Wednesday, July 24, 2013

C3 recap: The future of the connected car

UPDATE: CE Week has uploaded audio and video of the C3 panels that Derek covers in this post. To hear what experts from companies like AT&T, BMW, Delphi, GM, and QNX see on the horizon for the connected car, visit the Connected Car Conference website — Ed.

Derek Kuhn
“Automotive has always been a wellspring of technology and innovation.” Those ten words, spoken by Doug Newcomb, car technology consultant and conference chair — and occasional QNX blog contributor — brought the Connected Car Conference (C3) to a successful close. The conference, co-located with CEA’s CE Week in New York City, featured panels on issues and trends for the connected car: big data, the future of radio, driver distraction, and more.

I was honored to sit on a panel that included executives from General Motors, AT&T Emerging Devices, and Audiovox, and that tackled the question on the minds of everyone in the industry: how can cars keep pace with consumer electronics? Traditionally, the speed of car development has trailed consumer devices, but with consumers looking at their cars as another connected gadget, the industry is working to bring technology into the car faster, while still providing a safe, reliable experience. As GM’s Tim Nixon put it, “we want to make the car better from the day you drive it off the lot.”

Striking a balance
Tim’s comment touches on something we frequently discuss — the significance of over-the-air (OTA) updates in ensuring that a car always has the latest technology. In fact, my colleague, Tina Jeffrey, just wrote a blog post on the topic; it's worth a read. Another point that came up is the need to balance security with consumers’ desire for cutting-edge technology. As I pointed out, not all infotainment systems are created equal — security shouldn’t be an afterthought in the pursuit of the latest and greatest tech. Rather, it should be deeply engrained in each step of the software development process. At the same time, consumer choice also has to be balanced with what OEMs are comfortable with.

Driving big data
John Quain of the NYT hosts the big data panel.
Photo: Doug Newcomb
John Quain of the New York Times hosted a panel on big data, which was full of insights on how data is being used to connect drivers and their cars. In response to the question, “how can big data in automotive save lives?” Delphi’s Doug Welk commented that, while data on crashes was abundant and readily available, data on near misses — which is even more important to understanding how to prevent accidents — is scant. Telenav’s Niall Berkey pointed out something that my colleague Andrew Poliak often discusses: the importance of the car as a sensor. For instance, by using information on how a driver is behaving, a car could activate assisted-driving technologies to reduce the likelihood of an accident.

Dealing with distraction
During the “Dealing with Driver Distraction” panel, representatives from the Auto Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Nuance, NVIDIA, and Pioneer spoke on how the industry is working to curb distraction. Gloria Bergquist of the Auto Alliance stated that the concern is nothing new; when car radios were first introduced in the middle of the last century, industry watchers claimed that drivers’ attention would be diverted by the novelty.

Gloria also drew from her organization’s recent report, which showed that most drivers overestimate how well they can handle distractions and think that it’s other drivers who can’t cope. Erik Clauson of Nuance discussed how voice recognition technologies — like the QNX intent framework — can play a large role in decreasing the cognitive load of drivers. Dave Anderson of NVIDIA defended skeumorphism — a design aesthetic that has received much criticism as of late — as a way to increase the intuitiveness of user interfaces and therefore decrease distraction. For example, digital instrument clusters that look like conventional (and familiar) analog instruments can enhance the driving experience.

Continuing the conversation
The day ended with a networking reception — a unique opportunity to pick the brains of the some of the industry’s thought leaders and observers. While I got to spend only a short time in New York for the event, I am look forward to next year when we can continue this conversation on the industry’s challenges and innovations.

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