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CES 2015: Convergent technologies blend automotive safety, content & user experience

At one point in recent history, a company supplying electronic components into the automotive industry was generally focused on one area. Suppliers of radar sensors or cameras generally did not also offer a connected car platform or touch screens, and vice versa. At that same point in time, it was common to see engineering departments within automakers be fairly divided into infotainment, safety, and user design. At the 2015 International CES, it was made clear that the automotive industry has already broken down those barriers and convergence of technologies is vast.
Convergent Products & Concepts
Carmakers and their respective suppliers – for the most part – showed new technologies, prototypes, and concepts highlighting all three major elements of safety, content, and user experience. In fact, in many cases, a new technology component might be implemented for multiple feature applications.
For example, at the Hyundai exhibit, the new Mobis-supplied Display Audio system was shown demonstrating Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but half of the story was the new standard display and new native GUI (graphic user interface). Furthermore, a new long-range augmented reality HUD was shown in near-production grade form on a Genesis. While the large FOV (field of vision) display was impressive for the infotainment user experience, it is primarily designed around augmented safety system warnings and notifications, like Virtual Stop Lights, Augmented Lane Guidance Navigation, Pedestrian Warnings, and more.
Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz debuted its F 015 Luxury in Motion concept car. As Daimler AG Chairman, Dieter Zetsche, brought out the new autonomous car, he described a vehicle designed to change the way humans experience mobility – playing directly at both the safety and user experience aspects of the concept. Instead of thinking about the car as a mode of transportation, it would be a personal space for one to relax, socialize with friends, or close business deals. While many people do these very things on the road today, they are still secondary experiences compared to the primary function of driving.
Ford’s exhibit was SYNC 3 focused, as it should be. The OEM came to CES to debut the platform, which is in itself a story of content and user experience. Ford SYNC 3 adds AppLink, giving the 8-inch capacitive touch screen a myriad of content for users to peruse. But the much-improved GUI, combined faster processing and simplified system workflows illustrate that SYNC 3 is designed with the user in mind and efficient and intuitive operation as well as content.
On top of this, Ford CEO Mark Fields used much of his 90 minute keynote to discuss what Ford is doing around the world in trying to solve social problems and regional mobility issues, through the use of smart technology deployment. In essence, this is a converged theme, as Ford uses technology to improve safety, content, and user experience. Fields mentioned many times that Ford is driving to be both a product and mobility company, and ultimately, to help change the way the world moves – a statement that reconciles beliefs from company's founder, Henry Ford.
Volkswagen had possibly the most impressive display of safety, content, and user experience technologies of any automotive exhibit at the show. Volkswagen showed content innovations like its new App Connect option package that will be available on all 2015+ models with Composition Media, Discover Media, Discover Navigation, or Discover Navigation Pro infotainment systems. App Connect is a composite option package of Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink wrapped into one line-item on the spec sheet.
Volkswagen also had the Golf R Touch concept which combined a 12.8-inch top center stack display, an 8.0-inch lower center stack display, and a 12.3-inch instrument cluster display along with proximity control, gesture recognition, speech recognition, and a re-invented approach to on-screen graphics to create a whole new user operation – which in this case had no buttons.
In addition, Volkswagen showed several safety and autonomy technologies such as Trained Parking. This new technology remembers the frequently parked space via camera and ultrasonic, and then executes the similar path by computer control. This technology will eventually lead to the driver removing themselves from the vehicle completely during the parking procedure. Volkswagen also displayed a Virtual Key, which allows users to unlock a vehicle using Bluetooth Low Energy and a smartphone or smartwatch without any traditional keyfob.
The Underlying Technologies
With every new innovation comes an underlying technology (or technologies) that powers it. Sensors, communications, software, and processing power were built into most every automotive product or concept shown at the 2015 International CES. Technologies like near-field communications, multi-core processors, infrared sensors, LTE broadband, and software like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were everywhere.
At almost every exhibit of either an automaker or a supplier, showgoers could take in demos of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In fact, exhibitors such as Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Pioneer, Denso, Continental, Visteon, Texas Instruments and many more were showing the technologies in action.
One notable takeaway was despite the consistencies in the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto content offerings, the range of user experiences between the demos in each booth was vast. Some cars enabled multi-touch pinch and swipe functions on the map, others didn’t. Some systems had speech recognition in operation, others didn’t. Some systems had two USB ports, allowing the user to toggle between CarPlay and Android Auto, and others didn’t. Even the applications under each respective system were inconsistent. This all points to a surprising conclusion – carmakers might in-fact be able to customize the user experience a bit more than initially expected.
But the most notable takeaway on this subject was that Ford, FCA, and Toyota were not showing such technologies at all. Ford was focused on SYNC 3, FCA on its new UConnect Access services and high-end Alpine audio, and Toyota showed nothing but the new Murai Hydrogen Fuel-Cell vehicle. IHS expects these three OEMs, and most others, to eventually launch products with the Apple and Google solutions, but at this convention it was a stark omission.
Meanwhile, companies like Texas Instruments and NVIDIA showed serious commitment to bring high-power processing to automotive applications. NVIDIA, for example, launched two new chipset solutions. Their DRIVE PX and DRIVE CX solutions target the development of autonomous driving features and highly-advanced infotainment and GUI platforms, respectively.
NVIDIA has moved lots of its development dollars into automotive opportunities, and it was present in their demonstrations at CES. One example was at the HERE tent on the Central Plaza. The NVIDIA Tegra X1 was used to power a demonstration of HERE’s newest, most robust 3D maps with full lane-level tracking on a high-resolution display. The multi-touch pinch and zoom experience was very fluid. The user could select numerous visual representations of the map, such as a night mode, vintage mode, simple non-3D mode, and much more. HERE representatives said that the map was a significant step closer to an HD Map granularity, and the NVIDIA Tegra X1 chip handled it easily.
Texas Instruments, meanwhile, showed many solutions in automotive user experience, ADAS sensor fusion processing, V2X communications, and even a Jacinto chipset running an infotainment system with multiple displays, modules, and inputs concurrently, separated on individual cores.
Most impressive is the work Texas Instruments has completed with Autoliv and Neonode for a wholly redesigned approach to steering wheel controls and user interface. Using 152 individual infrared sensors, embedded into a ring around the Autoliv steering wheel and using proprietary Neonode software, the prototype offers function inputs on virtual buttons on any place on the steering wheel, and can register touchless gestures based on the proximity of the hand or fingers.
The inputs were impressive, but ultimately it was designed to coincide with a new TI DLP HUD and a Magneti Marelli 12.3-inch instrument cluster display to provide easier access to complex features like semi-autonomous mode, addressing phone calls, or activating speech recognition for infotainment.
These were only some of the automotive-centric highlights of the 2015 International CES. To report on everything seen, shown, demonstrated, or discussed takes up a lot more than this short summary. It is clear that safety, content, and user experience were central themes to each and every automotive exhibit on display at the show, and that the convergence of technologies is leading to some really powerful and integrated innovations in the cars of tomorrow.
By Mark Boyadjis, Senior Analyst, IHS Automotive
Posted January 22, 2015

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