Can in-car electronics catch up to consumer tech?

Smartphone functions and capabilities don’t necessarily translate directly to in-car electronic systems, and the two sectors have very different demands and characteristics. Vehicle manufacturers have a number of extra factors to consider, such as safety, driver distraction, and the methods with which we interact with in-car tech. These are challenges for the industry to grapple with, but from a consumer point of view these issues are perhaps of less concern. How can this be addressed?

People have very quickly become used to the advantages of smart technology and connectivity, and many simply expect the same options and functionality in their vehicles. In the past, car manufacturers have understandably been reluctant to use external systems developed in the technology sector, preferring to use their own in-house display, infotainment and navigation systems. That trend has been reversing in recent years though, as OEMs are beginning to collaborate with the tech giants of the world.

How do consumers interact with car tech?

Perhaps one of the key issues to understand is exactly how consumers interact with in-car technology. Research by J.D. Power in the US in 2016 revealed some interesting findings about how the consumer views in-car technology.

The study - conducted between February and August 2016 - polled over 17,000 new vehicle owners after 90 days of driving. Unsurprisingly, trust in technology is related to age, with younger drivers showing a much higher level of confidence in vehicle tech compared to their older counterparts. Safety technology was highly valued by respondents, with three quarters saying they use features such as backup cameras and blind spot warning systems every time they drive.

Consumer response to dashboard technology was rather more eye-opening. Some 39 % of respondents in the survey said that they avoided using the infotainment and navigation systems on the center stack, preferring to use a smartphone or other device to carry out the same functions. Navigation systems also scored low on priority for drivers, but remarkably, when asked which feature they used most on a smartphone, more people answered ‘navigation’. While this is just one survey, it points to a possible disconnect between consumers and in-car tech. That’s backed up by the findings that where dealers provided training on technology, features were rated much higher by respondents.

Latest developments

The research suggests that general trends in the automotive industry are heading in the right direction. Creating ever more intuitive systems which can connect to personal devices or are designed on the same platform will increase consumer confidence and interaction. The latest technologies and developments in the sector point to increasingly sophisticated systems, which can close the gap between in-car and consumer tech.

BMW HoloActive Touch

BMW used the CES 2017 to unveil its next-generation interior, complete with an advanced gesture control system known as HoloActive Touch. As part of the new i Inside Future concept HoloActive Touch showcases what the German automaker thinks the future of in-car tech will look like - especially when the act of driving becomes optional.

The new concept features an expansive black dashboard which can be used in its entirety as a display, and a large screen where one would expect to find a gear stick. This screen helps to project the holographic display just above the center console, and below it are ultrasonic sensors for driver hand inputs. A camera tucked away to the right of the steering column also reads driver hand movements. The user can interact with the holographic display via gestures, and as soon as a fingertip makes ‘contact’ with one of the virtual menu options a pulse is emitted to confirm activation. BMW have also integrated an innovative system which provides haptic feedback via a blast of air. The flexibility of the dash display means that it is able to split and provide different entertainment or information to both driver and passenger.

BMW take a holistic approach to connectivity, and another feature of the i Inside Future concept is the Open Mobility Cloud - designed to provide a range of services and information in a world of autonomous vehicles and also integrating functions such as online shopping. Interestingly, the voice-controlled digital assistant is based on Microsoft’s Cortana technology, which may give an indication of where BMW is heading as it advances the system.

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