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Perspective: Drive Less, Watch More? The Media Potential of Autonomous Cars.


“Hands on the wheel!” I can still hear my driving instructor looking onward from the passenger seat with a terrified tremor in his voice. It’s been over twenty years since I first sat behind the wheel of that sweet driver’s ed vehicle (a seasick-green Volvo station wagon). And I took that guidance to heart. Being alert, keeping your hands on the wheel — these things are common sense while driving, right?


Well, today I drove to work without keeping my hands on the wheel. Because the future of driving has arrived and I recently purchased a Comma AI, after-market self-driving AI, which integrates into my car making my gas-powered car into a de facto self-driving Tesla. And making my commute — pretty much hands free. My Comma AI experience has given me an opportunity to personally experience and dream a little bit about what a self-driving environment is going to be like.


But the best part of self-driving? The plethora of media options now (safely) available to me. According to many experts in the automotive and technology industries, in about ten years, cars will achieve 100% autonomous functioning. And the future is probably coming faster than we think, as ‘aftermarket AI’ like Comma is already available today.


With actual driving responsibilities handed over to AI, passengers can indulge in their favorite media including streaming a favorite show, joining a work Zoom, texting friends or playing games. This potential is fueled by the continued advancement of 5G, allowing for uninterrupted, high-speed connectivity essential for data-heavy apps.


And AI systems in autonomous vehicles (AVs) will also learn and adapt to passenger preferences. Imagine your car knowing your favorite podcast for the morning commute and automatically playing it as you settle in? Or adjusting your seat and your volume level simultaneously? There are even advancements in in-car audio coming that will use directional speakers and ‘beamforming’ technology to make it possible for each passenger in the car to experience totally different audio.


Yes, 5G, AI, self-driving cars, and James Bond style narrow beam sound delivery are converging to create a totally different experience in the car that will make today’s experience seem like a horse and carriage by 2034.


Video will also evolve. Teslas already have giant screens and Netflix integration (although currently not available while actually driving). Vehicles with HD touch-screens and 5G/Wifi could transform cars into de facto living rooms on wheels.


How can radio stations stay relevant in the wake of AVs? It may be time to reinvent the wheel (pun intended). Our industry needs to develop interactive content that leverages the hands-free environment of self-driving cars, or offer more personalized content streams to help maintain audience engagement. Perhaps audio content can be transformed to perfectly fit the length of your drive? Or music based on the weather? Or automated merging profiles for chosen passenger configurations (say, date night with your spouse vs. school drop off with your kids).


Radio stations could create interactive programs that engage listeners through voice commands or social media integration, turning a passive listening experience into an interactive one. Similarly, video providers could develop new forms of entertainment that are specifically designed for the in-car environment, such as short-form videos or AR experiences that make use of the car's interior space. (Although AR experiences are no longer “trendy”, companies like Apple continue to see its future as inevitable).


According to the MIT Technology Review, the gradual introduction of autonomous driving capabilities will come in progressive stages, from driver assistance to fully autonomous driving, as the technology matures and market acceptance grows. Self-driving cars also promise substantial environmental benefits. Their ability to drive efficiently and reduce traffic congestion can lead to lower fuel consumption and emissions. So this isn’t just a cleaner ride, this is also a shorter ride, affecting the media we consume. And this only buttresses the meteoric rise of short form content, especially short form media content, the programming of choice for Gen Z and Gen Alpha.


And in the future, just like the switch from manual to automatic cars, there will be less need for people in cities to learn how to drive. And as we continue to adopt car-sharing and ride-hailing services, urban areas could see a decrease in traffic congestion and a reduced need for extensive parking structures.


Owning a car may create a passive income stream for you. You can also rent out your car to drive others around autonomously while you’re at work, providing another income stream and further limiting cars on the road.


BTW, by most estimates, radio gets approximately 65% of its listening from the car… which means that radio stations will have to cater to AVs — namely adapt for AI or die.


And who knows, in the future there may not even be grouchy driving instructors at all! (Although I’m sure you could find an AI to accurately replicate one.)


Daniel Anstandig is Founder and CEO of Futuri, whose AI-driven technology solutions are used by thousands of broadcasters worldwide to grow their content, audience, and revenue. He holds 20 published or pending patents in 151 countries worldwide. Reach him at linkedin.com/in/anstandig/.

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