Nothing, not even the fierce Detroit winter can get in the way of the annual exodus of automobile enthusiasts to the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). I love cars, I’ve always been fascinated by them. I can talk confidently about driverless cars and am one hell of a parallel park-er. But if cars were video games, I’d be what you’d call a casual gamer, and maybe that’s why I am here.
To the casual observer, NAIAS 2016 is all about fancy new cars, and for the most part, that’s about right. All the big guns have come out to play with their best foots forward. At least 5 high-end luxury cars were unveiled at the show, and as many concept cars were introduced, teasing a not too distant future in travel.
This event sets the stage for the rest of the year and then some. And even sans an in-depth understanding of what makes cars tick, its pretty evident we have a lot to be excited about.
But there’s more to NAIAS 2016 than meets the eye. It is a critical time for the auto industry, fresh from a record breaking year of car sales, it is a time of much potential and growth. But looming in the shadows is a threat of disruption from the technology sector.
With fully automated, driverless cars almost tangible, and players like Apple and Google in the mix, tech companies are poised to change the game forever as automotive manufactures struggle to keep pace with technological innovations.
Which is understandable, its easier to build a smartphone, than it is to build a car. The average car product cycle is 3-5 years, upgrades are almost impossible unless you buy a new car, and most automotive giants are just not as nimble as a tech startup, or a tech giant with the resources to experiment on some crazy idea that may change the world.
But there is one car company that’s dared to be different. Headquartered not too far from where NAIAS is taking place is the Ford Motor Company, technology savvy, innovation focused, and no longer just a car company anymore.
The self proclaimed mobility company is looking into a host of already existing technological advancements that can make their way into the cars of tomorrow. Beyond driverless cars there’s electrification of vehicles, always-on Internet connectivity, data collection, apps and software, and integration with the Internet of Things.
Smart Home Integration
As the tech world zeroes in on the smart home, Ford believes cars can and should be part of the equation. Very soon, Ford cars will integrate seamlessly with existing smart hubs like Amazon Echo, a virtual personal assistant built into a cylindrical bluetooth speaker. Amazon Echo responds to voice commands and can control household appliances, answer Internet-based questions, and even online shop for you.
Soon Amazon Echo will also be able to start your car, and tell you how far more you can drive based on your current fuel levels. Users will also be able to summon Echo remotely from inside their Ford vehicles, so you could for example, ask it to turn on the lights, or open the garage door as you approach.
Wearables are another growing trend in the consumer tech world and inside Ford’s newly minted Automotive Wearables Experience Lab, scientists are looking into how smartwatches and fitness trackers can best complement the driving experience.
From simple things like receiving alerts on your smartwatch when you leave car doors unlocked or your keys inside. To more high-tech solutions like automatically uploading health and sleep information from your wearable to your car, and having the car adjust safety settings based on its assessment of your current state. If your car thinks you didn’t get enough sleep, Ford’s adaptive cruise control technology can increase the distance between your car and other vehicles to allow more time for your reflexes to kick in case of a traffic incident.
In its own respect Ford is working to make its own cars smarter. A joint project with IBM hopes to create a platform that will allow researchers to collect data from cars, identify trends and patterns, and use those findings to provide commuters with better transportation decisions. The nitty gritty of this platform is way too geeky, but it should theoretically be able to tell you when taking the subway, or a bicycle is a more time efficient means of getting to work on a particular day. The platform should also benefit what Ford calls Parking Prediction technology to help you find empty parking spots.
While as expected, cars were front and center at the North American International Auto Show, Ford was looking beyonds cars. Don’t get me wrong, there were lots of new cars including the new super high-tech Fusion Sedan, the monster F-150 Raptor pickup truck, as well as the first pre-production model of the GT Super Car.
Instead the message was about doing things differently and driving change. As the motoring world is bracing itself for disruption, Ford is on a bold path to disrupt themselves.