Risks Remain to Connected Car Revenue Streams

Connected vehicles are fast becoming in-car companions with everything people expect to enjoy on their smartphones, tablet PCs, smart TVs and on their PCs being made available in their vehicles.

However, while there is a significant push for an improved level of infotainment in connected vehicles, there are also raised eyebrows about how safe it all is. After all, the last thing people want is to be distracted when they are driving. Eyes should always be kept on the road to ensure that each journey is completed safely, and without any incidents occurring.

Rise in safety

For these reasons Mike Fisher, associate director of Futuresource, comments that the current evolution of connected vehicles towards becoming in-car companions has led to a rapid rise in safety features. He also finds that the biggest area of interest at the moment is in artificial intelligence (AI) vehicle solutions – coupled with edge-based processing, and the ongoing development of the virtual assistant experience with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri.

“This is going to key for the connected car going forward; we have seen an increased link with car functions, and with the real external world,” he explains. So, one use of virtual assistants could to be to ask, while still driving and with both hands on the steering wheel, “Hey Siri, where is the closest car park or restaurant?” Siri could then offer some choices but if you’re still driving it may not permit you to search or even to ask for directions to a specific location. Another limiting factor emerges during driving when virtual assistants offer a range of options that require you to look at the screen, which can lead to driver distraction increasing the risk of a potentially dangerous incident occurring.

In fact, as Fisher admits, technologies such as virtual assistants are still in their early stages of development. He nevertheless comments: “The rise of Apple CarPlay has brought core apps into the car, effectively integrating how people use their phones and personal devices into vehicles. AI platforms aren’t widespread at the moment, and the telematics services are at the very early stages. It is nevertheless moving onto the next level of interaction and integration.”

Robert Guest, vice-president of product management at ACCESS Europe adds: “I think the reality is that vehicles have been limited by the in-vehicle connectivity that can be used by consumers. We’re only now seeing the first really useful connectivity in a few select vehicles.”

Despite this, he thinks that in-car connectivity is really going to emerge when we have in-car Wi-Fi, which will turn each car into a router. Once this happens, he predicts that the potential for connected services will explode. His company offers an in-car infotainment service platform called Access Twine and, while he thinks most drivers will initially use audio services, he hints there are: “plenty of other offerings in the wings and the services will evolve towards video for passengers quite quickly.”

At present people use tethered mobile devices for wi-fi. Guest forecasts that cars will soon start to come with their own wi-fi hotspots and data plans as standards with each new vehicle. “It will be interesting to see how the public respond to a monthly data plan as part of their car ‘maintenance’ costs,” he says. Indeed, it will be!

Consumer limitations

Consumers are increasingly being asked to sign up as subscribers to online services – including to YouTube, online music service Spotify, and video-on-demand services such as Netflix. Some of those services had previously been enjoyed for free. No longer, the battle with falls in advertising is to win paying subscribers. However, this model could backfire because most consumers have a finite budget, so they are unlikely to want to sign up to all of the infotainment services at hand. In fact, they are more likely than not to want to have access to what they already access, whether free or paid for, via their various personal devices.

Guest comments: “The challenges are going to be how mobile operators are going to price the data and entertainment services price their content. The consumer resistance to ongoing car costs will be an interesting challenge – some OEMs may decide to offer wi-fi plans only, whereas some OEMs and mobile providers may offer data and entertainment packages for a single monthly fee.”

Fisher adds that the evolution towards connected cars becoming in-car companions is very challenging and it’s time, in his opinion, to take a step back. “If we think about the car industry as a whole it is a fundamental change for it. OEMs are increasingly becoming sellers of experiences rather than of a onetime product purchase,” he explains before adding that market structures are being impacted.

He elaborates: “Traditionally OEMs have worked almost entirely through their Tier 1/Tier 2 supply chain with extremely tight supply chains.  The move towards a connected car means OEMs are having to work with technology companies directly and that is a fundamental alteration to the industry. For the tech industry it is a real challenge too, the car industry has extremely slow upgrade paths and product lifecycles.”

Eyes on autonomous

Guest points out that: “Everyone is eyeing the march towards autonomous vehicles where even the ‘driver’ can consume information and entertainment services. Much of the autonomous vehicle technology is there but deployment comes down to governments and regulation. So, it will take a lot longer to appear than people would like.”

Meanwhile, Dr Paul Jackson, chartered psychologist at the Transport Research laboratory (TRL) adds a note of caution in order to take this technology to its conclusion in order to create safe, seamless and delightful in-car experiences for drivers and passengers.

He said: “Understandably, designers of these systems get quite excited about the potential of the technology but while the idea of creating delightful in-car experiences sounds great, we are some way off from being able to do this safely. There is also the question about whether it is desirable. Whatever in-car experiences are being delivered, they have to be safe. My job is to hold onto the reins of the technology specialist by asking whether it’s something we really want in the vehicle and if so, making sure that what is delivered is safe all the time.”

His colleague Dr Kirsten Huysamen, Human Factors Research and Collision Investigator at TRL, underlines that safety is the key issue. Drivers in semi-autonomous vehicles therefore have to have the ability to safely take back control of their vehicles without being distracted by infotainment, or by anything else. “Online services and virtual assistants could be distracting, and hence quite dangerous”, she warns.

“When it comes to a seamless in-car experience, the increased interactions with the additional in-car services could be quite stressful and cognitively demanding for the driver. Thus, it may be better to have fewer interactions rather than more with regards to road safety. In 10-years’ time this might change and adapt depending on driver experience and advancements in technology.”

Jackson, therefore, believes there is a role for infotainment to reduce driver stress and anxiety, while helping to ensure that they are alert while driving. Nevertheless, he believes there may need to be a trade-off between delivering a safe vehicle experience and a delightful in-car experience. That’s because safety is paramount and it’s streaks ahead in priority over any need for personalization.

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