Can you be incrementally disruptive? 

It sounds like a contradiction but I wonder if that’s what Daimler has managed to do. They’ve certainly got great coverage in the FT today.  They’ve produced automated (not autonomous) versions of their trucks, fitted them with snow ploughs, and programmed them to keep the runways at Frankfurt airport clear this winter.

Daimler’s Mercedes Benz trucks are driverless, but not fully self-driving. They don’t have all the sensors and intelligent decision making to adapt to any road traffic situation. But they are out there now, and in this restricted but very useful case, they are:

  • Operating without drivers in the cab (so the airport, which has been spending €23M per annum on snow clearing and de-icing, doesn’t need a bunch of drivers sitting around on standby all winter).
  • Moving Daimler into services: recognising that many customers just want to get jobs done, rather than to own products.
  • Getting Daimler a reputation for high-uptime driverless solutions that are available now.
  • Learning in real-world situations.
  • Opening up a new market: 40 other airports are potential customers for just this solution—there may be many other specialist applications that they can then move into in other industries.

While Google Waymo, Tesla and the rest sink huge resources into high-profile, high-risk developments, Daimler have done all this using what they already had or could incrementally develop.

Andy’s Advice: ‘Moonshot’ projects are often shots in the dark. If you are an established company, take inspiration from Silicon Valley headlines by all means, but then ask: “What customer problem can we solve in a new way, using what we have or can develop?”