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Level 5 autonomous cars: Mobile offices of the future?

The news that companies like Tesla, Google and Apple are in a race to develop Level 5 autonomous cars is stale by now. But when Intel bought Mobileye earlier this month, it re-fueled the self-driving car hype.

The Society of Automotive Engineers defines Level 5 automation as “full-time performance by an Automated Driving System of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver.”

That means that even in the middle of a blizzard, Level 5 autonomous cars need to get people to work, said Bryan Reimer, research scientist at MIT AgeLab and associate director at New England University Transportation Center.

“Robots have to be far, far better than humans under all situations for that to happen,” Reimer said.

While Level 5 autonomous cars are a long way off, there has been accelerated progress in the autonomous space as more cars are fitted with the technologies, experts said.

As self-driving cars become the norm, they could potentially transform into mobile offices in the future, said Mike Ramsey, analyst at Gartner’s CIO research group.

It opens up a lot of productivity time for the people in the vehicle, and suppliers like Harman are working on integrating Microsoft Office 365 into its infotainment systems, he said. “If that’s enabled by an autonomous vehicle then you can work in the car, do video conferencing and other enterprise actions in the vehicle.”

Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, said the possibilities are endless.

“Is this just my individual vehicle, or if there are ten people that are driving to the same area, will our cars link up and drive to the same location and will we be able to have meetings while we are in those autonomous vehicles?”

If these “mobile offices” become the norm, CIOs would also have to think about how it’s going to improve productivity if employees are able to get more work done in their cars on the way to work, Lepofsky said.

They would also have to ensure that communication inside such vehicles is secure, he added, and there are also considerations from an HR standpoint.

“What are the expectations from employees going to be like?” Lepofsky said. “Is it too much to ask your employees to work during travel time that used to be personal? If you and I have the same job and you spend an extra hour working, then am I considered a worse employee because I want to FaceTime with my family?”

Employers and employees will need to figure out how they use this technology to make the most of their work day and still maintain a work-life balance, David Keith, assistant professor of system dynamics at MIT, said. How drivers react to vehicle autonomy is also yet to be seen, he added.

“Self-driving vehicles and autonomous technologies have emerged very quickly, but how soon we get to the more advanced level of autonomy that will change the game is hard to know,” he said.

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Thankfully we're a long long way from anything approaching Level 5 but this does raise a few concerns around what will be expected and conceivable in the future.
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