Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Social Identity of...Your Car

We had used Waze for the first time on a road-trip from Massachusetts to North Carolina.  Let's just say social-driving is a fun way to be alerted of law-enforcement presence.  I'd imagine Google recognizes this as well and is one of the reasons why they paid a billion dollars for it.

On my morning-commute today, I meandered through traffic and started thinking more about social-driving.  The radio started playing a news article about Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia and last night's episode of Mythbusters was still fresh in my memory (specifically, the one about driving and how it is affected by sleep-deprivation and alcohol).

So I posed the following question:  Can Waze alert other drivers about the condition of the driver and the car?

Right now, Waze can depict your car-avatar as any number of icons - I'm guessing based on your veteran-status or "attitude" by how many minutes you've been waiting in bumper-to-bumper gridlock.

But what if it went further?

What if Waze could actually access the computer in your car?  Engine status, tire pressure, brake condition, fuel consumption, exhaust, spark plug misfires, alternator voltage - you get the idea.  The CAR would have its own social profile.

Even further than that, the social profile could take into account HOW its been driven.  How many speeding or parking violations you've had, how many times the turn-indicator has been used (or left on inadvertently), how COURTEOUS you are in letting others in your lane, whether you (*cough* wife *cough*) tailgate or don't follow lane markings.

Your driving behavior would be quantified and attributed to you.

"But what if a bad driver borrows my car?  Wouldn't that tarnish my car's otherwise immaculate social profile?"  NPR actually did a story last week about younger drivers and how they see a car not as a symbol of freedom, but more of an appliance (incidentally, their cell phone is seen as the new status of freedom).  Manufacturers like Volkswagen have acknowledged this and are developing technology to adapt their vehicles - in essence, your social profile would be downloaded into the car when you drive it.  Your driving preferences (seat and mirror position, transmission shift points, suspension feel, brake and acceleration profiles) along with your contact, gps, and in-car entertainment data would be recorded and, when it came time to transfer cars, migrate with you.

In this scenario, then, your driving behavior would just be another set of ones and zeroes to be uploaded into your new car very similar to the backup/restore process a teen undergoes when they acquire a new cellphone.

So, in this near-future, we'll be able to see who the good and bad drivers are.  We'll be able to predict which cars will be more-likely to let us in that merging traffic lane and which ones we should stay away from.  Waze will have excellent driver points and "bitch on wheels" profiles - data which may seem invaluable to us but downright killworthy to, say, a car insurance policy maker.

Well, that last sentence may be crossing the line into Orwellian territory, but you get my point.  If a driver agrees to let Waze access car computer and service record data, then this may be one way Waze and Google leverage that data.  Would knowing where the bad drivers are be worth some online ads flashing across your gps screen?  If the car in front of you was about to have a blowout tire or the car behind you had only one good brake pad left, wouldn't you want to know that information?

What else can we put out there?  How about sleep records for truckers?  Truck drivers already keep logs of how many hours they have been driving - would consumers be more loyal or appreciative toward a company that makes this information known?  Instead of calling that "How am I driving?" telephone number, we could access it directly from the truck's cpu.

Let's get even more social.  Let's incorporate this information into, say, a Match.Com profile.  Not only does the car have to look clean for that next blind-date, it has to be well-maintained also.  Your date may have a steady job and likes kids, but he's prone to fits of road-rage.  She, on the other hand, upgraded her own brakes to ceramic pads and slotted rotors (i.e. a keeper).

This can be a positive force for improving the safety and overall mood of our commuters.  The downside is the potential for this information to be used against us - whether it's from another commuter or an insurance company or some other business entity.

See you on the roads.