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A time when technology arrives to market obsolete
Futurist Jim Carroll describes trucking trends likely to shape disruptive years to come
Mar 17, 2017 Aaron Marsh | Fleet Owner

It’s a pretty wild concept: that technology today — including that in trucking — is being eclipsed and outdated almost as soon as it can be brought to market. But if you want to know what’s around the next corner for trucking, that’s where you need to start, says futurist Jim Carroll.

According to this future trends analyst and foreseer of sorts, if you want to get out in front of the next big change in trucking, keep in mind that when it comes to the future, you may have no idea what you should really be thinking about.

To set the stage and “bring you into my world — and that is a world of extremely fast-paced change,” Carroll referenced research on the future of careers in the U.S. that suggests about 65% of children now in preschool will have a job in a career that does not yet exist.

“Think about that: if you have a daughter, son, granddaughter, niece, nephew or whatever who’s in kindergarten or grade one, roughly seven out of 10 of them are going to work in a job or career that does not even yet exist,” Carroll told listeners. He spoke at the recent Omnitracs Outlook user conference in Phoenix.

How does something like that happen? It already did recently: he gave the example of smartphones and GPS services, which have sprung up over about the same time period. It’s resulted in geographically and directions-oriented apps and location intelligence professionals. Oh, wait a minute — “location intelligence professionals”?

“Think about that phrase, and think about what’s happening in the world of trucking and logistics,” Carroll noted. “Think about how integral all of those mapping applications have become in the world of your business.”

“That’s a career that didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago,” he continued. “Now, cast your mind into the world of trucking 10 years from now and think about the careers and jobs that might exist.”

Here’s another guiding example. If you take “any type of degree today based on science” at a college or university, Carroll contended, “things are evolving so quickly that it’s estimated that half of what we learn in the very first year of a degree program will be obsolete or revised by the time we graduate three years later.”

Those who are fast

The point is, technology changes are coming from seemingly everywhere, and change — including in trucks and their growing embedded technology like Internet connectivity or advanced safety products — is accelerating.

And that is so much the case, noted Carroll, that many kinds of technology are out-of-date almost as soon as they hit the market and you can buy them. Think about smartphones, which often see multiple models of a given phone issued in a single year.

“We live in a time of absolute, instant obsolescence.”
—Futurist Jim Carroll

That drive for the latest model has now even filtered into social standing. “The way your friends judge you today is very much based on the technology you carry around,” Carroll observed. “So in other words, if you go to a party and take out a flip phone, people will be kind of looking at you like, ‘What a loser — he’s got something from the olden days.'”

Carroll gave another example of digital cameras — actually something of a moot point, he suggested, since “this is back in the old days five years ago when people actually bought cameras and weren’t all just using their phones” — where products have about 3-6 months after they’re brought to market before they’re obsolete.

“We live in a time of absolute, instant obsolescence,” he argued, attributing that phrase to global media magnate Rupert Murdoch. Some years ago, Murdoch had pointed out that there is such change happening and at such speed, “that increasingly, the future belongs to those who are fast,” Carroll said.

Trucking: unrecognizable

Polling the audience, he asked listeners what they thought the trucking industry — its methods, its equipment, its technology — would look like in a decade. Most everyone, 86% of those who texted in, voted that they think the industry will be “barely recognizeable, or fully and completely disrupted.”

That’s a clear expectation of considerable change in trucking. “So let’s try another question: if we are in the midst of so much change,” Carroll said, “are we prepared for it?”

And on that note, he added that being prepared for the potentially disruptive/ disrupted future of trucking is to realize that change has been happening faster, particularly in these latter years, than people expected.

To illustrate how, Carroll referenced a time he’d spoken before a roomful of astronauts and astrophysicists at NASA about the future of space. Carroll’s choice of what to present on? The Jetsons. That animated TV show came out in 1962 and was meant to depict life 100 years in the future in 2062.

Except, if you watch some of those old episodes, “George [Jetson] is using Skype. He’s getting his news off the Internet,” contended Carroll. “Elroy has a drone. You can watch one episode where he’s sitting in the living room and using a controller just like we have with our drones.

Along with the Jetsons, here’s another example of the sci-fi, fictional future arriving sooner than expected: a group of scientists has prototyped this device, Carroll noted as he held it up to his head, which essentially works like the Star Trek medical tricorder set in the 23rd century.

“You can watch another episode where they’ve got an Apple Watch,” he continued. “George communicates with his boss via Facetime. Obviously, they’ve got self-driving cars, autonomous vehicles, all over the place, albeit they fly.”

