2014
04.04

About two years ago I sat down with an engineer at Ford and he just wowed me. The reason, he was telling me about all these pretty awesome predictive solutions Ford was working on for the not so distant future that would be available in our car. More importantly, he was explaining what he called “the predictive” nature of our car. He wasn’t talking about my car tweeting to me or letting me know one of Susie’s Facebook friends was “unfriended” by Tommy as this was being sent to me via my in-car infotainment system. Rather, he was really sharing what I envisioned to be a truly connected car.

It’s taken me several editorials and many blogs to figure out where I believe the automakers might have gone astray with all this driver-distraction discussion. For years, OEM (original-equipment manufacturer) engineers would spend hours with me proudly sharing their views of the projects they were cooking up on for their companies. They would eagerly paint a picture of the future. After all they were the masterminds behind the high-tech safety features taking full advantage of radar, sensing, and even GPS (global-position system) solutions. With their engineering know-how they saw a world where automobile intelligence would talk to each other, sense surroundings, and report back to the transportation infrastructure almost entirely eliminating accidents, unless you intended to cause one.

This new car world would interpret traffic signals and road signs, all simply by using Wi-Fi and GPS. They will send out signals indicating their exact location and destination while essentially forming a train moving at the same speed and direction with all the other vehicles on the road. Via processing-related algorithms connected to the network car, communicate, and in time they would be alerted to hazards on the road and have the ability to take preventative actions for safety and accident avoidance, such as warning drivers of road hazards, upcoming heavy and/or stopped traffic, or even an icy road. Traffic lights and signs and other in-road infrastructure with heads-up displays would tell motorists of difficult road conditions and help you to maneuver through low-visibility conditions. All of this would be connected to the Internet with almost blazing speeds thanks to 4G/LTE, which handles a host of apps and devices within the vehicle.

But then somewhere along the way, something went awry. What was once about driver safety, which had always been a top priority for the engineer who had been sitting at the driver’s seat all along, was taken over by none other than marketers and bean counters who saw dollar signs driven by connected services. These folks recognized data meant services and services meant they could “cash-in” on consumers. Consumers would never be the wiser because they would be getting all this entertainment/infotainment option in the cabin of vehicle and they would be very pleased. What these wizards of Wallstreet failed to recognize is all of this infotainment was just compounding the already bigger problem of driver distraction. What’s more, automakers were influenced by the carriers, rather than letting the engineers sit behind the wheel. Had the automakers remained steadfast they might have realized by adding more infotainment into the dashboard they were driving head-on right into traffic.

Some of the carriers stand to gain a lot of money from these services while the car companies are getting blamed for creating too much distraction in the cabin and consumers are clearly saying they don’t want it. Connected World’s Quick Poll this week confirms it. Already almost 900 people revealed they do not want social media in their dash and they say it leads to greater driver distraction.

Perhaps the point here is we should think less about entertaining us while we drive and focus on connected–car technologies that provide onboard radar and sensor systems that automatically respond to the environment. These are the things such as lane-departure sensing, warning systems that alert us of another car in our blind spot, and technology that protects the car’s occupants in the event of a collision. All of this onboard technology is syncing up with portable devices—smartphones, tablets, and other entertainment gadgets—that drivers and passengers carry into the vehicles.

So I say it’s time the car companies go back to talking with their engineers. Maybe Ford had it right when its engineers where focusing on using data for predictive analytics. When I was talking to the Ford engineer and he explained predictive health—I’m not talking about the car’s health—rather he was referencing working with health providers to predict when a diabetic needs insulin, or the ability to determine if a driver is about to have a seizure. Just how awesome is that? Again, we had this discussion in late 2012.

I want to hear more about the cool stuff that Ford sees as the car of the future. I want to see more automakers getting me excited about how they hope to change our lives by connecting us in ways that are truly awesome, not just plain silly.

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