Moving Parts

A visual thought experiment about just-in-time-mobility.
1 Apr 2019
In Collaboration With
Berliner Zukunftsbüro
MAR 2019 – APR 2019
Foresight-Filmfestival 2nd Prize

You're already there – could be the claim of a mobility company presented in this thought experiment. Imagine a city built entirely on mobile platforms. The platforms predict where city dwellers want to be next and optimize their position in response — constantly moving around. When people decide to leave for their next stop, the destination platform will already wait for them a step away. That is the ideal at the crossroads of logistics and autonomous mobility. Would it be possible?

Of course not—every now and then, too many peo­ple head for the same des­ti­na­tion. There would have to be com­pro­mis­es and pri­or­i­ti­za­tions. As soon as not every­one has equal claims, soci­ety is divid­ed into the priv­i­leged and the dis­ad­van­taged. So what are the good neigh­bour­hoods in this city? What do peo­ple adorn them­selves with? How does dis­crim­i­na­tion occur? And what does one stand up for?

The Elimination of Travel Time

If you look at cur­rent con­cept stud­ies of design com­pa­nies and car man­u­fac­tur­ers, a big ques­tion of autonomous mobil­i­ty seems to be what to do with the time gained when you no longer have to steer your­self. Seats swiv­el, walls turn into screens for dis­play­ing infor­ma­tion and enter­tain­ment (Mer­cedes), or the vehi­cle trans­forms into an office, meet­ing room (Ideo) or shoe store (Toy­ota). Ide­al­ly, autonomous mobil­i­ty will allow you to do what you want any­way while on your way. Say good­bye to use­less wait­ing time.

The Logistics Template

Anoth­er field relat­ed to per­son­al mobil­i­ty is much fur­ther ahead with the abo­li­tion of wait­ing times — logis­tics. For exam­ple, Amazon's "pre­dic­tive ship­ping" patent aims to get goods as close as pos­si­ble to where they're like­ly to be ordered, so they're almost there when peo­ple actu­al­ly do order them. To be able to do that, you have to know a thing or two about what peo­ple desire, not nec­es­sar­i­ly about the deep­er ones, just what makes them click. Put that togeth­er with the urge to elim­i­nate unused trav­el time, and you get a city built on mov­ing platforms.

The Purpose of Thought Experiments

Thought exper­i­ments only con­sid­er a nar­row set of fac­tors and devel­op their pos­si­ble inter­play while neglect­ing oth­ers, even if these are extreme­ly impor­tant in real-world sit­u­a­tions. Mobile Parts does not con­sid­er the ter­rain or the out­ra­geous ener­gy demands a mobi­lized city would cre­ate. How­ev­er, this selec­tiv­i­ty is pre­cise­ly the strength of thought exper­i­ments because they allow us to work out cer­tain con­texts that tend to fall by the way­side in the real world for prac­ti­cal rea­sons or com­mon sense. This is not to say that the seeds of these con­texts are not already plant­ed in the present. We just don't allow our­selves to think far enough to rec­og­nize them. Thought exper­i­ments let us con­tem­plate pos­si­ble extreme ends of devel­op­ments. That way, it becomes pos­si­ble to rec­og­nize ear­ly sig­nals point­ing towards them.