What If The Future Of Transportation Is Staying Put?

I wonder if the truly disruptive innovation might be to use VR and thereby skip traveling altogether.

Cars that drive themselves and run on electricity would be a radical departure from the Status Quo, but they’re still variations on a theme, aren’t they? The basic premise of the necessity of moving people from one point to another is the same whether a human or robot does the driving. Fuel is fuel.

Virtuality could disrupt that equation altogether, by being so immersive and real that it obviated the need to meet in the flesh.

The business world would get turned on its head. Employees wouldn’t have to commute to work. Sales execs wouldn’t have to travel to meet customers. It’s already happening in fits and starts (it’s all but impossible to avoid meetings via Skype these days, for instance).

Personal transportation would get blown up, too. Why go to a party if the party could quite literally come to you? Already, people shop and consume entertainment virtually. Gamers join one another in cyberspace to kill trolls, mutants, or each other.

VR has a long way to go before it can rival the sensory experiences of reality, but it’s not inconceivable that it’ll get there. Isn’t that the sort of BFD challenge that is supposed to inspire tech startups? Yet we don’t hear about them as much as we do about tech giants like Google and Facebook, which are businesses that are far more likely to get disrupted by VR than invent or own it.

If we’re within a few years of self-driving cars, what could we expect in VR by then? Again, few people are talking about it, and least not in the context of its impact on transportation.

Using machines to physically move from one place to another is always going to be costly, as well as an activity that consumes time and resources, no matter how smartly or sustainably it’s accomplished. VR could take a huge chunk out of that market need.

Then again, even if people opt-out of traveling, there’ll always be the need to move things from one place to another (food, construction materials, medicine, etc.), right?

At least until 3D printing obviates that need, too.

So it seems to me that disrupting transportation goes deeper than changing the how of getting around, and speaks to the why. Who needs to ride physically in an ride sharing econo-can if the same thing could be accomplished via a Rolls Royce in VR (or in a chariot pulled by unicorns)?

If self-driving electric cars can’t offer experiences and satisfy needs better than those offered by VR, then people may simply opt to stay put.

[This essay was originally published at Medium]