Weekly Brief: Showing Tonight in the AV Movie Theater…

Like it or not, self-driving cars are here to stay.

They may take longer to roll out and reach ubiquity than their most ardent fans would like to believe; Waymo’s very conservative commercial launch two weeks ago reminded us of this fact, as I explored here. However, there’s no turning back from an AV future at this point. Not in a world where so many fatalities result every year from car accidents caused by human error. Not in a world where ride-sharing is growing at exponential rates and the tech companies who run those businesses would very much like to eliminate their primary expense (that’s you, human drivers). Not in a world where people spend so much money on buying, fueling, insuring and maintaining cars, only for those cars to mostly sit unused in their driveways or on city streets. Put it together and common sense says that autonomy will soon rule our lives.

Exactly what that autonomy looks like is still unclear. The future may look like a bunch of vehicles we’re already familiar with, or it may look like the funny shuttles that my colleague Nathan Eddy explored last week. Either way, the autonomous part is pretty much a given. So if you’re a Luddite, you should probably head for the hills. Otherwise, it’s time to start wrapping our heads around what a future of autonomous driving will mean for our lives and what we want the experience of moving around in a self-driving vehicle to be like in the future. Some carmakers are already pushing the envelope in this field, especially Audi. The carmaker points out that in a world where we’re freed from driving, we’ll have a lot more time on our hands, time that it calls “the 25th hour”.

Audi is on a mission to figure out the most exciting and commercially beneficial ways for you to spend that 25th hour and has been dumping resources into this question for the past two years. CES 2019 is when we’ll get our first peek as to what they’ve been up to. Last week it revealed that it’s bringing a luxury sedan to CES 2019 that doubles as a mobile movie theater. Audi calls it “Audi Immersive In-Car Entertainment” and says that it turns the interior of the vehicle into a space where occupants can enjoy Hollywood blockbusters or content provided by streaming services. Think Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, you name it, while you’re on the go, on the inside of the windows and across the dashboard and the windshield, as if you were inhabiting a movie theater on wheels. Audi says the technology only works while the vehicle is stationary for now.

We don’t know much beyond that for now and the carmaker says that it plans to stay mum on specifics until the show is underway. Presumably, this all ties into the work that Audi has done with Disney over the past several years. As you may recall, back in November it revealed it’s working with Walt Disney’s Imagineering Division with the aim of building a revolutionary new type of media for self-driving cars. They’re calling the partnership “Audi meets Disney” and they said last month that the first tangible result of their partnership will be on display at CES 2019. It’s hard to imagine that what they unveil won’t work in conjunction with the drive-in movie theater concept. Who knows, it might include virtual reality or augmented reality, we’ll have to wait until early January in Las Vegas to find out.

Speaking of augmented reality transforming the in-vehicle experience, last week Paul Myles detailed the latest release from Swiss holographic company WayRay. You can read the full article here but the long and the short of it is that WayRay wants to put a virtual skin over everything you see outside a car’s windows. Real-world objects will still be there of course but you’ll see information and experiences layered right on top of them. This could manifest as navigation arrows plopped down onto upcoming streets, which, in a self-driving scenario, would help passengers know which way the car is about to turn and thus diminish the chances of car sickness. It could also manifest as business names hovering over buildings, which could help generate advertisements and new revenue streams. It could materialize as games like Pokémon so that passengers can play and interact with their surroundings. The sky is the limit, especially now that the company has launched a software development kit so that any developer can build onto WayRay’s AR platform.

This is just the start. If you think the smartphone revolution has been fun [Aah, the halcyon days before mobile devices – Ed], get ready to see what happens to the inside of the automobile.

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