Rental car that personalizes to you

Rental car companies are often owned by car manufacturers and are their biggest customers. As cars get more and more computerized, how about making rental cars that know how to personalize to the customer?

When Hertz assigns me a car, they could load into its computer things like the dimensions of my body, so that the seat and mirrors are already set for me (simply remembered from the last time I rented such a car, for example.) If I have a co-driver, a switch would set them for her. The handsfree unit would be paired in advance with my bluetooth phone.

The prep crew would have made sure there was a charger for our cell phones and other mobile devices in the car, at least for the major charger types such as USB and mini-USB, which should become standard on car dashes soon anyway. Perhaps there could even be a docking cradle.

The radio stations should be set to how I set them the last time I was in the rental town. If this is unknown, stations of the formats I like should be on the buttons I use. (Button 1 for NPR/CBC, Button 2 for Jazz, Button 3 for Rock, Button 4 for Classical, Button 5 for Traffic etc.) Or if satellite radio is used, settings for that could be preserved all over the world.

Any other car settings should be remembered and re-loaded for me.

All cars will have a GPS soon of course, but it should also be a bluetooth one that will transmit to my laptop or PDA if I want that. While I don’t want the company keeping a log of where I drive, it would be nice if I could specify destinations I plan to visit on the rental car web site when I reserve the car, and these would be pre-loaded into the GPS. And perhaps it could also be trained to my voice. For cars with a keycode entry, the code could be “my” keycode.

In other words, every possible thing you can easily customize about your own car should be available for loading into a rental car, to make it seem more like your car. And, of course, if you already drive such a car, it could very well be your car. (Though in the USA, because the rental car companies have these close relationships with Ford, GM and the like, don’t expect that if you drive an imported car.)

Is it that much time to set up a car when you rent it? Not really. But this is just something nice for the future. Regular readers will know I predict that as cars drive themselves, we will far more routinely use hired vehicles, and this sort of “make it mine” technology will become more important then.

Why limit it to rental companies?

Define a standard, extensible format (XML is decent for this) and a filename. When you get into any car, plug in your USB flashdrive and the car configures for you as much as it can. As a side benefit, the car can download useful information to your flashdrive: mileage, GPS log, gas refills, maybe performance figures.

Not just rental

Sure, but you have to look where the demand is. A rental car has a new driver every couple of days. It's much rarer for private cars. A while ago private cars figured out they should have different keys for the different drivers and personalize, but that fits most of the demand here.

Privacy Advocates would have a Cow

In todays environment where collecting information on customers has been determined to be a Mortal Sin, no car rental company would touch this. Perhaps in a few years when the paranoia fades...

Just do it right

Some of these things have very little privacy consequence -- remembering seat positions tells nothing you can't tell by looking at me. Remembering bluetooth pairing could hurt me if it leaks out but that's more security than privacy. There could be some consequences from remembering radio stations programmed and a few other things. Those could be solved with a nice little trick -- use bluetooth object push to store the information in my phone/pda and fetch it back. Then the company doesn't have to keep a record. I do. And in fact then it moves to other cars too.

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His name is Brad Templeton. You figure it out.
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