Telematics: What’s next for apps and services, part II

Telematics: What’s next for apps and services, part II

The telematics industry is racing to evolve past basic safety and security features to systems that include natural speech recognition, advanced forms of location-based services, social media integration, and augmented reality windows that promise to not only make driving safer but also engage passengers in the back seat.

Human-machine interfaces (HMIs) and how drivers interact with them are also an important area of innovation. While Ford remains focused on a combination of steering wheel controls, touchscreens and a robust voice recognition system (that currently recognizes up to 10,000 commands), BMW has presented a prototype of a gesture control system that allows the driver using an in-car display to switch between full- and split-screen mode with a simple side-to-side wave of the hand. Gesture recognition offers drivers a novel and much more ‘emotional’ way of controlling vehicle systems, BMW argues. What’s more, it lets the driver keep his eyes on the road.

Thomas Gafford, CTO and co-founder of Guidepoint Systems, learned the hard way about the dangers of driver distraction with an Internet-enabled radio that his company helped develop for Visteon Corporation. A couple of years ago, he became so preoccupied with surfing for scores on the radio’s touchscreen that he slammed into a car in front of him. Both Gafford and Visteon decided to discontinue the product when it came time to work on an update. Gafford has since taken a much more conservative approach to packing new products with the latest functionality.

“Maybe we are a little overly conservative,” he says, “but I totaled my car a couple of years ago and it’s really made us evaluate very cautiously the type of interface and the applications that are provided to the customer. If that interface is going to distract from the core task that the customer has, which is driving their vehicle, then this is ultimately bad for the consumer. The approach we are taking is as the speech recognition improves, the apps that we provide [will be] better and better.”

Augmented reality technology could turn the entire windshield into a transparent screen capable of highlighting road signs, making navigation information appear as if painted on the road ahead or pointing out important landmarks that are still some way off.

The concept was proven last December with the commercial launch of Wikitude Drive, the first augmented reality navigation system for the smartphone. Launched by the Salzburg-based Wikitude (previously named Mobilizy) the software is currently available for Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Mexico and has so far sold more than 5,000 copies. (For more on smartphones, see Telematics and the ‘built-in’ vs. ‘brought-in’ debate, Telematics, smartphones and the future of connected infotainment and Six reasons the smartphone is key to auto telematics; to learn more about smartphone integration, read TU’s In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report.)


Beyond the back seat


Last summer, Toyota presented its vision of an augmented reality passenger window designed to connect children in the backseat with the world outside the car by providing distances to objects, giving their foreign names, zooming in on landmarks and acting as a drawing board for finger-painted images that seem to fuse with the landscape and move out of view as the car drives off. (For more on the back seat, see Telematics and infotainment: Designing rear-seat solutions and The great telematics face-off: Tablets vs. rear screens.)

“More and more children in the car are less and less interested or engaged with the surroundings,” says Simona Maschi, director of the Copenhagen Institute of Interactive Design, which worked with Toyota on the project. “They are much more focused on [their] iPad and iPhone and Nintendo technology. As a parent, you are completely safe if your children are busy with this kind of technology, which is nice. But children are losing the opportunity to engage with the outside world and learn from it.”

The biggest obstacle to making a fully augmented windshield is getting a large enough transparent display at a low cost, says Thomas Seder, lab group manager for human-machine interfaces at GM R&D. Because matrix-addressed displays are expensive, do not let through enough light and are prone to optical anomalies, GM is using a windshield coated with transparent phosphor and addressed with a laser.

Since the concept was unveiled early last year, the technology has moved out of the stationary lab environment and into a moving vehicle, where it is currently being tested with a simple app that highlights road signs. There are many issues to be resolved before the project can progress to more complicated apps, such as monitoring for peripheral events (a rolling ball coming in from the side, a bicyclist on a collision course with the vehicle) and navigation by landmark. These include decisions on when and for how long to present the virtual highlight to the driver and what form that highlight should take.

“We have internal debates about how much of a highlight do you need,” Seder says. “Is it sufficient to basically underline the appropriate thing, or do you need to render a virtual image that exactly matches the sign which you want highlight?”


Simplify, simplify, simplify


Coming from an aviation background, Seder favors simplicity. “We don’t want the user to be concerned with the virtual image; we want him to be concerned with the real image,” he says. “What we are hoping is it not only provides a safer driving experience by highlighting things that the driver may miss. We are hoping it actually changes the driver’s behavior, that they learn to scan for these things. We are trying to make things simple, intuitive, usable and safe”

Simplifying things is also what BMW is trying to do with its Infotainment Assistant. The Assistant promises to cut through the ever-growing jungle of infotainment options and fuse them into a coherent, accessible whole that doesn’t need to be browsed by source. “Today, you have a lot of infotainment offers,” says Katharina Singer, spokesperson for research and development at BWM Group. “You have different kinds of radio signals, from satellite and digital radio to analog radio broadcasts; you have your own hard drive, where you store a lot of music; you connect your mp3 player with the newest music. At the moment, you have to find that by source. In the future, you will decide maybe by mood or your car will have already learned your preferences.”

The car could, for example, know that on your way to work in the morning you want easy listening music interrupted by the most important emails of the day read out in a kind of news broadcast. On your way home, the car knows you want your favorite rock band and the newest Facebook posts by your friends.

What’s needed, according to Roger Lanctot, senior analyst, automotive multimedia and communications service, Strategy Analytics, are predictive models capable of gauging situations, particularly when it comes to traffic information. “We are getting more to a comprehensibly predictive model,” he says, “that’s going to tell you before you even get to the car, ‘Hey, I already checked out the traffic situation and it looks like there are a few things that are different today than the typical Tuesday morning. You may want to consider an alternative route.’”


Jan Stojaspal is a regular contributor to TU.


For more all the latest telematics trends, join the sector’s other key players at Content & Apps for Automotive USA 2011on Nov 29-30 in San Diego.

For exclusive business insights into HMIs, download TU’s report Human Machine Interface Technologies.

For exclusive business insights into the telematics market, read TU’s reports In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.

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