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At CES 2016 we again have seen more evolution than revolution, similar to 2015, yet the most striking development for me has been the scale, breadth and depth of development in the connected car/personal mobility space.
Yes there are more drones, more internet of things for the connected home, better TVs, wearables and 3D printers. However, as much as Uber and Airbnb have given us new ways to taxi and book accommodation in the last few years, the way we travel in future will change dramatically.
At CES 2016 we saw glimpses of what urban travel will look like in the future yet the rate of innovation, thinking and development in technology has accelerated. As much as car companies have become data companies collecting, analysing and leveraging the vast amounts of data from thousands of sensors in the cars (there are 150 million lines of code in a Ford today) the role of the car will change for consumers.
I want to highlight a few interesting developments I’ve witnessed.
1. Booking a ride with Uber gave you the option of car or helicopter. At a discount rate of $99 visitors to Las Vegas had the opportunity to take to the skies and skip the many congested roads.
2. eHang developed a drone that accommodates a person. Simply enter the destination on the tablet inside and off it goes. I’m secretly hoping I will be able to acquire one and land it on the roof of our London HQ in due time. Commuting would become a lot cooler than it currently is on regularly delayed trains.
3. The role of cars will dramatically change in the next 10 years from an active travel to more of an entertainment or productivity service. Where currently the driver is still in charge and control, by 2025 the car will take over most of the control. Over time we will grow to trust the technology, we will grow to love some of the currently available features like “swipe to self park” or “adjusted seat or music playlists based on who is approaching the car”.
Much of this you will say we know. What struck me was the sheer scale of development in the last 12 months and how these provide answers to our desire for relevant immediacy, not wanting to wait for things, expecting technology (as well as advertising and brands) to be proactive, seamless and relevant and how this technological innovation could change the way we live as well as how industries are changing their revenue models.
Car companies are now data companies. A manufacturer will sell you a car in the future but also give consumers the option to layer on services such as access to car insurance offers based on 3 month driving report.
Cars now have modems built into the vehicle with a 5 year subscription contract. Does this have the ability to replace home broadband?
Sensors measure road, driver, weather, environment conditions to improve security and safety as well as potentially help inform government which areas show air pollution, which roads require maintenance. This would better life for consumers overall.
Much thinking is being done as to how existing and new services will be controlled by the driver or future passenger. Should it be a button, a voice command, a gaze, a nod, a dial or a gesture? I attended a fascinating panel discussion between the head of MIT’s Media Lab, the head of user experience at BMW, a Stanford expert for interaction design, CTO of Nuance Communications and the voice of Siri. What is the most appropriate input, when can it be misleading, when does it become too much of a decision tree as opposed to being simple and delightful? Many of the possible functions are debated today and stripped out as they are not delivering a positive experience yet.
GM made an announcement to invest $500m in a venture with Lyft. On demand car travel will become autonomous and build on how we access Boris bikes and Zip cars. A code unlocks the car, personal preferences to in-car services can be loaded via Bluetooth or smartphone plug connection.
Cars in future will no longer simply be about driving. Much of the conversation is centred on cars as the new home with their infinite entertainment tech being installed. VW launched BUDD-e, an electric autonomous version of its microbus. It has a sofa, TV screen amongst traditional driving ability.
Additionally, a lot of developments are around out of car experience (controlling car functions from your home of office). How can BMW help you get ready in the morning? Alert you to traffic and send a notification to your phone to get up earlier? Pre-warm the car in winter? Ford announced a partnership with Amazon Alexa (voice activated in-home commands), it’s unclear today what the partnership will develop in concrete terms but no doubt its application will be about how the car is controlled in the house and vice versa.
What’s clear is that personal mobility will change over the next five-10 years. It’s going to be a major shift for consumers and the industry and I don’t think we’ve even seen half of the possibilities yet.
When we review how far we’ve come in a few years no doubt will many of us already wonder why we even thought a particular function was new and groundbreaking. “What Mum, you used to park your car yourself?”
Isabelle Baas is managing partner of digital at Starcom Mediavest Group
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