“My point is this: we believed that this future would arrive in 2062, and all of a sudden, it is here much sooner than we thought,” he told the audience. “Could that be the case with our future overall?”

In terms of envisioning the future, perhaps think a little offbeat but observe the trends converging. Here’s an example. “Think about trends, and think about what has happened with drone technology,” noted Carroll. “I think a trend which is going to lead us to the world of self-driving, flying cars is we’re going to learn how to scale up our drones and sit a human in them.”

Warehouses on wheels

Carroll advised trucking professionals to think big change when they’re picturing what the industry will look like in the years to come. “Think about what’s happening here,” he said. “There are people with big, bold ideas. Think about what’s happening in the transportation space.”

What kinds of things could happen? Maybe a new type of truck or vehicle will be developed. Autonomous technology could be accelerated and advanced. New distribution models could emerge. Or maybe something else could — something entirely different that turns the trucking you know now into the trucking you knew way back when.

“We’re going to talk to our truck just as we talk to our iPhone. We’re going to have augmented reality screens in the visor. We’ll probably have robotic handlers built into the truck for loading and unloading. We’ll have payment technology built into the vehicle — not only has our cell phone become a credit card, but so has our truck.

“We’ll simply do a biometric thumbprint to complete a transaction,” Carroll painted his future trucking portrait. The only thing, though, is that those technologies, and testing of them, is happening now.

There’s also this: “Part of the changes you see happening [in trucking] is we are witnessing very significant changes in what retailers and manufacturers are doing with their supply chains,” he added. Trucks can now become something more like mobile distribution hubs, for example.

Because of the rise of online shopping and fulfillment, stores will become more like showrooms, and “we’re witnessing the end of inventory,” Carroll contended. Consumers will browse these showrooms and purchase a product, he suggested, and then a streamlined distribution system will deliver that item to the purchaser’s home — hint: trucking would have to be involved here — perhaps even within an hour.

“You are becoming warehouses on wheels, and everybody has this in their sights in terms of big, transformative thinking in your industry,” he argued. “And what is really also happening is that every single industry out there is speeding up.”

It’s a fair question. You might not think about it much, but I do.

I’ve been talking about the concept of perfect microwave popcorn since at least 1995. Heck, I wrote about it in a variety of books in the 90’s. And still, it doesn’t quite exist….

If you try to make microwave popcorn, chances are it will go like this. What if appliance manufacturers used Internet connectivity to redesign the microwave.

So here’s the latest October article from my CAMagazine column.

Maybe I have an obsession with this, but the concept does provide interesting ‘food for thought,’ if you pardon the pun.

Your appliances are getting smarter
By Jim Carroll

Perfect microwave popcorn. I thought by now we’d have mastered this but, for all its successes, the high-tech industry still has not figured out how to make perfect microwave popcorn.

The problem with making popcorn in a microwave is that every oven has a different power output, so all you can do is listen carefully to the popping pattern to figure out when it might be finished. There has to be a better way.

Back in the early 1990s, as the concept of Internet-based home automation started to appear, I figured there would one day be a perfect microwave popcorn machine. While on stage talking about the future, I would tell the story of perfect microwave popcorn — predicting that I’d have a device in my home that would read the bar code on the popcorn bag, query a database through the Internet, and figure out the exact timing for that particular microwave device.

Orville Redenbacher would partner with appliance manufacturers and come up with a really cool automated system that would provide perfect popcorn every time. Internet-linked appliances, back-end databases and a marriage of consumer food products to the Internet and technology. It seemed like a pretty simple idea.
Well, as far as I know, it hasn’t happened — yet.

But this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there were glimmers of hope. Clearly, there were two big trends on display — tech/connectivity in the car, and tech/connectivity in the home.

A lot of the news sizzle surrounds tech in the car; the tech-in-the-home field isn’t getting as much attention, because it’s just not as exciting as wheels. But there are glimpses of what is going on: Whirlpool has announced that in 2011, it will have produced one million smart-grid-compatible clothes dryers that utilize smart connectivity to become more efficient. And imagine having a dishwasher or clothes dryer that sends you a text message when the cycle is finished — that’s going to be a regular part of our lives soon, too.

Massive pervasive interactivity on a grand and unimaginable scope will soon be upon us — and the younger generation, weaned on a diet of connectivity, will begin reshaping their world in fascinating ways. Already my 16-year-old son reminds me to stop one car length behind the normal spot at a red light — because he knows I’ll be on a pressure pad that will force an automatic green turn light.

What happens to our world when everything around us plugs in? Fascinating things, including perfect microwave popcorn. Buy the intelligent microwave, bring it home, and plug it into the wall. The microwave will use the basic Internet connectivity found in your home to establish a connection.

