Guest post by Karen Nichols
“Why did they invite a cat blogger?” I got this question a dozen times last week when I told friends and family that Ford had invited me to their annual technology conference in Dearborn. I even asked the question myself.
After all what could a cat blogger contribute? What was in it for Ford? Today I’m going to share one cat blogger’s glimpse into the future – reporting on my visit to Ford.
Ford’s Futuring and Trends Conference is an interactive immersion into how Ford’s innovations, technologies and philosophies, in alignment with top consumer influences, are shaping the future. Renowned thought leaders (including Malcolm Gladwell, Ed Begley Jr. and Joel Garreau), helped shed light on how Ford’s vehicles and technologies are linked to global trends.
This is the first year that the invitee list was not restricted to automotive writers. Attendees included everyone from fashion journalists to pet bloggers. Yet we shared a passion for tech talk and an insatiable zeal to introduce our readers to the next New New Thing. As trendspotters opened our eyes to seemingly limitless possibilities, I had flashbacks to that vintage Disneyland exhibit, GE’s Carousel of Progress. Only this was way cooler.
In my first session, “The Aging Population,” Dr. Carol Orsborn and Ford Industry Analyst Erich Merkle discussed how psycho-social factors shape the choices facing Boomer consumers.
Women over 50 are now Facebook’s fastest growing segment, and Dr Orsborn emphasized that these Boomer women are invaluable influencers. The session ended with a demo of the tools and technology used to design cars for “mature” drivers.
In another session we got to play with voice- and gesture-recognition technology that’s straight out of Star Trek. For those of us who use our drive time to brainstorm and develop blog content, maybe vehicle-based voice-recognition blogging is not just a pipe dream.
We hit the test track for an Intelligent Vehicle demo. A Klaxon sounded when danger was imminent, such as changing lanes with a car in your blind spot or approaching a vehicle stalled in a freeway lane.
There was little discussion in any session of vehicle power, torque or drag coefficients. It was all about how Ford uses technology to address consumer needs. As a usability analyst, I found it compelling, even with the knowledge that Ford had orchestrated the event to paint itself in a consumer-centric light.
Malcolm Gladwell (New Yorker columnist and author who often writes about the fundamental triggers of paradigm shifts) challenged each of us to realize our intrinsic worth and not let others dictate our value. Futurist Joel Garreau cited Moore’s Law and recalled the addictive smell of freshly mimeographed paper in describing the exponential leaps that technology has taken in our lifetimes.
As bloggers, we so often work heads-down, pedal-to-the-metal, that we never take a step back to look forward. Or perhaps we dream big, never expecting our sci-fi musings to materialize. In fact, we can dream big, and what today might seem a pipe dream could well be our reality in 2020.
So what was in it for Ford, inviting writers who don’t cover the automotive beat? Well, about 200 influencers left Dearborn last week no longer thinking of Ford as a traditional car company built on the legacy of the Model T, but as a consumer-centric innovator making futurist fantasies come true.
Disclosure: While Ford Motor Co. paid all travel, hotel and conference expenses for this trip, there was no expectation of reciprocity. All opinions are my own.