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The Company That Brought Us MP3s Has Turned Its Attention to Self-Driving Cars

As part of a Q&A session at the end of a class on music history I taught at Humber College last week, someone asked if the radio industry is thinking about what will happen to radio listening in the era of self-driving cars. Radio and cars have gone together since the early 1930s. Enjoying the radio is one of the few things we can do while driving. But when we no longer have to pay attention to the road, how will people spend their time in transit?

Yes, the radio industry is looking carefully at the challenges autonomous vehicles will bring. Meanwhile, other companies are looking ahead to see how they can exploit the situation.

Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering–the same people who invented the MP3 back in the 80s and early 90s–are spending a lot of time trying to figure out how people will spend their time in self-driving cars. What will they be doing? What gadgetry will be available to passengers? And what will the interiors of these cars look like? From New Atlas:

The project started off by analyzing how people use the infotainment systems in their cars today, and trying to predict what passengers might want to do in future. Having consulted with experts in fields like psychology and anthropology, the team defined three “time modes” it thinks will be required in a self-driving car: quality time, productive time and time for regeneration.

From there, Audi turned to the Fraunhofer Institute to find out how a self-driving cabin might look for each of these modes using a specially-developed driving simulator. The simulator has an adaptive (steering wheel-free) cabin, complete with dimming windows, changeable ambient lighting and the ability to simulate background noise. Massive projections are used to make it feel like the car is driving through a city at night.

This is fascinating stuff. Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37438 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “The Company That Brought Us MP3s Has Turned Its Attention to Self-Driving Cars

  • Honestly, in a self-driving car, I have a hard time thinking of ANY advantages radio would have as a medium over other options.
    – Music: Already losing serious ground to streaming services
    – News: Websites clearly offer more interactivity
    – Talk formats: TV has the edge of including visuals, which you can now pay attention to since you aren’t driving.
    – Weather: Again, visuals or interactive apps
    – Traffic: Again, apps. Plus, you’re in a self-driving car – so who cares?

    It might make sense on extremely short drives to just turn the radio on, but otherwise, I fail to see how radio can remain a preferred option.


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