When I started research on the concept of V2X (Vehicle-to-Everything) about three years ago, I came across the Community Analysis Bureau of Los Angeles. I wanted to find the defining moment for the start of smart cities in North America—who was the first to begin using data to improve the day-to-day lives of their occupants. This little-known bureau used computer databases, cluster analysis, and infrared aerial photography to gather data and produce reports on neighbourhood demographics and housing quality direct resources (DATA). When we think about the computing power of today, it’s amazing to think of the value of that kind of data collection several decades ago. It may seem that we all took a bite out of a spiked apple, slept for decades, and awoke in the early 2000s, but the groundwork was already laid.
In this new century, large tech giants like CISCO and IBM began to expand their product offerings outside of the office. Connectivity and the collection of data started to slowly become a standard procedure within some towns and cities. Today, cities like Stratford, Ontario, Canada, have positioned themselves to be a center for V2X connectivity, where a vehicle’s digital platform becomes both a nucleus to transforming mobility and a NEW launchpad for other innovations in and around our ecosystem. That includes vehicle-to-pedestrian, vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-grid, and vehicle-to-infrastructure technology solutions. It’s important to remember that autonomous vehicles are only as smart as the data that they’re collecting—and, I would argue further, only as smart as the data their ecosystems are collecting and feeding back.
For us to get to Level Five Autonomy (no steering wheels or pedals), we have to be collecting data from the infrastructure and sharing data between the vehicle and its infrastructure. The vehicle cannot be a silo on its own.
Nor should it. Inject that vision of a town like Stratford with the concept of a technology-based, human-centered society, driven by digital manufacturing advancements (Industry 4.0). With roots in Japan, this concept is known as Society 5.0. I tripped across this concept because of my interest in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental Social Governance (ESG). Both aim to move us towards a human-centered society, where everyone can live a sustainable life. (The last time we saw this in the Western world was before the Industrial Revolution, in an alternative called “cottage industry.”) Because over the last 400 years or so, we’ve kind of lost our way when it comes to balancing a human-centered vs. an economic innovation society.
Japan has stepped up and essentially said, we have this cyberspace we have to manage, and our worlds are become more and more connected. So we have to come up with a way to balance this out, technological advancements and human needs. That’s Society 5.0: information exists in physical space, it’s accumulated in cyberspace, where data has instant feedback. It’s instant connectivity, the idea of understanding what humans need in various situations and various forms.
This global digital utopia is envisioned to resolve social problems and finally make the truth of the age-old promise: technology will make our lives easier! We would no longer drive; instead of being driven from A to B (autonomous SAE Level 4 or 5), wearable technology. Like smart watches, they would communicate constantly with the surrounding environment as our autonomous vehicle drove us from A to B, thus making for a safer and more secure society. I have to admit, my cybersecurity senses are not buying this quite yet; we have some work to do on keeping that data safe from misuse. Advancements in artificial intelligence and the speed of connectivity place us at the cusp of this new age, but what does this mean for us … the innovator and designer types?
And let’s be real: there are other reasons to be wary as we build out a completely connected environment. That’s what Society 5.0 aims to anticipate and prevent—using the technology to improve everything from healthcare to road safety to privacy and security. We have to make sure the positive outcomes outweigh the negative risks, so that we can fully realize this concept’s potential.
Designers are ideally suited to envisioning and realizing this goal, bringing the potent combination of creativity and possibility. But we have to ensure we’re teaching the next generations in new ways, rethinking the course structure of industrial, product and transportation design degrees. The introduction of HMI UI/UX content assists but it may only scratch the surface of embedded technologies: SMART products. Human-centred design (HCD) should understand user needs, improve strategic decision-making, and be for ALL humans, basically good design!
Secondly, HCD should also be supported by a Corporate Social Responsible (CSR) standard, making sure the complete cradle-to-cradle cycle is ethically and socially accountable. Cradle-to-cradle is an update on cradle-to-grave with an eye to how we minimize the negative influence of what we create. How can we leave a positive ecological footprint for the next generation, so we’re kinder to the environment and safer for humans? Ethical design and innovative products that are themselves SMART might break the silos and sector barriers, providing more opportunities in the near future.
Designing a society 5.0 world means using tools beyond the palette we might have become accustomed to. It means having collective checks in place, rather than relying on the integrity of individual designers or individual organizations. Data, cloud services, lag-free connectivity, AI, and mixed reality are essential as the visualization software of the 2000s. Technology has opened the doors of a NEW possibility, but ethical design has the opportunity to make this about us vs. just about technology. Imagine the lives we could live and the legacy we could hand to future generations.
For the full conversation with Colin Dhillon, listen to the podcast at the top of the story