Mr. Redenbacher, Meet Mr. Ford
I've talked about how cool car theater would be, and it's good to see that automakers are thinking the same thing. This Ford patent, "Autonomous Vehicle Entertainment System," shows how a car could be fitted with a retractable screen and projector. Let's say you're driving from St. Louis to Denver, a 12-hour drive on I-70, truth be told, that is not the most exciting length of motoring concrete. With your new car, you could engage the autopilot and hit play on the Lord of the Rings trilogy (running time of Blu-ray extended edition: 12.1 hours).
And you wouldn't be stuck watching it on a phone or tablet. This Ford patent calls for a large screen that would occupy the entire front windshield of the cabin. Think of it as your personal drive-in movie theater. The screen and projector retract into the ceiling when not in use. If you don't want a big screen, the patent suggests that a smaller secondary screen could be integrated into the dashboard or elsewhere. In this patent, the front seats are removable. I could also envision a three-row vehicle fitted with two rows on long tracks; when you want to watch a movie, you could slide both rows rearward and get a good viewing perspective on the screen.
Whatever the details, the possibility of high-quality audio-video in a car is intriguing. Most high-end cars already have high-end sound systems, and adding a big screen, provided you don't actually have to see the road, is certainly do-able. The OEM systems could be pretty good and I can hardly imagine the amazing systems that custom installers could create. As with any vehicle, two limitations would be current draw and weight; the former would have added importance in an electric vehicle. And, finally, a small percentage of the population is prone to motion sickness; I wonder if someone could invent some kind of sophisticated video processing that would combat this.
Companies are patenting stuff all the time, and most patents are never implemented. But this one seems like a no-brainer. A drop-down screen, windshield glass that becomes opaque and serves as the projection surface - whatever - you can get a big screen into a car. The entertainment technology, in fact, is easy. The autonomous driving technology, and the regulatory issues allowing it, will take more time. Nonetheless, I'm certain we'll see this, and it won't be that far in the future. Next time you drive I-70 across Kansas, your final destination might be Mordor.