Businesses Take Control of Driverless Cars

The arrival of autonomous vehicles is ushering in a new era of business, and real estate is just one of many industries along for the ride.

It may seem too early to be factoring driverless cars into your business strategy, but the technology is coming more quickly than you might think. “It is happening very fast,” said Dagan Mishoulam, cofounder and CEO of Priva Mobility. “The debate is actually over about when autonomous cars are deployed. It’s 2018—they’re here. It’s just a question of when it comes to your market.”

Mishoulam was one of several experts addressing changing mobility trends at the Emerging Business & Technology Forum this Saturday at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Boston. Benjamin Lewis—another member of the panel and innovation manager and future of mobility expert at Liberty Mutual Insurance—agreed that real estate pros should be thinking about this technology as a potential disruptor. “This is fundamentally going to change society,” he said. “Think about how you can take that into account for your business.”

One obvious industry that will be disrupted by the move to autonomous vehicles is the automobile business, as fewer consumers feel the need to own cars themselves. “The customer doesn’t care when they touch the button on that Lyft or Uber app if it’s a Chevy coming to pick them up,” said Mishoulam. But other, less obvious impacts, such as those coming to the healthcare industry. He said car accidents are still the leading cause of death for younger people, but that could change as fewer of them get their licenses and more autonomous vehicles hit the streets.

Mishoulam is hoping to use innovations in mobility technology to disrupt one corner of the airline industry. His company, launched this July, targets business travelers making short, regional flights. Mishoulam said that with the “back-to-back pain points” of the airport, a “one-hour plane ride ends up being three or four hours… You could drive, but business people don’t drive because they want to get things done while they travel.” Priva Mobility offers a mobile office inside a light commercial van as an alternative to working on the plane. Mishoulam is already incorporating advancements in automotive connectivity in Priva vehicles, and anticipates design improvements and a significant drop in costs when autonomous vehicles become more widely available.

Forum Chair Jorge L. Guerra Jr., CRS, president and CEO of Real Estate Sales Force in Miami, was excited about how Priva could make the job of showing homes easier for agents. He said that with all the hassle of valet parking in his market, he usually ends up calling Uber to help him and his clients get around town. “When I do show in my car, it’s a hassle,” he said. He liked the idea of having more of an office environment in which to talk about listings and strategize with buyers. “It’s really about the client experience—how well can you manage their time? This way, I get to do my CMA while [others] drive.”

Chad Curry, director of NAR’s Center for REALTOR® Technology, noted that as autonomy spreads through the automotive world, the shapes and purposes of vehicles will also change. For example, delivery “cars” may be much smaller, since they don’t need to be comfortable enough for human passengers. Another example Curry gave was a “minibar that pulls up to your neighborhood in the evening” to accommodate a block party.

In the real estate industry, people are already looking at ways to repurpose parking lots into social areas, community gardens, or flex spaces. Curry noted that San Francisco-based architecture firm Gensler is advising those constructing larger buildings to cut down on parking and instead think of ways to accommodate shared and autonomous vehicle use in their design.

The discussion also got Guerra thinking about how multiple listing services could use the technology to bolster their offerings. “In my MLS, we have all these buttons” for RPR and other add-on tech tools, he said. “I’d like to see a ‘pick me up and take me there’ [button].”