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Dreams of distribution: Mobility managers and ‘seamless’ autonomy

Authors: Sam Hind*, University of Siegen
Topics: Political Geography, Cyberinfrastructure, Transportation Geography
Keywords: automobility, automation, distribution, decision-making, virtuality, dreams
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In 2017 Nissan launched its Seamless Autonomous Mobility initiative, or SAM for short. Ostensibly this is a vision of an integrated future, in which automobility is nominally ‘seamless’. Central to this vision are ‘Mobility Managers’; control room operators monitoring vehicle movements from a centralized location, primed to intervene. In this, Nissan promotes an ‘in the loop’ solution to automation more prosaic than other car manufacturers, in which additional humans are added into the driving experience. In other words, a mechanical turk without gimmicks; automation without the fireworks. However, I argue here that Nissan is projecting a unique vision of automobility; not as the (actual or perceived) technological removal or denial of human involvement, but its overt redistribution as an organizational feature not a flaw. This projection is two-fold. Firstly, that Nissan is banking on infrastructural distribution, rather than algorithmic (Uber) or cartographic dependency (HERE), in order to become an, or ‘the’, indispensable global mobility platform. Then secondly, that this higher-level vision demands that Mobility Managers inhabit a similar mindset: ‘painting’ virtual lanes for remote-controlled vehicles in danger, projecting their own, codified, vision of seamless autonomy. Through the operationalization of the former projection through the latter, and in contrast to familiar, recent fantasies of automotive automation, I instead suggest that Nissan harbours ‘dreams of distribution’ which may or may not be corporate hallucinations, or indeed, be set to manifest as their own, equally problematic, collective nightmares.

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