As computing power and cloud connectivity innovations continue to boost passenger vehicle performance and efficiency, the automotive industry must pay closer attention to how software and on-line services can further transform user behaviour and turn the vehicle cockpit into a truly intelligent space.
Just like technology continues to reshape how people live, eat, sleep, work, and play, behaviour behind the steering wheel is also on the brink of being transformed. Although advancements in engine performance and innovations in automotive technology and electronics have led to safer journeys and more intelligent driving experiences, the user experience in the cockpit itself has remained relatively constant over the years. With tighter regulation around lower CO2 and NOx emissions, the demand for new clean-tech and energy-efficient vehicles is increasing. Alongside this, technology such as 5G, cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT), and self-driving are beginning to appear in cars, and the automotive industry has to reimagine the cockpit and view it as a more social and connected space than it has ever been before.
In-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems play a crucial role in moving towards a more intelligent cockpit, especially as these systems become increasingly software- and services-oriented, more digital, networked, and inter-operable. There’s no question that vehicle head units are more advanced and better equipped than ever before. However, most IVI systems still have limited functionality, primarily due to infrequent updates with the HMI control hardware and computing capabilities, and limited in-vehicle apps and services.
A solution is to extend the smartphone’s use in the car. The current mobile phone screen mirroring solutions extend the apps and service for in-vehicle use, but do not support the smartphone as an external computing device to deploy evolving use-cases which rely on AI and edge computing.
Consumers want to see smart all-scenario mobile capabilities across all facets of their lives, including in their vehicles
Consumers typically upgrade mobile phones every 18 to 24 months to enjoy the latest hardware platform capabilities (chip-level AI, encryption and security), software platforms, high-speed mobile data connectivity, and various user-friendly apps and services. The growing prevalence of this advanced technology in everyday lives is more than just shaping the consumer experience—it’s having a lasting effect on human behaviour as consumers grow increasingly accustomed to having unlimited services and experiences immediately accessible.
Furthermore, as technology continues to advance across different devices, people expect to enjoy these services throughout a range of everyday scenarios. It wasn’t long ago that asking the speaker for weather updates or relying on a wristwatch to record complex fitness data would have seemed unimaginable, yet hand-operated audio input speakers and digital watches already seem like products of the past.
Until now, passenger vehicles have been relatively immune to this drive towards better cross-device connectivity, and most people still view basic vehicular performance as the yardstick for measuring a car’s quality. However, this is set to change as consumers want to see smart all-scenario mobile capabilities across all facets of their lives, including in their vehicles. Just as people now expect to access their banking accounts through their phones, tablets, TVs, and watches, they’ll soon expect their vehicle head unit to connect them to a work call or turn on the heating at home. Automotive industries have been a little slower to adapt to this drive towards super connectivity and are yet to deliver solutions that bring different media streams into one service. In this sense, integrating more intelligent services to the in-car environment will soon become the sector’s baseline requirement.
And therein lies the challenge—how can mobile technology’s superior performance and capabilities be transferred into the passenger vehicle, turning the cockpit into a smart space that integrates home, entertainment, work, and social activities? Ultimately, the automotive industry’s goal should be to make the in-vehicle experience so seamless that users feel as though they’re always using one virtual device, instead of seeing their phone or smart device as a completely separate entity to their vehicles.
The first part of turning this vision into a reality is resigning the current ‘Connection 1.0’—that is, closed vehicle operating systems limited to mirroring a phone screen to a vehicle screen—to history, and embracing ‘Connection 2.0′. This establishes multi-channel connections between smart devices and head units. It isn’t restricted to mobile phones and extends to other smart devices such as watches, PCs, and speakers.
Integrating the vehicle into the users’ shared ecosystem will make the vehicle cockpit experience safer and smarter, as well as redefining the driving UX by unlocking new features. For example, leveraging better resource-sharing between mobile devices and head units means that advanced capabilities such as 5G, AI, and GPS data sharing can drastically enhance the vehicle cockpit environment. In turn, this can deliver better video and call transferring services, enable fatigue detection alerts to remind drivers to remain focussed, and improve navigation accuracy.
Ultimately, the automotive industry’s goal should be to make the in-vehicle experience so seamless that users feel as though they’re always using one virtual device, instead of seeing their phone or smart device as a completely separate entity to their vehicles
At the industry level, this requires increased collaboration between automobile manufacturers, mobile service operators, smart device manufacturers, academia, government regulatory bodies and hardware and software service providers. From a technical perspective, it requires powerful in-vehicle computing capabilities and more advanced software being made available to automotive manufacturers and app developers by facilitating the mobile phone to be used as an edge computing and cloud computing platform.
The automotive industry’s ultimate goal is simple: establish a high-speed connection channel between mobile phones and head units to closely link travel scenarios with other scenarios, such as the office or home. Manufacturers and Tier 1 suppliers must have access to the computing power of peripherals such as mobile phones and mobile internet ecosystem services—in bulk and at low costs. This enables them to upgrade the intelligent cockpit experience in one step and accelerate the development of intelligent connected vehicles, while simultaneously reducing their R&D costs and shortening the R&D cycle. App developers also play a crucial role in this production line as they have the power to update services and innovate quickly; while the automotive and mobile app development sectors have traditionally been mutually exclusive, the need for collaboration between the sectors has never been greater. Technology companies are in a great position to bridge the gap between the different players in the automotive supply chain.
About the author: Dr Ashish (Ash) Meena is Huawei’s Director of Global HiCar Ecosystem & Partnership Development