The Connected Car


"In order to compete, the automotive industry must now keep pace with the innovation and scalability found in the consumer electronics industry."

The idea of an intelligent car has long held appeal in popular consciousness, perhaps best epitomized by KITT, the conversational Pontiac Trans Am in the 1980's American television show "Knight Rider". The relationship depicted between KITT and his crime-fighting driver/partner Michael Knight represents a certain persistent techno-futurist vision: KITT's cool, technical rationality balances Knight's hot-blooded (and dim witted) intuition-forming the perfect, if cliched symbiote of man and machine. As rapidly advancing vehicle technologies, including on-board computers, voice control, heads-up display, wireless networking, and even autonomous operation, become commonplace in the auto industry, the question of how the car relates to its drivers and passengers has gone from sci-fi speculation to design and marketing brief.

In recent years, two visions of future in-vehicle experience have predominated. The classic, and Knight Rider-esque perspective takes the act of driving as expression of creative will, and focuses on empowering the human decision-making process, while discretely and inoffensively curtailing its excesses for the sake of safety and environmental responsibility.

An alternative vision of automobile intelligence advanced by ecological and financial pragmatists depicts highways full of super-efficient, self-driving cars that automatically stay the correct distance apart, their "drivers" freed to relax, work, or attend to children. Figuratively (and often literally) recasting the personal vehicle as a form of passive mass transit, this vision replaces the traditional human-machine coupling with a new interdependency between the on-board computer and powerful servers at the heart of a transportation network.

As this dichotomy illustrates, the connected car is likely to be a crucial testing ground, not only for the development of new mobile interaction models but for the experimental formulation of computer personalities. Our 'love affair with the automobile' is only just beginning.

The Networked Car

Like facile smartphone, the car must mediate the volatile conditions of its ever-changing environment; it must communicate with other cars at close and distant range; and it must accommodate information and entertainment demands. What if like the smartphone, every car had a wireless internet connection-what new efficiencies and affordances would emerge?

Several auto manufacturers have begun exploring how In-vehicle Infotainment (IVI) systems can integrate and enhance the digital activities common in users' lives and to impart them with vehicle-specific capabilities and character. Examples include Toyota's in-vehicle social networking service called "Toyota friends", (anticipated 2012 release) which enables owners to "friend" their cars and to receive tweets for maintenance and other notices. Mercedes-Benz Mbrace, is another IVI service which gives drivers the option to find and navigate to a Mercedes-driving friend's location.

How might data exchanged between connected cars improve user's experience?

Navigating Choice

Navigation, as most smartphone users can attest, is no longer just about how to get from point A to point B; it's about making informed decisions on-the-go using a broad scope of relevant information, including costs, ratings and commentary, trajectories of companions, as well as of course, times, distances, and traffic. A number of vehicle manufacturers are seeking to adapt the rich navigation experiences of the smartphone within the ergonomically and visually restrictive space of the automobile. The BMW Vision ConnectedDrive service pulls a wide range of information about a car's immediate surroundings, including road safety information and POI info, pulled from the internet and filtered according to a personalized set of user selections, specified from the vehicle's interactive panel or from home PC or mobile device.

How might multiple sources of location-based data be integrated into in-vehicle navigation experience?

Car as an interactive surface

As mobile and vehicle-embedded screen devices become staples of in-vehicle experience for passengers, handling activities from communication and navigation to entertainment, the once-idealized collective experience of the car (think Sunday Family Drives) has become more anti-social, siloed into individual rather than shared experiences.

Toyota's 'Window to the World' concept attempts to re-engage digitally-savvy kids with the physical environment by making the car window an interactive surface. Using augmented reality technologies that utilize camera tracking and location-based information, information about the places and establishments passing in front of the car window can be read, illustrated, and playfully manipulated through simple drawing tools.

How can the car cockpit create stronger relationships among passengers and between passengers and the exterior environment?

The Conversational Car

Due to the visual and cognitive intensity of driving task, voice recognition has long been the holy grail of in-vehicle computer interfaces. Software technologies are finally catching up, and slowly making their way into IVI systems, predominantly to control music selection and GPS destination input. Cadillac, an IVI technology leader, is rolling out a new natural language recognition system called "Cue" in its 2012 cars. Cue will let users ask for music by artist, song, or radio station, using conversational, rather than command language. The Cue talks back to the driver too, confirming choices, asking for clarifications, and perhaps soon, asking How are you?

How might voice, tactile, and visual I/O systems better complement each other within the mobile IVI ecosystem?