The Enchanted Car
In his book “Enchanted Objects” David Rose proposes to understand the development of the internet of things as the emergence of seemingly magical objects that address humankind’s eternal desire’s for Omniscience, Communication, Protection, Health, Teleportation and Expression.
I believe this also offers a useful framework to understand current and future developments of the connected car.
The desire to know everything there is to know
The most exiting connected car systems addressing this desire allow to see the invisible by giving precise warnings about upcoming hazards like traffic jams, icy patches or red lights using Car-to-X communication. Waze or the Digital Drive Style App are some of the currently most advanced systems in this direction.
More common systems enable easier access to the internet for information — Mercedes’s Command Online system is one example.
Equally addressing this desire — but currently without implementation — would be systems that systems that proactively offer audio information about the areas driven through or systems that use ambient information displays to keep the driver up to date about important trends without requiring much attention (e.g. a color coded dashboard indicating the trend of the stock market).
The desire to connect effortless to others
Hands-free mobile calling or integrated access to Facebook and Twitter (see for example BMW’s Connected Drive) are well known forays in this direction. However, there still seems to be a lot of potential to go further: where is the button to share my location with my loved ones to let them know when I’ll be home? Where are the glanceable avatars that visualize my friends last status?
The desire for protection and power
This probably is the area best understood and also the area where current cars are already (close to) magical. A state of the art car (e.g. one equipped with Mercedes’s Intelligent Drive) is constantly monitoring traction and the road ahead to warn of dangers and intervene if necessary. If a crash is inevitable everything is done to mitigate the damage and help is called automatically.
The desire for instantaneous and effortless travel
The desire the (unconnected) car has done the most to address and yet also an area that offers many opportunities for the connected car (even without considering the self driving car).
Preventive / condition based maintenance, remote diagnostics and over the air updates can reduce the effort a driver needs to keep his car running reliably. The opportunity to remotely grant access to a car could even enable something like maintenance while the car is parked.
Better software can also reduce the time, effort and stress of reaching a destination. Current developments are ever more precise navigation system (like Google’s Waze, Mercedes’s Drive Style or Audi’s Google Earth Integration), navigation systems that also consider trains and bussed (e.g. BMW’s i Connected Drive) or the better support for trip planning (e.g. Hertz’s Never Lost Companion App).
Finally remote climate controls and apps to support the location of parking spots and (cheap) gas stations further reduce effort (and increase comfort).
The desire for everlasting youth
Clearly an important topic, particular in the aging countries of western Europe, but (in addition to the protection issues talked about above) it is unclear what the role of the car could be in fostering health. Complex air filters available in many cars are a start. Maybe apps that propose sport venues as a place to wait out a traffic jam? Maybe a service that delivers fresh produce directly to the parked car (with the trunk made accessible through remote locking by the owner)? Or maybe the car is just not the right object to foster health?
The desire for creative expression
The car itself is a part of many people’s expression of their identity — but I don’t yet know of systems that build on connected car principles to further extend this. We really have to ask us — what is the car-equivalent of the camera on the mobile phone? How will my car support me in telling stories about what I experienced on the road? How can my car learn to propose trips and detours that fit with my mood and identity?