Alix Paultre, Editorial Director, PSD
Almost all of us have spent a large amount of their lives in a car. From being ferried from the hospital at both, to school as a child, or to work (and if you are lucky, vacation) as an adult. (You could say that the car made moot the riddle of the Sphinx.) People have been conceived, born, and died in cars since the first enclosed models (and probably before) were created. The great irony of a car is that it is a thing that gives us such great freedom while trapping us inside of it as it does so.
Our vehicular imprisonment/enablement has created a massive sub-market larger than the core industry itself. From cup holders to aftermarket 4G hotspots, people have been creating both internal and external subsystems for applications from the functional to the frivolous. Sticking ourselves and our gadgets into our cars is just something we do.
Many of us have been lucky to see the transition from electromechanical automotive systems to electronic. Watching early frivolities like remote door opening and lo-jack migrate from the tuner aftermarket into mainstream vehicles as central features, not to mention the amazing improvement in car audio systems over the years, has been fascinating.
Convergence has always applied to the car; every useful tech has been integrated into it over the years as each has been discovered. This tech development has only accelerated in recent years as advanced power, automation, and drive-by-wire technologies create next-generation systems that will define the nature of the next generation of cars.
My eclectic electronic history includes stints on a couple of sides of whatever the complex 3D rhomboid of the automotive industry looks like, once as a field sales director for a major car alarm manufacturer, and once as the proprietor of a car stereo installation shop. I am no longer surprised at what people want to put into cars, from blue crocodile-trimmed dash-mounted external video monitors and a synthetic-voice car alarm, to rear-mounted speakers that take up all available space behind the driver, turning a sedan into a big two-seater.
What this means for the automotive industry is that the sky is literally the limit, especially if they ever figure out flying cars. What this means for the design industry is that since the evolution of the automobile is ongoing, there will always be new application areas within the vehicle space (pun intended). Anything you see people getting into cars with a lot is a good candidate to be mounted in one, or have at least a holder or charging cradle.
System convergence ensures that there are unknown technologies and devices that will impact vehicle systems, from under the hood to to the drivers themselves. This unbounded opportunity for development is almost unique to the automotive industry. Part of this will be driven by forces in the transportation industry, some of it will be driven by technology development, and some of it will be driven by consumer demand.