The video below is a recording of the musical through which Smart, owned by Daimler, revealed their ambitious self-driving minicar concept. Perhaps even the fact that their reveal included a musical speaks to attempts of Smart to make self-driving cars more of a fun, human-focused experience.
Their social approach certainly stands out from amongst their competitors who market themselves as super high tech and futuristic.
“Riders can’t own the smart vision EQ fortwo, but they can customize it, starting with the color of the car’s headlights to help them distinguish their ride from other smart vision EQ fortwos on the street. (No more walking into the wrong Uber Prius.) Once a passenger gets in, the car greets him or her by displaying a profile picture on the dashboard and loading a personal profile with the passenger’s favorite routes, places, and in-car entertainment (music, television, video games, etc.). In possibly the largest, as-yet untapped moneymaking opportunity of the autonomous age, it can also make recommendations based on passengers’ preferences” (Trop 1).
The smart vision EQ fortwo will operate at Level 5 on the self-driving scale. Users will be able to call it from their smartphones in a similar fashion to calling a Lyft or Uber. In order to optimize efficiency and energy use, the smart vision EQ fortwo will operate through a platform that creates a carpool based on the passenger’s drop-off locations. Taking it a step further than Lyft Line and Uber Pool, the smart vision EQ fortwo will also incorporate a social aspect by matching riders based on things like music taste and Facebook likes (Trop 1). Furthermore, the rider who first gets into the car has the option to reject the pick-up request of prospective riders. Personally, I would appreciate this power to control who I would have to share a car with. Like many others I’ve talked to, I’ve had uncomfortable experiences with other passengers who I shared an UberPool or LyftLine with. As a woman, I am especially cautious when I take an UberPool/LyftLine alone or at night. Having the power to reject other rider requests (plus not having a driver) would certainly make me feel more comfortable during a ride. This aspect of control is not something I would have thought of if it were not an option with the fortwo. This made me realize how clever the designers at Smart are to introduce new ways for riders to feel some sort of control in a situation where they might otherwise feel powerless.
Many people are apprehensive about self-driving cars because they do not trust the vehicle and do not want to give up all control. Becoming a passenger in a car rather than the driver means giving up a lot of control. Having a driver at least provides some sense of security because you can relate to the actions they are taking to control the vehicle because you have a conceptual model of driving. With self-driving cars, unless you were an engineer or designer for the car, you probably do not have a clear conceptual model of exactly how the car works. The mechanics of the car is a black box to which you are giving up control.
This is why it’s so important that the smart vision EQ fortwo provides riders with ways to customize and regain some control their ride. Besides having the option to reject a potential new rider on your route, there are also options to change the color of the car’s headlights, change the text on the screen on the outside of the car, change the text in the wraparound banner inside the car, raise the bench screen in between the seats to create more privacy, etc. The options to customize the car are also a way that the company plans to build a rider’s attachment to a car that they do not own. Besides providing a sense of control back to riders, it’s also a smart way to build retention and loyalty. I’m excited to see if the smart vision EQ fortwo will change consumer apprehension and attitudes towards self-driving cars. It certainly is introducing a lot of fun and unique social aspects to the world of autonomous vehicles — which competitors should take care to note down.