Monday, August 10, 2015

Predicting businesses that use driverless cars

In my post of July 18 - Factor magazine website - I wrote about a website that has many useful articles relating to different topics of engineering. The articles are long enough for useful language work, but not so long that they're difficult for students. They are written in a range of registers, which can be useful for raising students' awareness of the range of formality in English.

In that post I mentioned that I would be using articles from that website and sharing my ideas with readers of this blog. An article I chose recently is on the topic of driverless cars - a topic that my engineering students are interested in, regardless of their specific engineering field.

The article is: Drive in style: The self-driving car-based businesses of the future. The article predicts 5 businesses that could emerge due to an increase in use of driverless cars.


Students could first be given the introduction to the article, which gives support for the idea that such businesses are likely to develop. Then, in groups, they could brainstorm ideas of which businesses they predict.

Alternatively, the students could be shown the 5 visuals accompanying each idea in the article and try to think of the type of business it is illustrating.

The five businesses predicted are:
  1. Personalized driverless city tours
  2. Self-driving cannabis dispensary
  3. Driverless commuter gym
  4. Autonomous on-the-go office
  5. Travelling movie theater
If students hadn't thought of any of these ideas, they could discuss their opinion of them. Do these seem likely? How successful do students think they would be? What impact do students think these businesses will have on the economy, on society, on our future lifestyle? Do these ideas promote further ideas of the students?

In addition to using the article as a topic for discussion, there are many interesting language features in this article for students to be aware of.

There are many idioms and expressions used in the article that are common in English:
  • (to) scratch the surface of
  • the possibilities are endless
  • (businesses) are going to spring up
  • tailored to specific needs
  • too good to miss
  • (businesses could) crop up
  • (to) hit the road
  • traipsing after
  • (to) leave a lot to be desired
  • cropping up
  • (to) head to work
  • (to be) behind the wheel
  • (if the idea) took off
  • (to) fuel a rise in
  • (to be) rolled out
There are also a number of more informal words, in addition to the informal expressions among the choices above. These can be contrasted with some of the standard-to-formal vocabulary in the article:
  • a stoner
  • comfy
  • a 'woah, dude' location
  • to spark up
  • lugging (something around)
While discussing the topic, students can be made aware of the useful topic-related and business-related vocabulary (which they can use in their discussion):
  • to disrupt a business
  • new businesses are going to spring up to take advantage of
  • tailored to specific needs
  • businesses that could crop up
  • driverless cars
  • autonomous vehicles
  • driverless vehicles
  • a heads-up display style interface
  • augmented reality
  • a vending machine
  • the cost of owning ... is likely to be too high for the majority
  • companies partnering with
  • a major part of their jobs
  • the autonomous office
  • a networked office
  • owned by companies for their own workforce's use
  • the staple working environment
  • location managers
  • salespeople
  • regional managers
  • a relative decline
  • the advent of
  • to try and counter (something)
Finally, there are useful preposition collocations (including many listed above):
  • set to disrupt
  • to take advantage of
  • tailored to
  • select from
  • interested in
  • complete with
  • description of
  • attractions around
  • built into
  • information about
  • information on
  • the emergence of
  • an array of
  • cost of owning
  • partnering with
  • equipped with
  • to be owned by
  • available in (sizes, colors)
  • to take off (phrasal verb)
  • to fuel a rise in
  • to be rolled out
I plan to use a number of articles on various aspects of autonomous cars (ethics issues, problems getting the general public to accept them, business and insurance issues, etc.). Therefore, by focusing on specific topic-related vocabulary, I will help my students reuse what they learn. This will, in turn, make it easier for them to eventually use this information in a written assignment or presentation.

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