"The front passenger will be able to surf the Internet while the passengers watch individual movies." - Mike Gauthier, Siemens VDO Automotive
Gauthier discussed these issues on March 3 with Staff Reporter Greg Bowens at Siemens VDO's North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich.
What technology might we see in the next several years?
On the safety side, optical camouflage being developed by the University of Tokyo will allow drivers to virtually see through the pillars of a car and eliminate blind spots. They use mirrors and special material to create the see-through effect.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have taken it a step further and have actually bent light to render a molecule invisible. Now the challenge is to enlarge the scale.
Transparent Organic LED (OLED) screens promise to reduce the cost of DVD and navigation equipment by a factor of 10. Today screens are bulky, use a lot of power and present safety challenges when placed in the headrest.
OLED screens being developed now are flexible, lightweight and portable. So they can be placed anywhere in the car by anyone riding in the car. The front passenger will be able to surf the Internet while the passengers watch individual movies. The technology can also allow screens to be laid directly over glass for big advancements in head-up displays for the driver.
Steering wheels are going from where we are today to a yoke grip like pilots use to fly airplanes. Ultimately we will be driving using joysticks similar to what young people using to play video games. Joystick steering is already in wide use with most large industrial machines, remote controlled robots and electric wheelchairs. Joysticks fit perfectly in the most precise instrument humans have to use: the hand.
What trends are influencing tomorrow's technology?
People are living longer and moving closer to their jobs to cut down commute time. Cars are lasting longer, and there are fewer accidents. Consequently, the number of cars on American roads has increased 40 percent in the last 20 years. Meanwhile, the number of lane miles added to U.S. roads has been around 4 percent and continues to trend downward.
If we don't add roads and we keep adding cars to the existing roads, we will have major issues with congestion and increased accidents. And although we will be driving fewer miles, we will be spending a lot more time in the car.
Are there any other key observations about today's market?
Baby boomers are the wealthiest generation this country has ever seen. The tip edge of the group makes up one-fifth of the population but controls 75 percent of the nation's wealth. And these are the people making decisions. People over 55 are making decisions for their children about what kind of car they should buy, and then buying the cars for them. Baby boomers are getting older but don't want to admit it.
How does that impact the car?
If you put a feature in a car that will make a 25-year old feel comfortable, then that will sell to the 60-year-old. But if you target something directly to the baby boomer, it will backfire. The last thing they want to admit is that they are getting old.
You predict the end of satellite radio as we know it by 2020. Why?
Satellite radio will change dramatically. I do not believe we will have the stand-alone radio unit and subscriber business model for very long. Digital TV will find its way into the vehicle and everything will be in one nice, neat little package.
Home cable TV provider Comcast gives you 200 music channels for free. There you can turn from watching television to listening to music channels and not pay anything for it. The same thing will happen with cars. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen.