Weekly Brief: Android Auto now works in any car, with or without embedded infotainment

Here’s the thing about dashboard infotainment systems: They don’t work very well. Year after year they rank as one of the most flawed features in cars, as consumers are vexed by freezing screens, outdated tech and complex commands.

Google’s answer? Eliminate the dashboard altogether.6

At last week’s I/O Conference, Google announced that the Android Auto app will soon work in any car, with or without a dashboard or pre-installed Android Auto. The phone will become the new command central via a dashboard mount (the sort that many drivers already use for convenient navigation app viewing). The app will pair with the car’s bluetooth so that navigation, phone and music all stream through the car’s audio. Alternatively, they can play straight through the phone’s speaker.

Google suggested at the conference that the app update is imminent and will run on the new Android N platform all the way back to Android 5 phones.6

In other news, startup Otto came out of stealth mode with a kit that turns any truck built since 2013 into a self-driving rig. The kit includes cameras, LIDaR sensors and radar and will sell for about $30,000; it’s already been successfully tested on two trucks in California. Drivers will still be in the truck (for now anyway), but Otto technology will ensure that trucks fall into platoon formation, stay in their lanes and operate as efficiently and safely as possible —a big deal when considering that truck drivers are estimated to be the cause of 87% of truck crashes. The company was founded by four ex-Googlers this past January, led Anthony Levandowski, former head of Google’s self-driving car project.

Popular navigation app Waze has launched a ridesharing program in the San Francisco Bay Area called Waze Carpool. The service makes ridesharing suggestions to users whose daily commutes naturally overlap. Riders send a request to drivers via the Waze Rider app; drivers receive money to cover the cost of gas. Google, Waze’s parent company, has elected not to take a cut of the transaction, probably as a way to get a leg up on competitors like UberPOOL and Lyft Carpool. Waze piloted a similar service in Israel last year. Video here

INRIX and Parkmobile are working together on an embedded, end-to-end parking solution for the auto industry. The goal is to reduce the noise and fragmentation around all the parking apps out there into a single, streamlined solution that shows drivers all available on- and off-street parking and makes it easy to reserve and pay for them.

Toyota Land Cruiser is pioneering a way to create emergency mobile connections for vehicles even in the most remote locations, like the Australian Outback. The LandCruiser Emergency Network works by outfitting LandCruisers with small plug-and-play devices that can send out emergency messages as far as 25 kilometres. When another LandCruiser within that range receives the message, it passes it along for another 25 kilometres, and the relay continues until the message reaches a base station, which sends the info out to emergency responders. Toyota has completed a pilot in the harsh Flinders Ranges of the Outback (where the Mars Society tests its rovers) and plans to deploy the technology at large in the Outback, with other remote regions to follow.

Apple opened a new development centre in India with the goal of expediting Apple Maps innovation. The Maps app has had a topsy turvy ride ever since Apple debuted it in 2012. Despite new features since then, like flyovers and 3D views, it still lags well behind Google Maps or HERE when it comes to coverage and features. The new $25-million centre will be based in Hyderabad and will employ 4,000 people, according to Apple.

Finally, Google wants to create a world in which pedestrians never get killed by cars, and they’ve got a wonky way to do it: glue. The company received a patent for an adhesive that would coat the front of self-driving cars so that, if they hit pedestrians (as some of them inevitably will), those pedestrians aren’t thrown onto the road, rather stick the front end of the car like flies on sticky paper. Google seems as unsure about how to actually pull this off as you or I, floating everything from pressure-sensitive to quick-acting adhesives.

If nothing else, the patent alone earned the tech company yet more media attention for its self-driving car project. Gizmag won the day with the name suggestion of “Gloogle.”

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.

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