The package of microwave popcorn you purchased includes a bar code that uniquely identifies it. When you press “cook,” the microwave will read the bar code. It will then use the Internet connectivity to send a query to a central database. There, it will ask, in effect: “For this particular model of microwave and for this particular package of popcorn, how long is the cooking time?” Receiving the answer, it will proceed to provide you with perfect popcorn — every time.

Farfetched? I don’t think so. I believe we are destined for a future in which everyday appliances and technologies will be linked to the Internet; often through the home network or a wireless Internet connection that is set to invade your home. As this occurs, devices will emerge with capabilities that are quite unimaginable today.

Perfect microwave popcorn!
March 22nd, 2011

When do you think you’ll be able to make perfect microwave popcorn?

I’d thought I’d be able to do it by about now….

For all it's successes, the hi-tech industry still has not figured out how to make perfect microwave popcorn!

The problem with making popcorn in a microwave is that every microwave has a different power output, so you can never do better than by carefully listening to the popping pattern to figure out when it might be finished.

I’ve always thought that there has to be a better way!. And so way back in the early 1990’s, as the concept of Internet-based home automation started to appear, I realized that there would one day be a perfect microwave popcorn machine!

While on stage talking about the future way back then, I would tell the story of perfect microwave popcorn on stage — predicting that I’d have a device in my home that would read the bar code on the popcorn bag, query a database through the Internet, and figure out the exact timing for that particular microwave device.

Orville Redenbacher would partner with appliance manufacturers, and come up with a really cool automated system that would provide perfect popcorn, every time! Internet-linked appliances, back-end databases, and a marriage of consumer food products to the Internet and technology. It seemed like a pretty simple idea.

Well, as far as I know, it didn’t happen — yet.

But this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, there were glimmers of hope. Clearly, there were two big trends on display – tech/connectivity in the car, and tech/connectivity in the home.

A lot of the news sizzle surrounds tech-in-the-car ; the tech-in-the-home field isn’t getting as much attention, because, well, it’s just not as exciting as wheels. For example, read this article on Samsung’s initiative with “smart appliances’ in the home. The innovation mindset is just starting to emerge….

Yet their thinking seems terribly limited. So in the interest of trying to move the future along, here’s an extract from one of my books from the 1990’s (written with an old friend, Rick Broadhead), which was called Light Bulbs to Yottabits: How to Profit By Understanding the Internet of the Future. By “IP-chip,” we were referring to the idea that most devices around us would contain one or more “Internet protocol” chips that would give the device connectivity.

“Let’s consider an IP-chip-based microwave. If you own a microwave today, you will know that there is no “exact” cooking time by particular make and model. Some microwaves take far less time to prepare foods than others, depending upon the wattage and power of the particular model used.

Microwaves are particularly tricky when it comes to popping popcorn. Buy a package of microwave popcorn, and you’ll notice that the cooking instructions tell you to carefully listen as it pops. When you hear one to two seconds between pops, you are advised that it is likely that your popcorn is ready. Of course, anyone who cooked popcorn in a microwave knows that there is a strong likelihood that they’ll burn it the first few times, until they get a sense of just how long it takes to cook in their particular microwave.

Enter the IP-chip based microwave. Buy it, bring it home, and plug it into the wall. The microwave will use the basic Internet connectivity found in your home to establish a connection to the Internet. (For example, it will link into the Internet via a wireless Internet connection in your home, via the Internet-connectivity that runs through your electrical wires, or will plug directly into your home network via an Ethernet connection.)

The package of microwave popcorn that you have purchased includes a bar-code on it that uniquely identifies it. When you press “cook,” the microwave will read the bar-code. It will then use the IP-chip to send a query through the Internet to a central database. There, it will ask a question, in effect: “For this particular model of microwave and for this particular package of popcorn, how long is the cooking time?” Receiving the answer, it will then proceed to provide you perfect popcorn — every time.

Far-fetched? We don’t think so — indeed, we believe that we are destined for a future in which the everyday appliances and technologies which surround you are soon to be linked into the Internet, often, through the home network or a wireless Internet connection that is set to invade your home! As this occurs, the devices will emerge with capabilities that are quite unimaginable today.

It is the IP-chip that leads us into the realm of the Jetson’s TV show: it involves some of the more outlandish and far fetched proclamations of where the Internet is taking us.

Yet if you think about it, such claims are probably not too out of touch with reality.”

I’m waiting, folks.

Someone has to be able to make an appliance that can make perfect microwave popcorn!

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