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  • Writer's pictureDean Anthony Gratton

The Psychology of the Connected Car

I see many new cars nowadays advertised with connectivity in mind, typically enabled with a smartphone, and this is what brings me to this month’s column.

Does anyone have a billion in loose change?

I currently own a 10(or so)-year-old car, which does have a fairly moderate amount of great technology within it – I know this solely because when it goes wrong, it’s expensive to fix! Anyway, the integrated GPS navigation system, for example, is quite tired and dated and so relies upon up-to-date DVDs to offer me accurate navigation through streets, motorways and whatnot. But, it lacks the diversity to provide me with information about live traffic updates, where you might have impromptu roadworks or traffic jams, for example.

So, my in-car navigation system remains switched off as, for me, it’s now become redundant. Instead, I purchased an ugly in-car smartphone mount that sits on top of my dashboard and I now rely on Waze to provide greater accuracy when navigating me to my destination. My smartphone is paired with the in-car Bluetooth phone and entertainment system so that Waze can voice commands through my in-car speakers and, likewise, I also have the ability to use Spotify, which is built into Waze to stream music within my car. All in all it’s a great holistic music and navigation experience. Incidentally, you may or may not know that Google acquired the Israeli-based GPS software company Waze back in 2013 for almost $1 billion – I assume that was pocket change for Google!

Taking the connected car to a new level

For those who are not familiar with Waze, it’s based on its community of users that use the app whilst driving. We’re encouraged to provide real-time information about road conditions, danger areas, traffic incidents or accidents – it even alerts you to the presence of police and speed traps! Waze will also recalculate your original route in real-time to redirect you from troubled areas so that you can easily reach your destination in a timely manner.

Having the smartphone mount is a great addition to the technology already included in my car, but it’s not integral and there’s still something missing in this utopia of the connected car. As shown in many car adverts, I often see the driver place a smartphone into a rest area where it might be “automatically” paired with the in-car infotainment system – that’s all fine, but this can be taken to another level.

The nature vs. nurture debate

The infotainment system in your vehicle is your central hub, where you interact and learn about your car, for example, setting the air-conditioning, monitoring tyre pressure, watching your engine coolant level, as well as configuring navigation or selecting a radio station. So my proposition is: What if the vehicle’s infotainment hub is nothing more than “tabula rasa” – a blank slate?

What I’m referring to is something that’s used in psychology to describe the state of a newly born baby. More so, proponents of the epistemological notion believe that as individuals when we are born we are, in fact, void of mental content; these proponents argue that knowledge is derived from experience and favor the nurture debate when it comes to the development of personality, social awareness, emotional traits, knowledge and, ultimately, wisdom. Such proponents debunk the “innatism” doctrine, which alludes to the belief that the mind already holds certain knowledge and other traits when an individual is born.

A holistic experience that is personal to you

Personally, I do favor the tabula rasa argument. With this in mind (so to speak) should we encourage car manufacturers to adopt such a belief system? In other words, should the infotainment hub have some of the innate traits about the vehicle, which I would liken to the human biological system since newborn babies do have the innate ability to breathe, sustain their blood flow and so on? But the car’s knowledge, personality and wisdom is harvested from your own smartphone, making it far more of a nurture-based system.

Essentially, the vehicle “hosts” or mimics any smartphone-capable operating system to truly provide a holistic experience that’s personal to you. The infotainment hub effectively permits the driver or passenger to interact with the smartphone or tablet device, as they would normally, but from the vehicle’s infotainment system (through touch or voice). This negates the need for a driver to interact with their phone, which in many countries is a criminal offence. And, on that point, with my current smartphone placed on an in-car mount, I do have to provide updates to the Waze app as part of the community. A somewhat contentious issue since, arguably, I’m interacting with my phone whilst driving!

Until next time …

What’s more, when a smartphone is placed in an area within the vehicle and has synced to the information system, the smartphone would recognize that it’s being hosted by a vehicle and that it accordingly adapts to its environment, such as identifying the screen dimensions, pairing with Bluetooth and accessing other information that’s been shared by the vehicle – I dare say, there would be an app for that!

Forget your driverless car malarkey; this is the next evolution to a holistic experience! We carry our smartphones religiously with us and the tabula rasa vehicle experience is a natural transitory evolution to keep us truly connected and to maintain our personalities.

So, this is where an “I’m not weird” Dr G. signs off.

Originally published in Technically Speaking.


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a technology influencer, analyst & futurist 

I dispel the rumours, gossip and hype surrounding new technology

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