Admittedly, this clip is just a promotional video made to sell you a Lexus, but what a great one it is! A car races through a dark track, and when the vehicle hits 100 mph, its body lights up and pulsates with the frantic pace of the driver’s adrenaline-fueled heart. It’s a lot like that heartbeat sharing feature on the Apple Watch, but rather than creating a moment of intimacy, Lexus has leveraged biometrics to create a moment of ferocity and personal expression.
One could imagine a car whizzing by at breakneck speed–pulsating at a slow 65 beats per minute, because the driver was as cool as a Jason Statham character–or strobing in erratic tachycardia, because the driver was experiencing pure terror. In either case, Lexus has created a fascinating demonstration of how biometrics could personalize our vehicles through data visualization. And it’s a tease of how much more of ourselves that we can tap into when shaping the world around us.
Earlier this year, when I was interviewing data viz specialists about the future of the medium, Stamen’s founder Eric Rodenbeck mentioned an idea that really stuck with me. If the speed of the radio waves between someone’s cellphone and the cell tower operates at fixed speed, he argued, then any tiny fluctuation could be attributed to the environment–like water vapor in the air. And at scale, that means it could be possible to create block-by-block weather maps by tapping into the data lurking in our hidden infrastructure.
The logic was only hypothetical in nature, but it illustrated an important point about the entire field of big data, and its related visualizations. “I would say that I think we’re just getting started in some ways,” Rodenbeck said, “just because we haven’t adequately wrapped our brains about how many sensors there actually are. And what data is there.”
Right now, Lexus is showing us all something very obvious: A heartbeat. It’s built from readily accessible data that we all know we have, and it creates a relatively obvious result: a blinky car. But tomorrow, imagine if a car could tap into more of you–a steering wheel that sensed sweat, a Spotify account that knew your taste in music, a database that tracked your speeding tickets. Then this cheesy Lexus commercial isn’t just a cheesy Lexus commercial. It’s a tease for an era when you could get inside a car, sit at the wheel, and have that body augment its paint job, its paneling, its gearing, its fuel consumption, and its ergonomics–all to complement your highly personalized thumbprint. The car might become a mood-sensing extension of your personality, in both its aesthetics and performance. It would be your diesel-fueled data manifesting itself on four wheels.
Or, it would, if the robots weren’t just replacing us all anyway.