Ford Turns The Driverless Car Into A Driving Movie Theater

Ford Motor Company envisions its autonomous vehicles as mobile movie theaters, with screens and projectors that vanish into the ceiling as passengers take over the wheel, according to a patent issued last week.
The patent, for an "Autonomous Vehicle Entertainment System," is less interesting for what it describes—a widely anticipated entertainment system for drivers who no longer need to focus on the road—than for what it anticipates: driverless cars that still need drivers.
Other technology leaders, like Google, anticipate driverless cars that do not need human intervention at all—since they drive so much better than humans do. The difference suggests Ford may be headed down what one mobility expert calls "a dead end."
According to Ford's patent, "The entertainment system controller presents media content on a first display while the vehicle is operating in the autonomous mode and on a second display when the vehicle is operating in a non-autonomous mode."
The patent depicts the first display as a projection screen in the front of the car, covering the windshield (pictured below). When the driver takes over, the screen and projector retract into the ceiling and the presentation shifts to a display integrated within "a dashboard, an instrument cluster, or a rearview mirror."
The patent suggests in places that a driver may take control mid-trip. For example, the vehicle may be fitted with audible or visual alarms, it says, presumably to alert a potential driver that it's time to pay attention and drive. But drawings supplied with the patent depict removable front seats—removed in autonomous mode to turn the car into a theater—which suggests passengers would have to decide in advance whether a trip would be driverless or driven.
In January, Ford Chief Technology Officer Raj Nair said Ford is striving to develop vehicles that will be fully autonomous, "but only in defined conditions, such as highway driving or in smart cities." Outside of those conditions, Ford cars would simply offer driver assistance technologies, such as lane correction, hazard warnings and autonomous parallel parking.
Ford CEO Mark Fields added that Ford is not in a hurry to be the first manufacturer of autonomous vehicles. "Our priority is in making the first Ford autonomous vehicle accessible to the masses and truly enhancing customers’ lives.”
By referring to "the masses," Fields suggests Ford expects autonomous vehicles to continue to be individually owned. But mobility experts expect individual car ownership to decline because the economics of autonomous vehicles strongly favor sharing. For example, mobility expert Lawrence Burns said the city of Ann Arbor, currently home to 120,000 individually owned cars that are idle most of the time, could be served by 18,000 shared driverless vehicles.
The greatest benefits of autonomous cars also derive from sharing, according to experts, including drastic declines in traffic congestion, parking demand, accidents, and pollution. If shared and electric, autonomous vehicles could save Americans $1 trillion in expenses, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute, and prevent a gigaton of carbon pollution.
If individually owned and gasoline powered, they don't deliver most of those benefits.
In an email, Ford spokesman Alan Hall downplayed the importance of the patent. "We submit patents on innovative ideas as a normal course of business. Patent applications are intended to protect new ideas but aren’t necessarily an indication of new business or product plans."
But Burns, a former GM executive, said traditional automakers can get stuck in their historical paradigm and fail to think differently enough:
“In the current automobile system, the challenge the auto companies have is how are they going to find enough resource to meet these aggressive fuel-economy regulations, these new electric vehicle requirements, and still stay in the race against Google, Uber, Apple, Tesla, on self-driving cars? Especially if their approach is to evolve self-driving features that keep the driver in the loop and end up adding more cost to the car. I personally think this is a dead-end for the auto industry. They’re going to have to think differently.”
Updated with comment from Ford.

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