Did Disney design today’s smart car…in 1958!?

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In 1958, Disney made a prediction of the automotive industry. Disney expected that “speed, safety and comfort” would be the keynotes of tomorrow’s cars and highways. In this video about the “cars of tomorrow” (which we can surmise to mean cars of today since this was in the fifties!), viewers are told that they basically will not have to do anything in the future because cars and roadways will take care of it all for them.

According to Disney, weather will no longer be a problem! Poor visibility? No Problem! “Your windshield will become a radar screen, showing the outline of objects ahead,” explains the video. Now, while we cannot eliminate fog, as Disney hoped, our cars can see right through it. In fact, your cars can and will be able to do a whole lot more than that – thanks to the Internet of Things. Sensor technology, commonly referred to as, “vehicle-to-vehicle,” will allow drivers to maneuver through roadways with better insight into where other objects and cars are on the road. Essentially, your car will know when it’s safe to change lanes, make turns, etc. Currently, features similar to this that are available today include the safety-stop functions, as seen in Hyundai’s “The Empty Car Convoy” video (Spoiler alert! It works!). Despite increasing momentum, ABI Research reports that “the deployment of V2V will take time as the real safety benefits of V2X only can be realized when a sufficiently large part of the installed vehicle base is connected.” The research concluded that V2V penetration in new cars will reach 62% by 2027. 

Let’s turn the wheel to another Disney wish for future cars – comfort. Well, more like convenience. In the 1950s, Disney talked about your car driving itself (and your family) to your family vacation destination, allowing more time for leisure. We aren’t quite there yet, but we are pampered with GPS updated with real-time traffic details, Bluetooth syncing to stream Spotify or Pandora, and even alerts for other smart phone apps that could make your driving experience a lot easier. What can we expect in the future? That is very dependent on our “digital lifestyle,” explains one enthusiast in a Wired article, Thilo Koslowski. Thilo says that, “besides providing automobiles and drivers with new function, connected vehicles will also expand automotive business models to include a much broader set of industries — IT, retail, financial services, media, consumer electronics.” Imagine all of the data that can be accessible just from one car? The value that could bring to drivers, automotive OEMs, and retailers is incredible. Alas, the inevitable data ownership war will likely never let that data get out (thankfully). But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be useful for drivers or the industry. Thilo explains that these industries emerging into the automotive market “could challenge the traditional automotive business model: Rather than focusing only on the sale and maintenance of a vehicle, companies will focus on the sum of business opportunities the automobile represents.”

Disney was pretty spot on with several ideas about the smart car. However, other than self-diagnostics, they did miss a number of key elements in regards to delivering the connected car experience. First, delivering tailored information and services inside a car is a complex web of multiple systems, applications, complex transactions and third party service providers. For example, a simple connected car service to provide route directions that avoid traffic hotspots is probably reliant on a third party traffic services. If there is a performance problem with this service then the third party is to blame. But in a truly connected car experience, the driver will likely see the car manufacturer as the culprit. Afterall, they supplied them a connected car with the promise of a seamless, convenient driving experience. If Disney would have updated this video for 2015, then they may have added the need for car manufacturers to have end-to-end performance visibility of their smart cars. The second element is the precious data. The data alone is useless, but once analyzed, manipulated, and made into a language that we can understand, it’s gold. In order to make most of these predictions a reality, we will need data to prove the market value and identify not only what features will make sense, but also what features the drivers of tomorrow will actually want.

Elle (Elizabeth) Grossenbacher

Mrs. Grossenbacher has served as a speaker at notable conferences including the Internet of Things (IoT) Expo and Moderator of the Silicon Valley IoT Symposium. Additionally, she has contributed to the growth and development of several communities within the Internet of Things space, including IoT Silicon Valley meetup group, the Wireless Communications Alliance, and offers 7+ years of experience in the high tech world. She holds a B.A, in Psychology, a B.A. in Design, and an MBA from the University of California, Davis.