By DOUG NEWCOMB July 22, 2011
One of Dave Evans’ job titles at Cisco is “chief futurist,” and among his duties in that role is to predict what kinds of cars will be on the road in 10, 20, 30 years or longer. In a recent conversation, Evans shared his vision of the future of automotive and automotive safety.
AutoObserver (AO): Are you a car guy?
Cisco’s Dave Evans (DE): I am. When I was in high school I was tearing apart cars, rebuilding engines, that type of thing. I’ve had a number of interesting cars in my life and I like sports cars. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with it but I appreciate nice automobiles. I’m more intrigued by where automotive is going than where it’s been.
AO: Where is it going in your view?
DE: Cars are rapidly becoming the most sophisticated piece of technology that people will own in their lifetime. Historically, people have looked at a car as a transportation device. I see it maybe a little bit different. Yes, it takes you from point A to point B, but to me it’s more akin to a mobile data center. It’s a computer system on wheels. It’s a node on the network. If you think about where the car’s going, it needs to provide connectivity, safety and security and needs to be able to self-drive. We’re already seeing some early examples of that. Cars will be much, much more than simply transportation devices; that will be a subset in a way. They will be sophisticated devices that are aware of each other, aware of the occupants, will be talking to the infrastructure, and a much more intelligent ecosystem will arise from technology built into cars.
AO: Does that mean we won’t drive in the future even if we want to?
DE: I think driving may be more of a choice as opposed to a necessity. Today, when you get in a car, you must drive it. And I think in the coming years you will choose whether or not you wish to drive it. There will be times when you’ll want to sit back and have your car take you where it needs to take you. You might be catching up on communication with family, friends and colleagues, catching up on the news. There’ll be more mobile-office capabilities. I don’t know it will necessarily limit the amount of driving that will be done, but it will certainly enhance the driving experience. Perhaps people like the elderly that can’t drive or that have eyesight issues, they’ll be able to drive because the car takes over for them. And in other cases you may choose to drive more as a pleasure activity rather than as a requirement.
AO: Someone has mentioned that in most urban centers it’s economically unfeasible to build more roads, so our only choice is to increase the volume of traffic on existing infrastructure.
DE: I agree and think we’re going to see some interesting shifts. We know now that something like 50 percent of people live in urban areas, and that number will increase over the coming decade. You could certainly add significant density to transportation if the cars were intelligent and communicated with one another and the infrastructure. So I could get onto a freeway and, much like a train, my car would slip in, and it’s pretty much hands off until I get to the exit for my destination. Because of that you’ll be able to go much higher speeds in a very, very safe way and get much higher [road] capacity.
AO: How will technology specifically enhance vehicle safety in the future?
DE: There are a lot of things you can do with technology. You could put more technology and sensors in the car to help with safety. There are cars now that will decelerate if you get too close to the car in front of you, cars that detect lane changes if you’re drifting, cars that can parallel park. So we’re seeing the early stages of all of this coming together. Many drivers are distracted today by texting. Not to say that we should encourage that; we certainly shouldn’t because it’s dangerous. But at the same time, technology can be a great assistance to help with a driver drifting or getting too close to the car. Or we could we look at the driver with things like facial recognition and user verification: Has the person been drinking or is this person authorized to drive the vehicle late at night? There’s research going on where cameras in cars look at the emotional state of the driver: Are they upset, are they angry, are they falling asleep, are they nodding off, have they had one too many and they shouldn’t be driving at all?
Toyota was working on proof-of-concept where they could detect the emotional state of the driver, and if the driver seemed upset they could change the color of the headlights to alert oncoming drivers. And while we may not see something like that, maybe you could see a scenario where someone is driving erratically and networking technology could warn other drivers that’s something to be aware of. Or say it’s an emergency vehicle that needs to get through. It could give drivers a heads-up a mile away to prepare to move out of its way. So you can start to think of a variety of scenarios where cars communicating with each other based on understanding the state of drivers and the state of the environment creates some very powerful capabilities.
Doug Newcomb: is the Technology Editor for Edmunds.com.