Car Not Exactly Like An IPod? There's Some Pap For That

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

Michael Copeland at Fortune has his priorities straight. “In my rusted jalopy, a 1991 Volvo 240 sedan, I have installed the future,” he boasts. His use of the “f-word” tells you he’s not talking about a V8, forced induction or any other fossil fuel-sucking upgrade. What then? An EV conversion? That would be too interesting. Too car-related. No, Copeland’s future shock was a simple feat: “All it took was a friend whose iPhone came along for a ride.” His argument is the same tired trope we hear every time a business writer dips a toe in the product-analysis game: make it more iPod-phone-y!

when you think about it, the car is the ultimate mobile device. And automakers need to start acting more like consumer electronics companies if they don’t want to cede one of their last great opportunities to Apple, Research in Motion or Google [Ed: as if!].

Sigh. Didn’t we go through this when Thomas Friedman called for Steve Jobs to take over GM? Incidentally, whatever happened to the Draft Oprah movement?

But this line of thinking is not only played out as a macro-industry commentary, it’s also fait accompli on the product front. After all,

Ford, in partnership with Microsoft, has been offering in its cars its “Sync” platform, which cleverly uses your mobile phone to connect to navigation, entertainment, and other applications

But this isn’t enough. The point of this whole thrust isn’t to merely make cars the next frontier in the endless barrage of tweets, status updates and instant messages. The point is to remove the car part of the equation, and create vehicles which allow you to keep your nose buried in your iPhone while whisking you from place to place. Rather than causing dangerous distractions, melding the car-phone interface will actually make us safer!

I don’t care how much you love your smartphone, a driverless car is much cooler… …What the Stanford team has done is break driving down into a computer science problem. They reduced the act of maneuvering a car into software code that, to oversimplify greatly, takes data from a series of sensors and a navigation system and combines the data with certain rules — stay within a portion of the road — to create a virtual driver. Some computers in the trunk act as the brains for the car, crunching all the data that gets fed on-the-fly into the driving program.

Earth to iPlanet Innovation: this exists. It’s called public transportation, and it’s incredibly popular in much of the world. Meanwhile, here in the US, the rush to make cars as iPhoney as possible has caused “distracted driving” to become one of the hot topics to blog, tweet and chatter about while we’re driving. In the futurist’s mind, the short term distractions are but a step on the way to robot chauffeurs. In reality, it’s more of a step towards the line for the bus. Or the emergency room, at the hands of a texting driver. Phones are phones, cars are cars. Let’s enjoy them one at a time.

Edward Niedermeyer
Edward Niedermeyer

More by Edward Niedermeyer

Join the conversation
2 of 21 comments
  • Njdave Njdave on Oct 21, 2009

    PeteMoran, I am a computer systems engineer. I work with computer failures all day, every day. Most of the problems I deal with are from the software encountering situations the programmers did not anticipate. Unlike a human, computers cannot guess. They cannot reason a solution to a problem they have not been programmed to deal with. Think about how many completely unexpected situations you have to deal with whilst driving. Just yesterday I was behind a pickup with sheetrock in the bed not tied down. Pickup hit a bump and sheetrock went flying out of the bed, broke into three pieces and went bouncing around the road. I had to weave in and out amongst the pieces to avoid hitting one. My mind boggles picturing a computer reacting to that.

  • Joevwgti Joevwgti on Oct 22, 2009

    The video makes a great point, this vehicle will NEVER make any forward momentum. Eh?..hehe.

  • W Conrad Sedans have been fine for me, but I were getting a new car, it would be an SUV. Not only because less sedans available, but I can't see around them in my sedan!
  • Slavuta More hatchbacks
  • ED I don't know what GM is thinking.I have a 2020 one nice vehicle.Got rid of Camaro and was going to buy one.Probably won't buy another GM product.Get rid of all the head honchos at GM.This company is a bunch of cheapskates building junk that no one wants.
  • Lostjr Sedans have been made less practical, with low rooflines and steeply raked A pillars. It makes them harder to get in and out of. Probably harder to put a kid in a child seat. Sedans used to be more family oriented.
  • Bob Funny how Oldsmobile was offering a GPS system to help if you were lost, yet GM as a company was very lost. Not really sure that they are not still lost. They make hideous looking trucks, Cadillac is a crappy Chevy pretending to be fancy. To be honest, I would never step in a GM show room now or ever. Boring, cheap ugly and bad resale why bother. I get enough of GM when i rent on trips from airports. I have to say, does anybody at GM ever drive what everyone else drives? Do they ever then look at what crap they put out in style fit and finish? Come on, for real, do they? Cadillac updated slogan should be " sub standard of the 3rd world", or " almost as good as Tata motors". Enough said.