Is Car or Driver Intelligence Leading the Future?

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After the last Consumer Electronics Show, we could see more clearly which new technologies will be the priority for car manufacturers in the coming years. It might even be worth a moment to analyze these trends a bit further.

Autonomous driving – no drivers, only passengers
After attending CES and reading numerous summaries on the show, it is no secret that, in regard to automotive technologies, the focus of the industry is turning to autonomous driving. As car sensors and processors get more powerful and less expensive, the cars of the future will have more capabilities than ever before. Increased power at a lower price also means that the array of developing technologies will be a centerpiece of both luxury automotive categories and affordable automotive categories. The result: self-driving technology will be available to the wider public sooner than we may think.

If the future task of driving is entrusted to sensors and technology, it means that the connection between the driver and the driving experience will be greatly reduced until that connection disappears altogether. When that happens, the role of the driver as we know it today will become obsolete, turning everyone into a passenger. The challenge for automotive manufacturers and suppliers will be to pinpoint and develop the necessary technologies to realize this future while building interiors and infotainment systems that focus more on entertainment and connectivity rather than information transference. The principal focus today is figuring out how to make the driving experience better, but a few years from now, we’ll have to figure out how to make the driving experience more social, connected and enjoyable. This shift is not in the distant future, as systems are already being developed that allow passengers to communicate directly with the driver, whether it is suggesting another waypoint in the navigation system or choosing new music – all by the simple touch of rear seat screens. As such, connectivity and integration are the keywords that drive the development of the in-car experience.

Connecting everything with everything
Everything is getting connected, and that includes our cars, which are now capable of communicating with smartwatches, wearables, homes, other cars and the environment; but the smartphone is presently the dominant device that is connected to our cars and seems to determine the core driving experience and how we interact with the vehicles around us. Google and Apple serve as the current placeholders for that trend. However, important questions must be raised: were our smartphones designed to provide the best driving experience and do we really need the same experience in the car that we have on our phones? The answers to these questions depend largely on personal preference.

I think that the car-smartphone relationship should be the other way around. The smartphone should be a useful companion for driving. This enhances the overall driving experience by providing another platform for communication – one that is integrated into the car and can assist drivers while they are out of the car. However, as more and more cars roll out of the manufacturing line with built-in Internet, we are tasked with figuring out what to do with our smartphones while we drive. In most cases, cars become connected through the driver’s smartphone, and head units are fully integrated with a companion application that can be used when the driver is outside the car. But this trend will change as cars become equipped with Internet.

Navigation and apps
Advances in navigation technology provide a prime example of how increased connectivity affects the driving experience. Drivers can use their smartphones to plan routes while at home, in the office, or spontaneously during a walk, and all that information automatically synchronizes with a car’s ecosystem upon entering the vehicle. Passengers also have the freedom to use their own screen or application to influence the driving experience. This makes the relationship between cars and passengers more interactive without sacrificing the core online features of navigation, such as up-to-date weather and fuel price information. We at NNG are continuously developing our solution in this category. NavFusion makes the connectivity between driving and navigation more seamless, but still allows car manufacturers to own the branding of the overall driving experience – something that giant smartphone makers fail to do.

Context is the key
Besides safety, context becomes the biggest challenge when integrating smartphones into our infotainment systems. Bringing the smartphone and increased connectivity into the car means that we are also bringing more apps into the driving space. Providing context is the process of selecting and showing the most relevant information at the time when it is most needed. Because we are still drivers – and not only passengers – it is essential to control the ever-increasing information that flows into the driving space. If we fail to do that, we risk becoming overloaded by apps and notifications while we perform driving maneuvers – both routine and advanced. We want to make available only the apps and notifications that help us drive more safely and more efficiently. This can be done by effectively controlling what is displayed –primarily what is necessary for driving – and by running apps in the background to prevent distractions. I am convinced that connectivity is both the present and the future of the driving experience, and in-car connectivity will develop until it reaches a point when the need for a driver is no longer necessary. But we have to remember that we are still drivers, so improving the driving experience is the biggest task for automotive suppliers. This remains the key focus of NNG as we develop the best solutions for the near and distant future.

As is the case in many markets, these automotive and technological trends are emerging in India. Winning ‘The Automotive Navigation of the Year 2014’ title with our local partner ANS proves that we are at the forefront of this development. Our goal is to bring these trends and technologies closer to our everyday lives in India, and to make them available – and, more importantly, affordable – for the wider public.