Automakers have begun slowly integrating social networking into vehicles via advanced infotainment systems that provide voice-activated social functions. In a recent collaboration with Facebook called "Hackathon," Ford gave the world a glimpse of what in-car social networking 2.0 might look like. It's scary and intriguing at the same time.
One time, long, long ago, cars were a primary means of socialization. You hopped into your red sports coupe and went on a date; you gathered a group of friends and went driving in the town; you drove to visit family every week, month or holiday. In short, the car was the way to see those that were important to, you face to face.
These days, you carry a mobile phone with texting capabilities, you video chat with long-distance friends and family, and you update your crew about your life instantaneously via Facebook and other networking websites. The car no longer plays a primary role in keeping you in touch and social. In fact, studies show that young people increasingly prefer smartphones over vehicles - the once timeless glamor of the first car is all but extinct.
Automakers are quite aware of this trend and are shrugging off potential dangers in an effort to make the car more social than ever. The Ford Sync system includes functions like voice-activated text messaging and in-vehicle smartphone app integration, which extends to Twitter updates.
At the Hackathon event last month, a team of Ford and Facebook programmers spent 24 hours brainstorming and hacking together advanced social functions that they believe could take the Sync system to the next level of in-vehicle socialization. The team created a vehicle in which Facebook integration was more than just a robotic voice reading updates. Facebook became intertwined with traditional vehicle functions like GPS and radio.
One of the functions the team worked on was a navigation system capable of not only supplying the driver with locations of nearby restaurants, but sorting those restaurants based on Facebook friend likes. So, you could eat at that hot new restaurant all your friends are talking about with hardly any effort. Another program could provide location updates for your friends, and automatically navigate you to them (kinda stalkerish if you ask us). A music function would let you automatically tune in to the music that your friends are playing.
Ford said the best ideas will find their way into official R&D channels, where they'll be further developed. It ended its blog post about the event by promising the driver's "first priority will always be to remain focused on driving and making it safely to your destination." However, features like in-vehicle Facebook run the risk of creating cognitive distractions, which studies show can be as dangerous as manual distractions like dialing a cell phone.
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has been quoted in the past as saying that things like Facebook have no place in the car. The Department of Transportation released the first phase of voluntary guidelines last month, that begins to address what automakers should and should not be doing in terms of vehicle technologies. The list is largely focused on manual-based technologies like Internet browsing and text messaging, but later phases will deal with things like voice-based texting and social networking. Functions like those dreamed up at Hackathon could very well end up on the wrong side of safety regulations.
Whatever becomes of the work, you can see all the brainstorming, coffee chugging and carpal tunnel-inducing keyboarding that went on behind the scenes below.