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Sunday 23 October 2016

Going back to the future: revealing the latest trends that are shaping tomorrow's mobility and our cars

Published 28/09/2016 | 02:30

Futurist Sheryl Connelly
Futurist Sheryl Connelly

It makes sense when you hear futurist Sheryl Connelly (pictured) say it.

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What is going on outside is going to dramatically shape what goes on inside our cars.

We're not talking design here.

We're talking social trends, consumer demand and the pragmatism of keeping millions mobile without entirely clogging up the roads.

Sheryl (yes, her ancestors were 'Irish') has been in-house Futurist for Ford for nearly a decade.

We spoke last week about her role in tracking global consumer trends, so the company can involve them in long-term planning and strategy.

I asked her for the top three consumer habits she has identified as the most 'stand out' and how they are impacting on what Ford/automakers are doing - and shaping future plans.

Her answers are more broad sweep than specific as you would expect and much of what she says is obvious. But we so often overlook the obvious.

It was interesting, for example, to hear her weave concepts such as 'mindfulness' into the fabric of what we will be looking for in our car cabins in the future.

Time poverty - the notion there are not enough hours in the day - is not a new concept, but in a non-stop, always-on globalised world it has taken on a new dimension. "It blurs the borders between personal and professional time. We are 'on call'." She cites a study that found 90pc of US college and university students experienced a phone ringing even when it was not on.

"But these devices are not going away. We're connected to the 'easy life', the concierge. We expect technology to get better; and to anticipate our needs, like algorithms." As a result, we feel we are always on call. There is a fear of missing out.

Which helps to explain how mindfulness has become mainstream. "A study last year showed humans have a shorter attention span than a gold fish." We've lost, or are losing, our ability to focus for any great length of time. "Multi-tasking is more akin to multi distracting."

Which is why it's getting to the stage, she feels, where we need the Do Not disturb button in our cars (Ford's Sync system). "So sometimes the car needs to be a sanctuary where you can get away from it all." Some days, she turns the radio off. "We are going to see more and more of that."

And that is influencing what is and will be in the car.

"What we are trying to do is make a calm environment."

Automakers used to make dashboards and instrumentation that resembled an airline cockpit. Now drivers can reduce the clutter. "Apple have been great in coming up with streamlining the interface.

"As a futurist in the context of autonomous vehicles the range of things we can do inside a car will expand. I look forward to the time I can bring my pillow and blanket and hail an autonomous taxi."

Ford have said the car of the future won't have a steering wheel or brakes and will become a living space.

But she emphasises: "We are manufacturers; we will always make autos; we will work with sheet metal." However, with what they call smart mobility, the opportunities expand: ride sharing, car sharing.

"I think it will happen that you'll wake up in the morning and you'll have a whole new set of elements to get you from A to B."

Indo Motoring

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