Imagine this. You have just hit the road and are craving for a cup of coffee. Instead of waiting until you arrive at the nearest coffee shop that may be a few miles away, without taking your hands off the wheel, you talk to your dashboard. A voice assistant places your order and pays for it with just a tap from you. By the time you reach the shop, your piping hot brew is ready at the drive-in check out window.
It is already happening. Last month, General Motors, one of the auto giants at the helm of the connected car technology announced that since December 2017, it had equipped around three million cars with a free-to-use, in-dashboard system called Marketplace, which communicates directly with select merchants, including those for fuel and refreshments.
Equipped with ‘first-of-its-kind branded ecosystem’, GM positions Marketplace as an enabler for businesses to seamlessly integrate in drivers’ daily lives. With mobile phones increasingly blamed for distracted driving, applications like Marketplace are another facet of technology that are eliminating or at the least, minimising the fallout of human errors that are the leading cause of fatalities and morbidities of road travel. From traffic, weather or accident prevention information to GM’s Marketplace, the entire spectrum of possibilities of the connected vehicle is possible because of the amalgamation of cloud and fog computing infrastructure.
MOBILITY EVOLUTION & THE BIRTH OF CONNECTED VEHICLES
The first 100 years of automotive evolution were marked by a sharp focus on engineering innovation, where, over multiple generations, cars became more appealing in look, lighter for driving better fuel efficiency, safer and more comfortable for passengers. Engineering ingenuity made automation possible for multiple manual interventions like gearing, ignition and performance.
With the rapid progress of communication technology, the switching of gears to connected vehicles came in 1996, incidentally led by GM’s OnStar that saw the first tryst of telematics and auto majors. Slowly, each fundamental element of the connected vehicle like diagnostics, navigation and infotainment fell into place.
We are now headed to an era where this convergence of digital and engineering innovations will give birth to connected cars that increasingly understand and interact with the environment around them.
A crucial link in that development pyramid is the infotainment system. Once considered as mere accessories for the car, today’s infotainment systems are fast emerging as a platform for creating immersive vehicular experiences. Spurred by the rapid progress in AI and Natural Language Processing over the past decade, the growing acceptance of virtual assistants in consumer technology products has meant that consumers are now inherently attuned to the ubiquity of personalised technology. For automakers, therefore, the next frontier is exploring how effortlessly the driver is connected to the outside world during transit. Now, it is not just about how smart the car is, but about how intuitive the software is to the needs of the consumer.
For instance, according to the US Department of Transportation, Americans spend a staggering 84 bn hr driving each year, with a six percent of waking hours spent in a car – amounting to nearly an hour a day. Consumers would therefore prefer cars that are equipped with the technology that prevents disconnect with the outside world.
The market potential for auto infotainment systems is proof of what the future holds for the connected vehicle ecosystem. According to a recent report by Fact.MR, the demand for auto infotainment is expected to increase at a value CAGR of 6.4 % during the period of 2017-2026. “By end of the assessment period, sale of around 259.38 mn auto infotainment units is expected. With integration of multimedia and smartphones in infotainment systems, multiple features have become possible, for instance, tracking systems, telematics and navigation that are revolutionising the auto infotainment market. Increasing consumer focus on entertained driving and high demand for car customisation supported with high per capita income is expected to fuel the demand for auto infotainment systems,” quotes the report.
The report goes on to say that Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) is accelerating auto infotainment applications, a trend that is pushing automakers to move further into the realm of connected cars. By connecting technology companies, suppliers and car makers, AGL is speeding up the adoption and development of completely open software pile for connected cars. “Car makers, for instance Toyota, are promoting activities associated with AGL with a view to promote developments in auto infotainment systems. AGL is planning to enhance entire software stack in the vehicle, which includes head-up display, ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems), telematics instrument cluster as well as autonomous driving. This is expected to have a positive impact on automotive infotainment market,” states the report.
WHAT DOES THE NEXT-GEN VEHICLE EXPERIENCE LOOK LIKE?
Driven by advanced infotainment systems, vehicle experience today is a multifaceted phenomenon involving elements of voice assistants, autonomous driving, valet parking, preventive and predictive maintenance using vehicle diagnostic data on one hand and moulding positive driver behaviour on the other through sensors, for instance, that monitor driver health while driving and in-vehicle cameras that keep watch on driver drowsiness.
Let us examine each of these elements:
• Voice-based virtual assistance: The next-gen infotainment system has inbuilt voice based virtual assist, which provide information about vehicle health, fuel status, and nearby fuel stations over voice. User can configure what data he/she would like to receive from the vehicle.
• Next-gen emergency assist: The steering wheel of the car is converted as driver health monitoring device, which approximately monitors driver heart rates and provide necessary voice alerts to the user in case of emergency. Innovative emergency assist systems identify nearby hospitals and police stations to activate in-vehicle preventive sensor during incident time. By collating data overtime, the emergency system allows insurance companies to audit data in a better way.
• Driver behaviour system: The driver behaviour system identifies harsh breaking and acceleration through sensors. Algorithms based on these signals help to collect driving efficiency, economical and safety driving information. Apart from helping the driver improve his driving skills, this system ultimately leads to organised vehicular movement on the road and therefore, lesser traffic. Reduced insurance costs due to better driver history can also reach a point where the driver liability is at a minimum or eliminated completely, as in the case of autonomous vehicles.
• Driver monitoring: In-vehicle cameras can keep track of driver drowsiness by monitoring driver eye blinks & facial data. This information is crucial for accident prevention alerts.
• Preventive and predictive maintenance: Vehicle signals data and vehicle diagnostic data used to identify faulty ECU (electronic control unit) and spare parts help user to do vehicle maintenance on realistic time. With access to this critical information, automotive companies are able to build spare part inventories, identify counterfeits and increase the productivity and economics of their supply chain.
As connected cars evolve to become more intuitive, it is not just the driver, but the entire ecosystem – from automakers to spare part manufacturers to insurers and fuel suppliers, who will have to align their supply chains to tackle the disruption.
PRASHANT TAMBE is Head of Automotive Practice at Mobiliya, a QuEST Global Company