willing to drive us anywhere we want? Massive innovation opportunities here — we can’t yet imagine what these cars will be.
  • examples: None extant today, though the Porsche Mission E provides a small glimpse of the future.

Four: Human + Emotional

  • post-fork opportunity: IC-engined cars as the new Patek Philippe watch. The recent runup in prices for vintage Porsche is evidence that non-autonomous cars with manual transmissions are already being priced in anticipation of this scenario. Here cars really will be like horses, a pastime of enthusiasts, with dedicated spaces to run. Might regulations evolve to exempt future Quadrant 4 designs from mainstream crash tests and insurance guidelines? Could be.
  • examples: a Ferrari 250 GT SWB, the Goodwood Revival

So the future of automotive mobility is a fork with three distinct prongs — Quadrants 2, 3, and 4 — each a distinct market for the future of transportation.

Today’s automakers still market a dream that smells like Quadrant 4, but that reality will radically contract. They could, however, take their marketing and design savvy to create emotionally rich experiences for Quadrant 3. This isn’t to say that Quadrant 4 won’t be a lucrative place to do business, but it may the sole hunting grounds of marques like Ferrari, whose bonafides were established in the heroic age of car racing.

There’s enormous value to be claimed by new entrants into this forked mobility market. If Quadrant 3 is about the experience you have riding in your car (as opposed to driving it), brands such as Virgin and Disney have a right to play. It may be easier for a customer experience-focused brand like Apple to be successful here than to take a car company and make it think as a service or software creator would. And with its emphasis on efficiency through comprehensive data, Quadrant 2 is natural place for Amazon and Alibaba to roam.

With change comes great opportunity. It’s high time to fork the car, and to start creating an exciting new set of transportation futures.

2) If you had to drop everything right now and build something that had the greatest impact on mobility, what would it be?

To: Internal Combustion Engine Automakers

From: Diego

Subject: Your Credibility in 2016 and Beyond

Hello Everyone,

September 2015 will go down as the year when even gearheads lost faith in your industry. Whether or not you saw it as a future platform, #DieselGate’s fallout doesn’t just imperil the market viability of diesel, but that of gasoline-powered internal combustion motors as well.

It’s a matter of your reputation and our trust, and that trust has been violated.

Now is your moment to go ride the high country. To do what’s noble and high-minded, no matter how difficult. To do what’s right.

Here’s how: publish all of your emissions-related computer code to the public domain. Make it available for anyone in the world to poke, prod, and put through the wringer.

Upload it to GitHub. Because this about transparency and (re)building trust, don’t allow lawyers to saddle your code with an obfuscating, bazillion-page software agreement. Instead, use a Creative Commons license that we can all understand and trust.

Worried about IP theft or public embarrassment? Those who desire your code for nefarious purposes have probably already hacked you (or will). And as for flaws, we citizens will help identify opportunities to improve your code. As Eric Raymond once said, “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”. By the way, a commissioner of the US Federal Trade Commission agrees with me on that last point.

No need to publish all of your code yet. Begin with the stuff that could lead to another #DieselGate, and let’s start rebuilding the trust.


Yours in Mobility,


Diego Rodriguez Bio
Diego’s automotive whuffie peaked in 2009 with a ride as Michael Schumacher’s ballast in the final round of Race of Champions Beijing. He builds new ventures for a living and writes a blog called metacool. He is a partner at IDEO, a Visiting Scientist at the MIT Media Lab, and was a founding faculty member of the Stanford d.school.

1616 is a compendium of ideas from 16 FoT subscribers about our near-term mobility future. You can read all 16 entries here; you can sign up for FoT here.