Cars could be the entertainment centers of the future

Phil Berg
Special to The Detroit News

A clinical psychologist once explained to me the personality types she saw at her practice in 1980s Birmingham.

“The men from the steel industry I see are attracted to their work by power,” she explained. “The steel business is all about power, about who is stronger, who will take bigger risks and who wins the game at the end of the day. And that’s it.”

“Automotive executives are different,” she continued. “They are mostly interested in appearances, in style, and showing off to the outside world. They’re not like the guys in the steel business. Men are attracted to the car industry the same way they are to show business.”

At November’s Los Angeles car show, I got the sense self-driving cars are now seen as potential interactive rolling movie theaters and gaming arenas: Computer-chip maker Intel’s chief executive Brian Krzanich announced that the company was partnering with Warner Bros.: Blending images of surrounding city environments seen by an autonomous car with movie scenes, and projecting the resulting fictional cityscape inside a self-driving car’s windows is the aim of the Intel-Warner partnership.

Roads around Los Angeles are increasingly so crowded it’s not much fun driving there anymore, so the prospect of turning cars into rolling movie theaters is a welcome idea with entertainment and automotive executives both. Warner Brothers’ chief digital officer Thomas Gewecke said at the LA show that a boring commute could become a trip through Gotham City or Hogwarts, and called the coming of autonomous cars as the “Biggest expansion of time for entertainment that we’ve seen in a very long while.”

Intel’s Krzanich said Warner Brothers would create “immersive experiences” inside robotic cars by projecting movies and games on the inside of car windows as passengers travel.

“I’d love to have my car in the Lego movie, because it would show anything is possible,” said Krzanich. “Last year I said that data is the next oil, in how it’s going to change the world. That was last year.”

This year, he said, blending the data of the environment surrounding an autonomous car with movie characters and scenes may change the world of entertainment, as well as other messaging: Intel’s press release of the partnership also mentioned that the insides of autonomous car windows could also be filled with advertising.

Several years ago, the LA auto show was a backseat to Detroit’s show measured by the number of important industry product launches and the volume of movers and shakers who attended. But today both shows have doubled-down on vehicle announcements as well as forums and seminars (called Automobili-D in Detroit and AutoMobility LA in Los Angeles) where advanced technology and now entertainment extend the dialogue between carmakers and other high-tech industries into future fantasy lands.

Los Angeles is the world capital of show business, and the car industry has usually played only a supporting role in that industry. Folks in Los Angeles love cars as much as Detroiters love cars: There has been an auto show in LA since 1907, the same year of the first Detroit auto show. People used to move to crowded Los Angeles because they like cars.

That’s exactly what former Detroiter and longtime Thousand Oaks, Calif., resident Gary Wales did five decades ago. “You can have fun driving anywhere here 365 days a year,” he said.

In the future, I’m thinking, the fun won’t come from driving, but riding inside an entertainment capsule.