Ads in self-driving cars will be annoying, but GM’s Marketplace app for its current vehicles is downright dangerous
Just when I though the herald of self-driving cars couldn’t get any worse, companies like Intel are here to remind me I couldn’t be more wrong. What’s worse than a future festooned with four-wheeled crucibles moving in row after row of perfect robotic tedium? Why, being trapped in that cushy cage and being deluged with advertising projected right on the windshield. That’s what’s worse.
“Advancing what’s possible in autonomous driving… Intel announced a collaboration with entertainment company Warner Bros. to develop in-cabin, immersive experiences in autonomous vehicle (AV) settings,” says Intel CEO Brian Krzanich.
To be fair, the company – many companies – are viewing the promised future of cars that need no drivers as a bonanza to capture more eyeballs. They’re plotting how you’re going to spend the time in your car long before that car will actually be in your driveway.
Some aren’t even waiting for the safety – and promised distraction-proof driving – of autonomous cars. General Motors is currently rolling out its Marketplace app, which “… allows drivers to browse deals and place orders through an in-dash touchscreen with several major brands such as Starbucks Corp., TGI Friday’s, Priceline.com and Dunkin’ Donuts Inc,” according to GM. But the territory we’re encroaching on here is a bungle of two highly different concepts: features that are built for safety, and those that are built for advertising or entertainment. You can’t tell me somebody browsing deals and placing orders while they drive isn’t a menace, and GM expressly says Marketplace is intended for use while driving.
But it’s no wonder these companies are looking to in-car advertising, for both now and in the future. Peter Campbell in the Financial Times reports, “while GM’s current vehicles … have average earnings of $30,000 for the company over their lifetime, the company expects ride-sharing vehicles to earn several hundred thousand dollars, as consumers pay for usage.” This is an important point: automakers want – and need – to find other ways to make money.
Estimates say we spend about 300 hours a year in our cars, and advertisers and content providers are wringing their hands with glee about how to best to capitalize on those held captive in a car with nothing else to do. Ride share and in-car advertising are the next two biggest, richest, waves, but GM is trying to capitalize on this now, while we’re still trying to drive the car. To be fair, apps like the GM one are hardly novel in other applications, but pushing yet more information on a driver who, last time I checked, is still in control of driving, is too much, too soon.
The Intel vision of the future will take place in a car that doesn’t even have a driver’s seat. GM’s Marketplace could be in your car next week. I might find being overrun with entertainment and programmed ads annoying when I don’t have to do anything except be ferried about in my automated car, but layers of ads and shopping options in GM’s software are downright dangerous. Anything that takes a driver’s eyes and attention from the road is, including convoluted GPS systems and layers of screens to be tabbed through to change heat or radio settings. We only have laws about handheld devices, but many of these infotainment systems are just as dangerous – and adding advertising and sales makes them much more so.
It’s no surprise the auto industry is pushing a lot of chips onto the autonomous betting square. After decades of R&D into areas that haven’t proven to be much of a return on investment – electric, anyone? – autonomous vehicles, with the potential to make billions, of dollars more with advertising, are enormously attractive to automakers desperate for The Next Big Thing.
I’ve no doubt we can make personal vehicles both fully autonomous and also a fully loaded luxury saloon. Just let’s make sure we do the first before we do the second.