As we saw at Geneva and CES this year OEMs are coming up with ever more ingenious ways to link you to your car. Slick in-dash touch screens, voice and even gesture controlled systems that can connect with your smart phone, link you with Facebook and download new apps are all part of the exciting new wave of in-car infotainment. They represent the new generation of in-car information systems and a leap forwards from the JVC unit I had in my first first car that could only receive 3 radio stations and play 1 jammed CD.
Now some have questioned the safety of all this techology. This Wired article cites a study carried out by MIT that looks into how a driver’s concentration is affected when forced to multitask. Their findings suggest that human concentration is not binary, but much better characterised as shades of grey. So this opens up the discussion, how much is too much?
Above:Probably too much
The study claims that hands free technologies might not be the silver bullet that automakers and policy makers had hoped for. According to study author Bryan Reimer, “hands-free technology does not make driving and technology safe. It can make it even more problematic when people perceive they’re doing something that’s safer” and that the real issue is how much ‘cognitive demand’ should be placed on the driver.
OK so before you shoot the horses, this study is intended as an aid to help create safer in-car systems and does not recommend an out right ban on them. Reimer warns that “drivers don’t know their own limits” and suggests one possible solution could be “technology that would alert the operator they’re functioning in an area where they’re really not capable” (others have suggested removing all but the simplest functions all together).
An interesting thought though, especially as a 2009 study by the Virginia Transportation Institute found dialing a phone made the likelihood of a crash almost three times higher if you’re driving a car and almost six times higher in a truck. Texting in a truck makes you almost 24 times more likely to have an accident. Yeesh.
On top of this analysts at ABI research have found that profits in the infotainment sector are actually set to decline. According to ABI’s 2010 research report profits in the sector are set to fall to $24.8 Billion by 2015 from a high of $29.5 Billion in 2010. Research director Larry Fisher attributes this to “pressure from the aftermarket, and from free or low-cost applications available via smartphone handsets, which will drive down ASPs for GPS/navigation systems so severely that, while the number of vehicles equipped with such systems will double worldwide over the forecast period, revenues for those systems will decline by two-thirds”.
The good news from this is that loss in revenue will largely be confined to in-vehicle navigation and that some of these loses will be offset by growth in the rest of the infotainment sector. In fact Mr. Fisher reports that excluding GPS/NAV services the sector will actually experience a healthy 20% growth over their forecast period.
Above: GM Gogo navigation app streams from drivers iPhone or Android device.
With people choosing cheaper after market navigations (such as Tom Tom and Garmin) or using their smart phones (as this commentator does) one OEM choosing to make the most out of this shift in navigation use is GM. They are exploiting their customers’ penchant for smart phones to increase their sales of not only infotainment systems but navigation software too. Their solution revolves around their latest MyLink unit which allows drivers to connect their smart devices and control them through a 7” touch screen with voice command. Users simply need to download the $50 Gogo Navigation App for their phone and they will be able to stream the navigation through the MyLink system. Not only are their obvious safety benefits from using a 7” centrally mounted screen compared to a small after market device but the low cost and integrated nature of the package should entice new buyers into the market.
Indeed automotive infotainment is now flourishing thanks to standards that prolong obsolescence, which in turn is drawing in third party developers eager to write software with a potential sales base of millions of drivers. This holds the promise of licensing revenue and on-going service revenue from these innovations.
Serendipitously the report ends somewhere near where we started, warning that sustaining revenue might be a bit like trying to nail jelly to the wall. This is because consumers are often reluctant to pay for something they might easily be able to get for free. Meanwhile the looming threat of safety legislation hovers over the industry amid concerns of driver distraction. For example this study by the The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (USA) proposes that traditional real time navigation should be done away with and replaced by systems that update every 4 seconds.
Despite these concerns I can say with certainty that all of these new ergonomic and streamlined systems are safer and much less infuriating to use than my old JVC. However, like never before manufacturers have more to worry about in this field. The potential for these technologies to enhance the driving experience is large as long as safety is ensured and revenue can be harnessed. A change is upon us and coping with it will certainly require a little lateral thinking.
For some interesting comment and extra information on this topic;