I’m all for innovation in the automotive sector, but there are some technologies I simply cannot abide by, and Ford’s newly-patented billboard detector that can read ads and display them inside your car is exactly one of those technologies.
Our sister site Gizmodo reported on this yesterday, noting that Ford is trying to solve a legitimate problem, but in the worst possible way. Billboards are great for rapid-fire bites of information, but they’re not ideal for, well, anything else. Phone numbers, addresses, websites, directions, and other bits of info don’t translate well in the brief flash you get to see the billboard. So Ford wants to display that info on your infotainment screen.
As the patent explains, this technology will utilize external cameras to identify billboards, then process the information and project it on your car’s screen. While it doesn’t go into extreme detail, exterior cameras are becoming a standard feature on a lot of cars as we both prepare for a more autonomous future and as we come to rely more heavily on advanced driver assistance technologies like pedestrian alert.
As Gizmodo notes, we may one day end up paying extra for an ad-free experience in our own automobiles, the same way we pay for streaming services or e-readers.
Filling up a gas tank is already a miserable experience if you make the dire mistake of stopping at a station that will blast an ad at full volume as soon as it detects a human presence. As a society, we have moved toward SiriusXM radio as a way to avoid radio jingles.
We’re reminded, time and again, that infotainment screens are a source of dangerous distraction for drivers on the road—more dangerous, even, than drinking and driving. The systems are complex and grow more so on a regular basis. We’re approaching an era where screens could cover the entire dashboard of the driver’s cabin. And there are still the ever-present issues for drivers like myself, who have eyeball scars from surgery that can turn the wrong angle of light into a blinding flash, or drivers like my loved ones, who have attention deficit disorders that are exacerbated by screens.
There’s no way that an advertisement is not going to be distracting, even if they’re silent. A momentary change in an infotainment screen redirects your gaze away from the road and nabs a precious sliver of attention that should instead be focused on the asphalt in front of you.
There is, of course, an argument that can be made that this is likely a technology reserved for autonomous machines, since drivers’ eyes won’t need to be quite so glued to the road, but a time when drivers can entirely relax behind the wheel is still a long way off. Now is not the time to be considering a future where watching ads is one’s most pressing in-car activity.