Over 100 people gathered in London on September 25-26 for London Business Conferences Connected In-Vehicle Summit. The central theme for the two days was bringing In-Vehicle Connectivity to customers through integration of devices, Apps and experiences. Vanessa Scholfield was there.

This summit is the first edition of London Business Conferences Automotive Innovation Series and drew an audience from a cross section of the automotive industry as well as Tier 1s, Tier 2s, service suppliers, and telecommunications companies among others. A range of global industry experts examined strategic industry approaches, experiences and technological innovation for bringing in-vehicle connectivity to customers in the most safe and user friendly way. 

The connected infotainment sector in Europe is growing rapidly and the pace of technological change presents challenges to all involved. This event provided an excellent forum for sharing ideas and experiences as well as testing out future scenarios for the industry. A small exhibition area provided a showcase for exhibitors and the speakers were freely available during the breaks and networking drinks at the close of day one.

The first day opened with a keynote panel on connectivity strategy. Discussing OEM approaches and strategic visions were representatives from Fiat, Aston Martin, and Volvo. Topics discussed varied from how best to take web content and put it in the car to bringing the car to the web and the methods employed for doing so. Matching consumer expectations for connectivity with the vehicle experience is a challenge for all involved and the general consensus is that there are a variety of different approaches being employed across the industry.

Significant variations by region reflect cultural differences as well as different stages of technological development. Some surprising cultural differences were highlighted as were some transferable lessons from the consumer electronics market.

Later in the day the issue of industry alliances between the automotive, telecommunications and electronics industries was explored. Insights into developments and upcoming innovation in the consumer electronic market, how this can be managed and fed into design of new automotive infotainment systems led to a lively discussion with panellists including Volvo, Nokia, and Basepoint Media. Developing an upgradable and universal platform for the future through flexible hardware and software solutions was seen as a key ingredient to the successful future proofing of infotainment systems.

One of the biggest challenges was seen as harmonising the relationship between the automotive and consumer electronics industries. Not only are product life cycles radically different but it was widely accepted that common solutions and minimum sets of inter-compatibility standards were necessary to improve and enhance the consumer experience.

Hans Roth, Director Technology Marketing for Harman explored the connectivity options and looked at in-vehicle Apps versus Connected Smartphone and Cloud based Apps. In terms of App integration strategies he outlined the options as follows:

  • Native/Classical – via the head unit and typically found on lower segment vehicles;
  • Imported Apps – downloaded into the vehicle via USB or wireless (eg: Toyota Touch & Go/Entune);
  • Smartphone – running via the phone – Mirror Link (all major platforms including Apple, Android, Windows, RIM and Nokia);
  • Cloud based Apps and services – run using the browser or slim head unit with a future proof interface. (eg: Subaru AHA Radio).

The pros and cons off each approach were debated with issues such as long update cycles posing problems for the native/classical approach while by comparison imported Apps give a degree of independence for the update cycle.

Smartphones on the other hand need to support all major platforms and must be aligned with the HMI of the customer. For cloud based systems the Apps and functionality run in the cloud and are delivered via the radio and the head unit could incorporate a browser. The advantage of this approach was seen as it being highly flexible, and providing instant updates. The main disadvantage was seen as its limited functionality without access to a network.

Examining the current and future connectivity interface capabilities of the various HMI options was the opening topic for the afternoon. Delegates and speakers debated the relative merits of switch gear, touch screens, gesture control and speech recognition. With reference to switch gear it was generally accepted that there is a move in the design of auto interiors away from visual complexity. This is especially evident in premium segment vehicles. How the driver safely interacts with the tablet, phone or touch screen while in the car is regarded as the most important issue in terms of the cockpit design. The haptic component of using a touch screen is minimal and the question was raised as to whether the increasing use of touchscreens is just a styling or marketing driven move.

According to Jaguar Land Rover, research shows that the sound and feel of switches is well received and that there is room for combining both touch screens and switches/rotary dials in some shape or form. Gesture control is another technology being used on some models today and Andrew Gellatly, Technical Fellow – HMI & Human Factors, User Interface Group Lead for GM cited the Cadillac Cue which uses common gestures to operate its system. For this approach to be successful GM believes gestures need to be memorable, consistent, fun or at least desirable to perform, safe and not distracting and last but not least address customer expectations. 

Looking ahead, GM will incorporate not just one technology but rather a balance of multimodal interactions and will explore new technology to use with pressure sensing. A further example of this multi modal approach was cited as the VW 2012 Passat which incorporates a “touch screen with buttons”. Speech recognition was debated but it was commonly agreed that reliability of this technology remains a problem and the cost of such a system today is largely prohibitive. Here again GM stated that it was looking at speech combined with touch buttons in an effort to find the “sweet spot”.

At the end of the day Renault discussed the issue of driver distraction and how safety and security is related to its brand identity. The positioning of displays on the instrument cluster and the location of the cluster itself was discussed together with the move from 2D to 3D displays which Renault will do for its 2018 models. The move towards on the road displays and the positioning of head up displays was highlighted as were driver assistance systems incorporating peripheral vision display that is expected to be found on Renault vehicles by 2022.