Self-driving cars are coming, but will you ever own one? One analyst at Ford believes that these robot-chauffeurs will become common commuter cars rather than toys for rich people.
“It all depends on how you use technology,” said Sheryl Connelly, Ford’s analyst of future consumer trends. Connelly looks at consumer trends – essentially, what people buy and why – in order to predict what kind of car and feature will be most appealing to a certain demographic. Ford factors her analysis into how it markets vehicles.
The difference between self-driving cars and vehicles with automated features is one example of how future car trends are being formed.
Driving Ourselves to Become Better Workers
Cars today are far more automated than they used to be. Automatic transmissions are found in the majority of cars on the road in North America, while other features like adaptive cruise control and parking assistance technology are being offered in quite a few new Ford vehicles.
However those features are designed around making driving easier and more accessible. They make driving a car easier be it in the city or highway or even when parking.
Automated features aren’t the same as autonomous cars, explains Connelly. Automated functions require the driver to be constantly in control, while autonomous cars are driven by invisible robot chauffeurs powered by sensors, cameras and data. Connelly asks, what would you do if you weren’t driving yourself? For many, the extra time would be spent answering emails, checking in with friends, buying those tickets that went on sale and finishing that work you left at the office. Maybe you’re so exhausted from working that you’d like to close your eyes. These actions, Connelly says, are all due to our connected digital lifestyle, something that is harder to let go of.
What does all this have to do with the next generation of cars? Connelly expects that self-driving cars won’t be a luxury feature for wealthy would-be drivers, but instead be the feature of choice for the working class who want to use every waking moment to do everything they can – not waste it on driving.
“Some people see technology as a ball and chain, keeping you at work (digitally) although you’re at home. Others use it to connect to the world and people around them,” said Connelly.
“It’s a balancing act” says Connelly, “Automakers have to encourage hands on the wheel and eyes on the road but people want to do more in their car.” Without a doubt, this conflict will be the defining factor in molding the next trends in vehicle design.
Connelly’s analysis might come as a surprise. After all, having a chauffeur is a luxury today. But Connelly thinks there will be another choice for people who live for the luxuries in life.
She dubs it “Digital Detox:” the idea that less connectivity would lead to a more relaxed state of mind. “This is the luxury of letting go,” she says. “We’re so connected to our devices and networks that even when we don’t get a notice on our device, we get a phantom vibration that reminds us to check it.”
Connelly’s idea compares driving to other leisure activities like fishing, hunting, reading and golf. These forms of entertainment are enjoyed in an analogue world, away from society – but in this case, it’s your social networks like Facebook, Twitter and your work email account that are distracting you from enjoying your drive.
Distracted Dead End
As cars become more connected and always online, social media is already creeping into the cabin. New cars from Nissan, BMW and Infiniti already have some access to your Facebook, Twitter and email inboxes so you’re never out of the loop. This much information in your car brings up concerns of driver distraction.
Connelly’s prediction essentially points to two solutions for that problem: autonomous cars that will allow you to draw your phone from its holster and use it full time – or cutting the connected-car capability completely, so that there are no distractions at all.
Time will tell if Connelly’s forecast is accurate, but all Ford vehicles with the MyFord Touch infotainment system feature a Do Not Disturb mode that blocks out incoming calls and text messages, already giving you some short-term digital detox.