Toyota DARV

Two of my all time favorite former colleagues, Jim Pisz and Jason Schulz, have really knocked one of out of the park. They have created a concept Sienna called DARV, Driver Awareness Research Vehicle, that puts critical information a driver needs to know before getting into the vehicle on the outside window. When the driver walks up, the Sienna, using Kinect, it identifies the driver and communicates key information – fuel level, route, and calendar information. The information is interactive and uses gesture recognition. The show was a smashing success at the LA Auto Show and I know Jason Schulz did an amazing job.

If you ever want to see a true marketing and technologist professional, meet Jason. (Honestly, I know Jason stays at Toyota because he loves the company and because he works for the greatest boss ever. EVER. But honestly, I would love to steal him and anyone who has worked with him would agree.)

The idea behind DARV is that there are things you should be doing and thinking about before you begin driving. And what I love so much about the idea is that Jason and Jim thought to take critical elements outside the vehicle and smartphone, causing a driver to stop and be thoughtful. It’s an insightful approach to dealing with distracted driving.

My brother-in-law, Arthur, told me about an article he read that revealed, something like 60% of the brain’s activity is devoted to rote activities and brain, on purpose, creates habits wherever it can, it likes and seeks out short cuts. The article notes, that half our waking hours are spent on autopilot. When I read the article, the statement struck me that “the brain loves habits because they conserve energy”. The remaining 40% is dedicated towards thoughts and activities that are harder and require more effort. The problem is that when driving becomes so rote, we let the 60% of our brain take over and essentially forget to pay attention. This is especially true if we are letting the 40% worry about best what is the best route to take home given traffic, oh, and I need fuel, and crap, what time I am supposed to pick up Johnny?

What is so damn novel and interesting about what Jim and Jason have created is that they break the cycle of conditioned responses by putting tasks we traditionally think of performing on the center stack or on our phone, and stick it on the outside of the driver’s door. They break your brain’s dominant paradigm. They have shifted your mental checklist from when you are behind the wheel to before you get behind the wheel. It’s a genius, simple shift and the kind of collaborative thinking you see from people of Jim and Jason’s caliber.

Answering those specific questions – fuel level, best route, stops on the way – right before you get into the vehicle, frees up the 40% of your brain and (hopefully) lets the driver be more attentive. And it removes anxiety from the driver. I recently had to take a defensive driving “refresher course” and I thought it ridiculous how much time the on-line video course spent on reminding me that I need to be in the right frame of mind when driving. I shouldn’t get behind the wheel when I’m angry or annoyed or anxious. I should make sure I’m positive and happy. DARV takes away anxiety, removes stress, breaks rote habits, and allows for a more positive state of mind when driving.

I know DARV is just a concept. And I’m so thrilled to know that some of the smartest people at Toyota are continuing to think different, push the envelop and do right by a great company and for great customers. Raising a glass to you both Jason and Jim.