Inform: The Motor Car

Google's Driverless Car

Information drives our awareness and understanding of what is happening in our world. It’s not new. Human beings have known and shared stuff ever since our ancestors started grunting at each other.

Then along came writing which let us capture what was said so others could read it minutes, days and even thousands of years later. At the time that was a revelation.

And, now we find ourselves living in the Information Age where our economy is driven by what we know. We use information, ideas and data to help us make decisions, make better products and make more money. It’s not money that makes the world go around, it’s information and ideas.

Given information has been around for a while, and it’s been driving our economy for at least the past 70 years, what are the new and transformational ways that information is being used?

The simple answer is that information is being added to things where previously merely mechanical devices. This is changing the way we use them.

[Tweet “The evolution of the car #informationupgrade”]


A great example is the car. Not so long ago they were purely mechanical steel beasts. When you put your foot on the accelerator it literally moved a lever that added more fuel to the carburetor making the car go faster.


In those early cars there were no information devices. They didn’t even have speedometers or fuel gauges. Then these were added as the first level of information to help you drive by measuring basic things. Again it was all done mechanically with a direct wire connecting the speedo to the wheel movement.


Then a bunch of devices were added to use information make your car run more efficiently. These devices worked mostly outside of the drivers control and included automatic gear changing, fuel injection and cruise control. These tended to be isolated and separate devices that had some way of regulating their own efficiency and performance.


When we zoom forward to the hybrid car we have a more complex set of information interchanges happening because the car is effectively running two engines – one fuelled by petrol, the other by stored electrical energy in the batteries. Whilst the driver is still in control of speed and direction, the cars computer is managing how that happens.


The next level of information in motor cars is telematics. ‘Tele’ means ‘at a distance’ and it relates to delivering details about the cars performance back to a remote location. This is currently in use in motor car racing so the pit crew can see precisely what is happening to the car as it is being driven around the track. It literally allows the driver to concentrate on the driving and the pit crew on the health of the car.

An interesting update on this is in the calls for public drivers to have a ‘black box’ on board every car to monitor the speed of the car. The aim is to make the job of the police much easier to manage road safety and limit fatal accidents.


Another current development that effectively supercedes all the others is the rise of the driverless car. Google’s driverless car has even been given a driver’s licence in multiple states in the US. This is a very high level of information added to a car. And, it completely changes our relationship to the car. Effectively, as drivers we’re out of a job. Instead of ‘going for a drive’ we are ‘taken for a driver’. Effectively, it means we have a permanent chauffeur or taxi waiting to take us to our destination.

Image: Wikipedia

Through this example of the motor car we can witness the rising tide of information in devices that previously had none. And, this is one of the great opportunities of the inform trend.


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