Carmakers Must Take Ownership of Future In-Car User Experience

As the world’s automakers work to increase the autonomous capabilities of passenger vehicles and gear up for 5G connectivity, they will also have to reckon with changing consumer demands for in-vehicle information and entertainment.

With passengers soon able to relax, kick back, and take their eyes off the road for long periods of time, interior designs will start to reflect changing attitudes towards leisure. At the same time, demand for high-quality entertainment, in the form of video or audio as well as constantly updating information about the surrounding environment, will place additional pressures on automakers to provide a holistic, seamless infotainment experience.

“Increased connectivity and autonomous driving are totally changing the way of conceiving a car interior and the needs of our customers”, Jaume Sala, head of Spanish automaker Seat’s interior design team, told TU-Automotive. Sala explained technological, infotainment and information are becoming top priorities when designing a new car’s interior. “With the gradual introduction of autonomous driving this is becoming more important, because passengers will spend longer time in the car and will have similar connectivity habits in the car than they currently have at home, in the office or in the street,“ he said.

He noted voice command technology and gesture control would have a very relevant role in any future infotainment system. “Our objective is to reach a natural and direct communication with the vehicle, humanized as much as possible,” Sala said. “Technologies like voice and gesture control are making us rethink the priorities in our interiors, with the aim of generating easy interactions with the car.”

Looking beyond voice and gesture, interior layouts will change in ways that allow consumers to adapt the inside of the car depending on mood, activity, or the number of people in the vehicle. Michael Deittrick, senior vice-president and chief digital officer of mobile solutions and digital transformation company DMI said: “If we look at the realms of possibility, what I think will happen initially is that the cars will be designed to swivel and turn inward – you won’t have a side by side, everybody facing forward type of layout.”

Deittrick said the whole point is passengers won’t have to be looking at the road, which means whatever the epicenter of the vehicle is will be the focus of the design. “In the beginning you’ll still need individual screens but that will all come out of the center of the vehicle,” he said. “If you want to go into the fantastic, people are going to want to be able to look around the car and not see the car. People will want to see the world outside through video screens mounted everywhere.”

He said consumers would demand the ability to convert the car into any venue that they would go to – office, study, living room – and they are going to demand that the context be alterable depending on what they’re doing. “All that transformability inside the car is going to be critical,” Deittrick said. “Augmented reality is going to be the next big step, because it reduces the need of all that physical infrastructure screen real estate, which as it takes up more space, actually just becomes more distracting.”

Another important point to consider is that autonomous vehicles will generate a significant amount of data for both real-time vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications and reporting of vehicle diagnostics back to the carmaker. When it comes to the robustness of the network needed when the vehicle is in use, 5G would suffice in providing the needed connectivity, according to Cesar de Marco, head of Seat’s infotainment and connected car team. “Infotainment solutions with 5G connectivity will allow seamless real-time streaming of entertainment content, such as video in 4K definition, information on the current traffic situation or real time maps downloading,” de Marco explained.

Connectivity is only useful if it allows to connect consumers with the content they want, however, and that means automakers are going to have to find a balance between proprietary control of the head unit of the vehicle and allowing outside parties, such as Google and Apple, to connect passengers with music, movies and maps.

Allowing third parties to access the vehicle’s cameras and other components will be critical to providing the flexibility vehicle owners will demand in the future. “Anybody who wants to disrupt the autonomous industry needs to look at autonomous features like external cameras and the new value they can bring,” Deittrick said. “When it comes to entertainment, they need to partner with companies that are going to help them build this screen-less environment.”

He noted that in the next 5-7 years, the smartphone of today won’t look the same and if one takes that evolution and applies it to the car, interior design is going to be heavily affected by how consumers actually view content. “Automakers really need to look to the outside world and what tech is developing and bring that tech into the car. Then they’ll own the consumer within ten feet of that space,” Deittrick concluded.

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