Redefining the automotive infotainment experience

By | 4 minute read | February 13, 2017

leadspace image of las vegas skyline where the CES event is held

Infotainment – the first clue about how hot a concept will become is when a pithy portmanteau has been added to our language.  As the promise and capabilities of automotive infotainment has been building for some years, we can finally feel like we have liftoff.  This year, CES has been overrun by the latest technologies to redefine the in-vehicle experience.

Over the last 5+ years, automotive technology has become as big a part of the CES experience as any other branch of electronics.  Over 175,000 people are attending this annual event to kick off the year and the automotive halls are packed.  From the most prestigious automakers, to innovative tier one suppliers, all the way to rows of low-cost suppliers you’ve never heard of, are announcing and showing off their coolest technology for cars.

IBM and automotive

IBM’s automotive global consumer study, A New Relationship: People and Cars, asked over 16,000 consumers about what they imagine they will want in cars to fit around their lives over the next decade.  One of our findings is that there’s a strong global interest in cars that offer ever-more sophisticated services that improve safety, bring convenient services, and to help people reclaim the time they spend in cars.  For the average American, this means “wasting”, on average, 17,600 minutes or over 7 workweeks worth of time, every year, and feeling trapped in a car with all sorts of things that need to be done.

Consumers are ready and a substantial percentage indicated they are open to a host of services that improve their experience.  While inherently difficult to ask consumers to think ahead for a full decade, over 1/3 to just over ½ of the global consumer indicated extreme to very strong interest in a myriad of connected services.

Information services that consumers want in their automotive offerings

Information services that consumers want in their automotive offerings

Furthermore, a large group indicated openness to new connected services, which leaves the challenge to automakers on how to engage them with compelling offerings that ensure security, reduce distraction and move vehicle users from today’s paradigm of taking care of their cars to a future setting where cars take care of people. People also adopt technology at different rates, but as easier-to-use offerings are brought to market large demographic groups typically follow the Pacesetters.

Today at CES, an enlightening panel took a closer look at redefining the automotive infotainment experience.  IBM’s Dan Ricci, Global Automotive Leader for Cognitive Solutions, joined this panel along with executives from Ford, Pioneer and Bosch.  The panel focused on three main concepts.

Automotive panel at CES 2017

Automotive panel at CES 2017

First, Dan’s perspective is unique for what he wants from vehicle infotainment systems. He says, “I actually don’t own a car as I live in Manhattan, but I use car share and rental fleets extensively.  I want personalized settings following me across the vehicles I use”.  Vehicle ownership will continue to decline so the digital interchangeability of vehicles will have greater demand. People are creatures of habit and want to have a singular digital and usage experience regardless of the car they are using.

Secondly, the complexity of features and human-machine interface remains a challenge to vehicle users.  Surveys show that less than 40% of features are typically used by consumers.  More work is needed to get more knobs, buttons and levers out of the car, simplifying HMI.

This is where technologies like Watson can help to automate the interface.  People want to be able to just tell cars what they want to do.  However, this stretches beyond a simple voice interface.  There must be intelligence in responding to drivers.  For example, drivers don’t just want simple look-up responses to replace a car’s manual, but desire diagnosis of why their car is drifting or what the strange noise coming from the engine means.

Finally, panelists agreed that vehicle users want to enable their digital life in their car.  Currently there’s pressure to shut off the digital world to keep from being distracted.  IBM’s recently announced partnership with General Motors begins to address how to safely bring digital services that consumers want into cars.  Cars should understand and know their users.  Ricci stated, “We’ve had automakers tell us that we want to give our vehicle’s a soul!”

The average American drives a car that is eleven years old.  It’s hard to square using eleven-year-old digital technology in the car when consumers are swapping to the latest smartphone every year or two. Vehicles won’t change as often as the apps and software, so cars need a smart device link where they can be regularly updated.  We also need consumers to access their devices safely in cars. We need to bring that together better so that people don’t need to bypass the safety engineered features in cars because they would rather use their devices.

Infotainment is becoming a key buying criteria for consumers. Initially it was an extension of the vehicle experience.  In the future, infotainment will be at the center of the vehicle experience.

A new relationship: people and cars

Join our webinar to find out how the automotive industry is taking advantage of cognitive capabilities to improve the driver experience.