My mind is oppressed by my senses as my heart threatens to burst from my chest. I cough twice and take a long breath in a desperate attempt to supress the fear. Why is the POD behaving like this? I look outside to divert my attention. The sight I see is extraordinary.
Row upon row of PODs lined up systematically, like large rowing boats. Oxford on one side, Cambridge on the other. Each POD equidistant from the next; how can this perfect moment of synergy be an error? And as the image sinks in, clarity is restored within me. Our situation matches a speech made at the MCAV event, 8 years ago to the day. As if reading my thoughts, the quotation is announced over the POD’s tannoy:
“In the event of an emergency, the PODs will be swept aside. Emergency PODs will be granted the freedom of the road to arrive at the scene, and deal with the situation. Once the area is clear, PODs will move back on to the road and normal service will be resumed.”
The ambulance passes us on its return route, and we are back on the roads travelling to our meeting. Millions of lives have been saved by our emergency PODs; the system is incredibly efficient. Money saved on court costs (dealing with traffic offenders), NHS costs (from roadside accidents), and police costs (from pre-revolution speeding drivers) has given our government the financial freedom to prioritise resources by speeding up the emergency services and invest in the technology needed to make our PODs even more efficient.
Eric’s mind is elsewhere. “Contact the NHS and tell them we will be late” he demands. As I phone them, our hosts are already aware of our travel situation. A message has been sent via the MCAV POD App, informing them of the incident, and advising them that our POD is speeding up to try to hit our requested arrival time.
The incredible technology we now use enables us to give the POD a requested arrival time when it is booked. Giving the reason as ‘business meeting,’ the POD communicates with the others, to try and get us to our destination by the time we have requested. As all PODs are connected, they make it easy for each other to overtake. During the journey, our hosts can track our progress via the app.
“No need Eric” I explain. “They are using the app and have been made aware of our situation.” Eric has never really got to grips with the POD technology; it took him over a year to even enter one! As a traditionalist, the driverless revolution shook his outlook on life and he immediately distrusted the concept of being driven by a computer-controlled vehicle. Delegating power to a human (let alone a computer!) has always been problematic for Eric! That said, his entrepreneurial flare and commercial-minded thinking has driven our company forwards in the Nurse Call market. Describing autonomous vehicles to him in business terms eventually sunk in:
“Our packages will be collected on time every day, meaning happier customers. Transport costs – both outgoing and incoming – will be reduced by over £5000 per year, and deliveries will arrive quicker. All of our staff will walk in, prepped for the day: aided by technology installed in the PODs they travel to work in…” and so on, and so on, until a 5-minute explanation became 15! It was only last year, when driverless vehicles completely replaced manual cars, that he finally relented. What option did he have?
Travelling back to the office, Eric was the happiest I’d ever seen him. Having been awarded a new 5-year contract with the NHS, Eric praised my presentation for sealing the deal – though he naturally needed to take some of the credit: “Of course, the amendments we made on the way made it succeed.”
“Yes Eric, of course” (sometimes Eric needs to be humoured!) “But if we were still travelling in manual cars, we could never have altered the presentation. I think we should be thanking the driverless car industry too?” If I wasn’t going to get full credit, I wanted to help him realise how far our technology has come in the last few years…
“Well maybe that is so. Let’s go for lunch to celebrate our new deal.” He’s not all bad…
Leaving work, I climb aboard a POD and am driven to my local gym. The day’s success has energised me: I complete my work-out quickly and enjoyably. After booking a POD to collect and take me to the city centre, I shower and change.
Leaving the gym, I am blessed by an early summer’s evening. A combination of the sun shining and the gentle breeze dries my body more, as I relax in my glorious surroundings. POD’s everywhere are driving commuters to and from the gym, but there is not a hint of a car fume in the air. Our society and our planet appear happy and peaceful, living together in harmony.
A glorious day turned into a glorious evening in the company of my girlfriend Rose, Emma (Rose’s sister) and Emma’s husband, Rich. A delicious three-course meal was perfectly complemented by a bottle of the restaurant’s most expensive champagne (ordered by Eric’s wife, from a remote location). Toasting my new promotion (Eric is full of surprises!) we drank freely, comforted by the knowledge that no-one needs to drive home. As tomorrow is Saturday, we let ourselves go – immersing ourselves in the culture of our unique society. And as a POD drove past the window, I reflected on how powerful the driverless revolution had been.
By Neil Phipps
Photo by Automotive Rhythms