Today’s Connected Car: Behind The Screen
By: Mike Szudarek
Regardless of which global OEM or supplier is on top, Detroit will always remain the automotive capital of the world. With the second highest concentration of tech workers outside of Silicon Valley, and the ever increasingly innovative technology within automobiles, Detroit is quickly emerging as a contender for the technological capital as well.
It is only fitting, then, that the biggest connected car conference and exhibition—TU-Automotive Detroit 2016 (http://www.tu-auto.com/detroit/) –is held right here where it all started. With every major OEM, supplier, software, and information and communications based company in attendance, the timing for this conference couldn’t be better.
Indeed, it is an exciting time in the automotive industry. With the ascension of Information Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Software Development and Telematics reaching new heights daily, visions of autonomous vehicles with fully functional infotainment connectivity seem to be drawing nearer. The days of printing out driving directions from the internet, holding your phone while driving, or even glancing over your shoulder while your vehicle is in reverse are behind us. As connectivity, safety, and technology advance, so do the ergonomics of the vehicle and driver comfortability.
Sounds like a dream, right? Maybe not entirely. Perhaps for consumers; but for the automakers themselves, maybe not so much.
While consumers are eagerly awaiting their next automobile where they can connect their gadgets, effortlessly navigate to destinations, talk without holding their phone, and get notifications when they veer outside of their lane, OEMs and suppliers are aware of some major issues that stem from the over abundance of connectivity being placed into these vehicles.
You’ve been stuck in traffic at some point, I’m sure. Imagine you’re gridlocked on a freeway for an extra half hour, only to realize when you get close enough, three out of the four lanes are closed due to an accident—forcing all four lanes into one. This is a very relatable analogy to the seemingly insurmountable data that is attempting to travel uninterrupted within your vehicle. Data can slow down. Data can halt. Data can crash. Are there any potential solutions to this bottleneck conundrum?
The auto industry assures us there are—which is why it is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in creating vehicles with these particular features. As the saying goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Consumers and automakers are on a seesaw of back and forth technological innovations and their respective connectivity capabilities within the vehicle. Design, integration and production is becoming increasingly more challenging as consumers demand more technological features within the interior of vehicles. In an attempt to appease the consumer base, and still have an economically viable and feature rich car, automakers are fighting for the right solutions to bring drivers the experience they desire.
Moreover, the infotainment industry is the most competitive automakers have ever seen. While combating the ever-present pressure to produce a product that makes consumers happy, this is compounded by battling with each other for the next innovative solution. With the evolution of this technology coming on so rapidly, companies often struggle within the design and product development phase. So much so, more and more advancements are occurring simultaneously as they come up with solutions.
Modern infotainment systems continue to evolve from a closed loop of technological limitations to an open ecosystem, which produce more opportunities for a host of applications at the consumer’s fingertips. This advancement is labeled as V2X, or vehicle-to-everything, and it combines embedded systems as well as “brought-in” technologies, which has opened doors to these new feature rich systems. With more players than ever providing interior vehicle products, streamlining the integration process between these technologies has become a problem in desperate need of an immediate solution.
The more technological advancements consumer electronic companies make, the demand consumers place on the automakers to integrate those advancements will go up in unison. There seems to be a consensus on a few approaches to provide the connectivity consumers want, and match the pace they want it at.
Working cohesively with consumer electronics companies on design and engineering phases of infotainment systems appears to be one path of least resistance when integrating applications and features. Since the products consumer electronics companies make are the very ones consumers are pushing towards overall functionality in their vehicles, it only makes sense automakers and these companies align to design pragmatic solutions.
More importantly, while players at the operational and business development level are figuring these solutions out, there is an ever present shortage of tech workers with backgrounds in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, and Software Engineering to support on ground operations in implementing these solutions. Perhaps an even greater answer would be figuring out how to further bolster STEM curriculum in schools to help meet current and future workforce demand.
While the automakers play catch up, the consumers play the waiting game. We live in a culture of immediate gratification, and consumers aren’t quick to empathize with manufacturer’s problems. The pressure is on; and it isn’t going anywhere soon.