JAGUAR – others trying to balance safety and technology

Forty years ago muscle cars were the coolest machines anyone could own.

Today computer power is the new horsepower and the ‘muscle for Millennials’ or the ‘zip for generationZ’ are smartphones and tablets.  Dreadfully, the automakers are keenly aware of this as sales figures show automobiles have waining interest in these demographic groups.  So for years, O.E.M.s have been hard at work with tech firms to try and figure out how to bring in-the-cloud connectivity including software updates in apps and services called “ infotainment systems ” into autos in a way that doesn’t lead to distracted driving.  Things that were just being talked about five years ago are now beginning to appear and so, the greatest transformation in automotive history is going on right now in the telematics / infotainment industry.

At the Telematics West Coast Conference in San Diego, representatives of Jaguar/Land Rover, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Mercedes, Toyota discussed ways the cloud and the car can be connected and the challenges of delivering the next generation of smart content and services.  Across-the-board, O.E.M’s have been opening their own software technology centers, and Jaguar’s is in Portland, Oregon … but, it’s trickier than one might think.

The fast-moving tech industry culture clashes with the slow-mo style of the auto industry — as exemplified by GM Zone Manager Rikk Wilde describing the Chevrolet Colorado as having “technology and stuff” on national TV during the World Series MVP ceremony.  Even so, consumers are demanding this technology.  Smartphone style access to Apps, maps, and other Internet content has emerged as one of the top five reasons that consumers cite for buying a particular vehicle, say industry experts.

Automakers have responded by embedding wireless chips in cars to power such things as roadside assistance, in-vehicle Wi-Fi and streaming video.  Other carmakers rely on drivers to dock their smartphones for in-car connectivity, with certain apps allowed to sync with the dashboard for touch and hands-free voice control.  The way smartphone-like technology is presented to motorists, however, is not a uniform platform all manufacturers embrace.  That’s partly because it takes five years or longer to design a car, while smart-device technology is evolving every five months and “A study says 57% of people surveyed want someone other than O.E.M.s to design the car’s ecosystem” says Gartner’s Theo Koslowski, VP Automotive ICT.

Meanwhile, both Google and Apple aim to make their technology front and center in the car.  Apple has CarPlay, a standard that allows devices running its iOS operating system to function with automobile dashboards.  Google’s version is called Android Auto.  These tech giants aim to provide consumers with a familiar user experience across smartphones, tablets, Smart TVs, cars and any other connected device.  But carmakers don’t want to cede the technology experience inside their vehicles to Google and Apple for reasons ranging from branding to legal liability. “We are the ones who get sued if something doesn’t work,” said Scott Burnell, a global head of business development at Ford. “Making sure that’s the proper content that should be in the vehicle is our highest priority and getting the user interfaces and services right is critical for the auto industry as a whole.” “The consumer has a tremendous amount of power in dictating what happens and what doesn’t happen,” said Zach Brand, vice president of Digital Media for NPR. “Right now, the control rests with the carmakers — unless outside parties are able to mount such a force through consumer demand that the manufacturers must change their position.”

Connected car technology will grow to be a very a big market. IHS Automotive, an industry research firm, forecasts the number of cars connected to the Internet worldwide will grow to 152 million in 2020, up from 33 million in 2014.  “The car is the quintessential mobile environment. It drives around, and it’s global,” said Kanwalinder Singh, a senior vice president at Qualcomm who heads the company’s automotive efforts. “Consumer expectations are unforgiving that the experience inside the car, including device integration, has to be top of the line.”

Automakers are responding by enabling mobile technologies in cars, such as embedded chips that power Wi-Fi hot spots.  The technology lets passengers link their Wi-Fi only tablets to the Internet on the road. AT&T and GM announced a change to cellular rate plans that allow consumers to add a connected car for $10 a month.  “It uses yourfamily plan, so it’s just like any other smartphone,” said Singh.

Apps and other smartphone-like technologies in cars have raised concerns about safety.  University of Utah professor David Strayer conducted studies with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety on levels of distraction created by different technology tasks in cars.  Using voice commands to change radio stations, turn up the air conditioning or other driving related functions didn’t create a high level of distraction, but listening to and composing text or email messages via voice recognition technology — or interacting with social media — did generate high levels of distraction, even higher than motorists holding a cellphone up to their ear and talking while driving, he said.  In addition, older/poor voice recognition systems and sluggish syncing can create an unsafe level of distraction for drivers who grow frustrated while attempting to get them to work.  “Yesterday’s concerns were cellphones. Today’s is texting while driving,” Strayer said. “But now we are beginning to see things that are really over the top in terms of difficulty for some people to use. ”AAA is lobbying the automotive and electronics industries to explore disabling voice-to-text technologies for such things as email and social media.

Carmakers and technology companies acknowledge that voice control systems face background noise and other technical challenges in cars, but they contend that voice recognition is getting better. “Certainly voice recognition and touch screen systems have the potential to both ease complexity in the vehicle as well as add layers of complexity,” said Ted Cardenas, a vice president of marketing at Pioneer Electronics. “Every day we are progressing to a more natural interface between the vehicle and the driver, so we are moving forward spawning other services that improve safety. Collision avoidance, through vehicle-to-vehicle communication will be required by government and insurance regulators eventually, according to experts.  Right now, connected cars can also acknowledge and react to traffic signals to prevent drivers from running red lights.  Apps are out there to help motorists find empty parking spaces by communicating with connected meters and parking structures. Data-driven telematics such as usage-based insurance, based on motorists driving habits, are being explored. Better diagnostics could help avoid large warranty claims. Apps even tell drivers which gas station nearby has the lowest prices and navigate them there. “We had the first generation of telematics, which is still in progress, where the features were focused mostly on safety, security and providing some basic vehicle control functions,” said Bret Scott, Chrysler’s head of future technologies. “Now we are security and providing some basic vehicle control functions,” said Bret Scott, Chrysler’s head of future technologies. “Now we are entering this foray of providing infotainment content and other forms of entertainment and news. Maybe down the road, vehicles will be “cooler” than smartphones and tablets and eventually become mobile super computers on wheels.”

They are certainly the most expensive mobile devices a consumer can own.  If things go as predicted, cars will on the top of the mobile devise food chain.


Author: Bob Koveleski, San Diego. Automorrow

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