Hardware Vital Part of Connected Experience, Says Honda

Too much emphasis in designing connected car systems is being placed on the software while ignoring a vehicle’s hardware.

This is the opinion of Honda’s head of connectivity, Mirai Aki, who designed he hardware HMI in the new Honda e urban BEV before even consulting the software platform developers. Speaking to TU-Automotive at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA), Aki said the IT consultants were shocked by his decision. He said: “I think the infotainment system has to be good for the customer and that the customer wants to use it. How to make the good infotainment system for the customer is something that needs a different approach and one of the unique things about the Honda-e is that we started from the design of the hardware.

Aki pointed to the problem stemming from a traditionalist view taken by some in the IT industry that user experience is dictated by the software platform rather than the physical hardware interface inside the vehicle. He explained: “The majority of people in the IT industry right now are geared from starting from the point of user experience – Silicon Valley people are always talking about user experience and that you need to come with a method or means to accommodate that. However, that’s a more advantageous approach for platform makers such as the people who make the same software and the same hardware and want everybody to use it. So, if you start from the experience viewpoint, the hardware is not seen as that important. Yet, because we are good at making hardware and since we wanted to make a connected car we wanted the car to look connected.”

Aki said Honda sees the hardware interface as a crucial element in engaging the consumer with the technology. He explained: “The challenge was making a ‘softer’ HMI to make the technology useful. A lot of the PICs [peripheral interface controllers] complained about the hardware being designed first but I told them ‘This is the car, this is the hardware now you think about how to make it useful’. It was a challenge to convince them to switch their minds in that way, then they understood that design was really important for this car and worked really hard to provide the useful use cases that were needed.”

Aki emphasized that consumer engagement must be the focus when installing technology into a vehicle mainly because it’s pointless applying innovations that never get used. He added: “This means the car becomes useful not only when you are driving alone but with a passenger beside you, there is a second display. Then when you are stationary, say waiting for the charging to be finished, you can use the displays to watch a movie while checking the charging state. So, that’s what we see as a good infotainment system for this car.”

Aki said the Honda e’s infotainment system is completely open to updating as and when new services are available. He said: “We have an app center which allows us to deliver the apps to the system displays in single screen size as well as dual screen size. How long this will be updatable is a challenging question because we need to make a business case for each app we use. So, I cannot give a specific date in terms of years but as long as customers want to use the apps we will try to provide the updates.

“Also, the car has the capability of updating the infotainment system as a whole and we haven’t locked down this system to others. We have opened the door to the Apple and Google guys to the system so you will be able to use third-party apps in the car with all their updates.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_


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