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February 3, 2015

Driveables Are Shifting Into High Gear

Posted by Vikram Meghal (View Profile | View All Posts) at 6:38 AM

Why Ford hired an ethicist to deal with driverless cars [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ideuxDEFgAg]

It's very curious that two different industry events that happened around the same time told us a lot about our future. I'm speaking of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that wrapped up in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, as well as the Detroit Auto Show, which also was held in January. Both are eagerly anticipated because vendors show off cool, new products as well as prototypes that might find their way into the market some day.

In Detroit - officially known as the North American International Auto Show - consumers were treated to a host of clean-energy cars that are incredibly fuel-efficient. Automakers are also touting how the materials used to make the interiors of their latest models are made out of recyclable, sustainable materials. These earth-friendly features are a hit with consumers - even those who come to the show to hear the roar of powerful internal combustion engines!

What interested me the most was that Ford displayed as a vendor not only at the Detroit Auto Show but also at the CES in Las Vegas. That should tell you a bit about where the auto industry (and society) is headed. Technologists are predicting that cars will eventually become self-driving mechanisms. Computers on a four-wheeled platform. The same way you tell your laptop or tablet what to do will be how you 'drive' your car. No steering wheel needed. Perhaps just a digital dashboard and a mouse.

For years, automakers had campuses near their corporate headquarters where they encouraged designers and engineers to collaborate and think boldly about the future of the industry. Now they've taken further steps to encourage cultures of innovation. The aforementioned Ford recently opened the Ford Research Lab in Palo Alto, California - in the heart of Silicon Valley - to think less like a car company and more like a technology company, joining many of their competitors like BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota. What's coming down the road are cars that focus on the human-machine interface or HMI.

The new research lab is also dedicated to connectivity and mobility. A Ford spokesman recently said that driveable computing platforms aren't going to be super-expensive features in luxury models but across-the-board offerings. That makes sense, because a young person who buys his or her first car is most likely going to buy an economically priced model, yet he or she will be extremely digitally savvy.

When the former CEO of Ford, Alan Mulally, retired, one of the first things he did was to join the board of directors of Google. Some auto experts were confused by the move. Other who know about the Internet of Things and how it will include connected vehicles weren't surprised at all. The question now is: Will a technology company like Google actually build and market its own car? There already exists a prototype. Or will technologically forward-looking car companies - including Ford and Daimler-Benz, for example - will be able to transform themselves into 21st century digital enterprises? The latter is a challenging proposition for any global company that's been around for a century.

The times ahead are going to be interesting. Will the auto giants successfully transform themselves to be digital technology leaders of tomorrow or will the new age technology giants lead the charge into the cars of tomorrow...

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