Nothing has captured and kept the modern North American imagination quite like the automobile. Now, the connected car is here, marking a new age in driving innovation- thrilling technologists and gearheads alike.
2014 saw Tesla Motors go mainstream, particularly with the promise of a more affordable Model 3 set to launch in 2017. Google steadily plugged along on its driverless car fleet. Audi and Mercedes both introduced driverless prototypes at CES. Apple’s relationship with AI startup Anki, whose self-aware toy racing cars raised speculation that Apple, too, may be gearing up to throw their hat into the driverless car ring. Major partnerships between wireless providers, tech companies, and auto OEMs are being announced regularly. Who will emerge as winners? Drivers, of course.
The Connected Car
With the average urban commuter spending anywhere between 38 – 67 hours1 in their cars every year (and upwards of 200 if they’re commuting from the surrounding suburbs), the car has become a second home. Thus, many automobiles are coming equipped with features that seem more suited to a living room or office (and sometimes in the cockpit of Kit in Knight Rider) than a car.
Once the provenance of luxury vehicles, a connected car option is being offered by nearly every major automotive OEM. And with good reason. The connected car market is expected to grow threefold to an estimated $98.4B by 2018 (Markets & Markets 2013), with more than 70% of all cars sold worldwide to include some type of connectivity by 2015 (GSMA, 2013).
Unsurprisingly, the big three, Microsoft, Google, and Apple have a keen interest in the connected car. Microsoft is the veteran here, playing in the space since 1998. The Google-backed Open Automotive Alliance, unveiled in 2014, aims to bring the Android platform to cars. And Apple has retooled its connected car platform, rebranding as CarPlay.
OEMs, thus far, seem more interested in delivering choice to their drivers as opposed to choosing a side. Hence, Hyundai, Honda, and GM are featured partners for both CarPlay and OAA
To speak of the connected car is to speak, broadly, of network connectivity. At work or at play, to exist in the modern world is to be online. Smart auto OEMs are integrating into their cars the technology consumers want while keeping safety top of mind. Where just a few years ago, an in-dash GPS or parking camera seemed top-of-the-line, the current and forthcoming generations of cars will do so much more than that.
The move to cloud-based and streaming media in the last few years, has allowed people to de-tether, taking their interests and passions with them. Why shouldn’t a driver be able to call up anything from his expansive music collection while behind the wheel? Why shouldn’t the kids be able to continue watching the Netflix movie they started watching in the living room on the road? Media services are wise to this. iControl Networks, the brains behind smart home solutions for Time Warner and Comcast, recently announced its partnership with connected car service Zubie. Pandora streaming radio with its auto OEM partnerships, has been incredibly successful, hitting 2.5M in-car activations. They’ve also recently inked a deal with Ford Motors, State Farm Insurance, and Taco Bell to start running in-car ads this year.
Obviously, all of these connected services require a connector, and, according to at least some, the infrastructure isn’t quite there yet. When factoring things in like media streaming, questions about quality and price arise too.
Partnerships between OEMs, tech companies, and wireless providers will be pivotal in deciding who emerges as the real leader(s) in automotive innovation. (After all, the technology is useless if it can’t run). Some key ones include:
- GM, Qualcomm, and AT&T
- Chevrolet, OnStar, and Verizon
- Chrysler, IBM, and Sprint (US) / Rogers (Canada)
UI and safety
Apple took the touchscreen mainstream in 2007, and consumer electronics manufacturers haven’t looked back. The touchscreen is beautiful to look at, but therein lies the rub: it has to be looked at to be used.
This produces an interesting conundrum for the connected car. Driving, by nature, is a tactile experience, full of dials and levers and switches, which is frankly what a lot of drivers love about it. It’s also what allows many drivers to create and retain a kind of muscle memory when it comes to their cars; they don’t have to think about how to turn down the heat or flick on the windshield wipers. Good thing, too, since this allows drivers to stick to the task at hand: driving.
Doing away with the radio dial is not only an aesthetic consideration, it’s also a safety and accessibility issue. A 2008 study from Carnegie Mellon found that humans have difficulty driving while listening to someone speak, regardless of whether that’s on a phone, hand-held or hands-free device, or if the person is actually there. One can imagine then, that flailing around, hunting for a different radio station or turning the fog lamps on could prove to be equally distracting. And dangerous. A connected car is only as good as its usability.
The methods with which to solve these UX issues are up for grabs. Companies like Disney, Tactus, and Fujitsu are working to bring texture and buttons back to the touchscreen, which could have interesting ramifications for the connected car. Volvo is developing a facial tracking system to determine if a driver is distracted. PSA Peugeot Citroen is working on a system to detect road rage. Commercial-vehicle manufacturer Caterpillar has integrated Seeing Machines’ eye tracking system into some of their mining trucks. No one is counting gesture-based controls out just yet either. Hyundai recently introduced the HDC-14 Genesis concept car, which features a dashboard control system controlled via eye tracking and gestures. Naturally, any of these “solutions” would be accompanied by a learning curve, possibly necessitating a second pass at Driver’s Education: The Connected Car edition.
Our Work in Automotive
- To foster thought leadership in this space, we created and organized “The Future of the Connected Car.” The event was held at MaRS and featured talks and demos centered around emerging tech in the auto industry.