This is a guest column by Ben Lamm, CEO and co-founder of Chaotic Moon, a software design firm based in Austin, Tex. The company started as a mobile app developer a few years ago and has transitioned into a creative technology studio focused on software for everything from cars and phones to retail environments. It has developed technology for Toyota and Lexus prototypes and is now helping General Motors envision the future of car infotainment systems. Lamm and his staff are a modest bunch, advising clients: “1. We are smarter than you. 2. We are more creative than you. 3. We can make you more money.” Here’s what he thinks about the future of connected cars.
The rush to create the connected car of the future is having the opposite effect of connection. In-dash tech is fragmented, hard to use, and full of apps that don’t translate across multiple platforms. Standard perceptions of connectivity are in the cloud, and automakers are stuck in the dial-up era.
This kludgy, leaderless landscape is fueling the industry’s frenetic push toward in-dash tech. At this year’s CES, nine separate car companies had major showings. All of them definitely had their eye-catching features, but they were just a slicker representation of the same problem.
We’re seeing some collaboration, with programs like Google’s Open Automotive Alliance and the Genivi Alliance Linux OS, but these idealistic programs exist outside the official car industry. Results have been modest. But even in the extremely unlikely event that all the car companies band together to share one platform, the cars will still be crowded with too many discrete apps, which will add to dashboard clutter and increase driver distraction. The generally-accepted way forward is unsafe.
Automakers have to be the ones to bring it all together sanely. New safety restrictions are limiting in-dash activity anyway. So manufacturers should take those restrictions and use them as a chance to innovate beyond apps.
When it comes to the future of in-car technology for developers, service providers, and retailers, they need to think about the 3 Cs: Connectivity, Context, and Consultation.
Connectivity. Very soon, every car in the GM fleet with come with the option of an in-vehicle GEN10 4G LTE broadband connection. This will instantly turn your car into a Wi-Fi hotspot. It will also herald the rise of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) as an in-car experience. If automakers continue to focus on screens, they’ll be going up against Apple, Android and inexpensive aftermarket car systems. The arrival of the in-car cloud should shift their focus from front-end to back-end solutions.
Context. The cloud will be the the glue between mobile-device productivity apps, the GPS system, the engine control unit, entertainment, music, retail and eventually connected home apps. Bringing previously siloed information together to paint a better picture for drivers is the way forward. Imagine a Kinect sensor on the outside of a vehicle that can: Detect which driver is walking up and adjust the seats and settings accordingly; and then coordinate with their mobile device to scan the calendar for the best route, sync with the ECU for gas stops on the way to work; or recommend you “wait out the traffic” by running errands.
This isn’t science-fiction. It’s happening now. We helped one of the world’s largest automakers prototype a similar walk-up experience to push things in the right direction. In Europe, BMW has an app for its new i3, synced with the car, that provides you with alternate walking or public transportation routes if the road is clogged, and will lead you to the nearest electric charging station. While it’s ahead of others, this is still a closed system. In-car cloud will force even the most tech-savvy in-car systems to open up to outside players.
Consultation. Eventually, individual automakers will turn all contextual data they’re gathering into a robust recommendations engine. With all of your data in one place, your car will not only be able to predict issues, but prescribe solutions for your in-car experience.
But that’s going to take time. Interestingly, the one that might get there first could be OnStar, which began with the right end goal in mind —consultative service— and has been building technology to support it ever since.
The future of the monthly subscription concierge service unique to GM owners may look something like this: When you get in your car at the airport parking garage, OnStar will know from your phone app that your plane was late and you have a meeting tomorrow morning. The system can suggest you order pizza with your digital wallet to have it arrive at your house five minutes after you do.
This level of convenience and service should be the goal for bringing car tech beyond the dashboard. Battling to become the auto industry’s next app platform is a reductive way to look at the bigger problem. Building a framework to bring discrete apps together into a genuine cloud-based system moves us from one-off solutions to measures that can holistically change the experience of being in a car. Connectivity, context and consultation is the industry’s path to creating safer, more successful products.
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