Forbes is reporting that Ford Motor Company has received a patent for an in-car movie theater. Presumably, cars of the future will need to entertain their occupants while sensors and computers do the driving. The Ford proposal shows a movie screen that drops down to cover the front windshield. A projector would then descend from the roof to project images on the screen. The patent drawings even show the front seats removed. Apparently Ford thinks when we go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, we will leave them at home so we can stretch out and watch re-runs of My Mother The Car on the way.
According to Ford’s patent application,”The entertainment system controller presents media content on a first display while the vehicle is operating in the autonomous mode and on a second display when the vehicle is operating in a non-autonomous mode.” That second display could be in “a dashboard, an instrument cluster, or a rearview mirror.”
The system would include a system of warnings to alert those inside if it is necessary for a human being to take over control of the car while Crash! is playing on the wide screen. As Forbes points out, isn’t it a little contradictory to show a system that lets the front seats be removed but still presupposes the need for a human driver from time to time?
At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Ford’s chief technology officer, Raj Nair, told the audience that while Ford is working on fully autonomous cars, it thinks they will be used “only in defined conditions, such as highway driving or in smart cities.” Outside of those conditions, Ford cars would simply offer driver assistance technologies, such as lane correction, hazard warnings and autonomous parallel parking. Also at CES, Ford president Mark Fields said his company is not in a hurry to be the first manufacturer of autonomous vehicles. ”Our priority is in making the first Ford autonomous vehicle accessible to the masses and truly enhancing customers’ lives.”
The opinions expressed by Nair and Fields have provoked a quibble from Lawrence Burns, a mobility expert who is also a former GM executive. He thinks they reflect a lack of appreciation for where the future of mobility is headed. He says the idea of individuals owning private cars is a quaint, old fashioned notion.
“In the current automobile system, the challenge the auto companies have is how are they going to find enough resource to meet these aggressive fuel-economy regulations, these new electric vehicle requirements, and still stay in the race against Google, Uber, Apple, Tesla, on self-driving cars? Especially if their approach is to evolve self-driving features that keep the driver in the loop and end up adding more cost to the car. I personally think this is a dead-end for the auto industry. They’re going to have to think differently.”
That’s not to say we won’t be watching movies inside autonomous cocoons while we go from place to place in the future. It is more to suggest that we won’t own those transportation pods. The biggest question for traditional car companies is not entertaining passengers, Burns suggests. Rather, it is whether they will become irrelevant.
Ford could take a clue from Norway, where national policies seek to severely restrict the growth of automobiles over the next 15 years. In fact, Norway wants no more cars on its roads in 203o than it has now. That has to be troubling for anyone whose main business is manufacturing and selling automobiles.