Home opinion-and-analysis ShawThing Reimagining cars for the digital era

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Kit from Knight Rider 2000 Kit from Knight Rider 2000

A car’s primary purpose is to go from A to B meeting acceptable (yet entirely arbitrary) levels of performance, safety and economy. How can technology help improve the experience?

Following an iTWire article on smartcars we decided to revisit the technology that needs to be incorporated into these vehicles...

First let me acknowledge that the overwhelming response to the smartcar article was that driving a car is a DEAD serious activity and caution is essential. So my attitude has changed a little – let cars do basic car stuff and use technology to overlay better driving and safety features.

I was interested to read about Nuance (of Dragon Dictate fame) buying Tweedle Connect.

You may not know that Dragon Drive is one of the leading voice interfaces for cars. Its automotive voice platform applies natural language processing and speech-enabled technology to help drivers and reduce driver distraction. Its functions include communications, navigation, entertainment, and connected car solutions.

Tweddle Connect creates a link between cloud-based services (like Pandora Radio) and the car’s electronic system including smartphone integration. RIP Siri.

In summary now we can talk to the car via Dragon and it uses Tweedle to interact with the world.

Then I read that Intel provided $100 million to a ‘connected car fund’ to advance the cause.

Its focus is not so much infotainment (but look at the system in Tesla’s electric car - pictured) but what can be done to improve the driving experience using cloud information (traffic conditions, communication with other vehicles) and future technologies like: OLED displays incorporated in windscreens and glass; self-drive; intelligent rear and front view cameras; crash avoidance like radar and lidar; intelligent control of air conditioning and lights; smartphone integration; and eye tracking and gesture control.

Intel quipped that its Haswell technology needs to be under the bonnet (referring to its powerful and power sipping Core processor technology and applying IT technology to automotive electronics and control using IP networks instead of wire harness. Auto electricians with a Cisco certification!

But is the car the right vehicle?

Our 1 billion cars are generally much less efficient than they could be. Apparently more than 80% of cars are much underutilised - one person driving to work is a waste. IT has the potential to fix this via cloud connectivity it could facilitate differential tolling but better still intelligent car sharing, community ownership and pooling – four people in one car is a better use.

Imagine if Xbox controlled the user experience

Kinnect 2 recognises gestures, expressions and much more at lightning fast gaming pace. Sure you may have to change the steering wheel for a hand controller. All jokes aside this smart device could enhance driving and safety by applying game technology and making the car an avatar to negotiate those perilous conditions. Kinnect’s aim is to free the player (driver) from the need to make any decisions except keep their eyes on the road.

Imagine if cars were made by Microsoft - it is an old joke but:

"If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving twenty-five dollar cars that got 1,000 miles per gallon."

GM retorted "Yes, but would you want your car to crash twice a day?" If Microsoft had dominated the industry as they normally do, then we'd have to deal with the following:

  • Every time they repainted the lines on the road you would have to buy a new car.
  • Occasionally your car would die for no reason, and you would just accept this, restart and drive on.
  • Occasionally you would have to re-install the engine for no reason.
  • You could only have one person in the car at a time, unless you bought CarPro.

Imagine if cars were made by Apple

Apple would make a dead sexy car that was reliable and easy to drive but was twice the price of all others.

  • It would only run on the Apple owned roads and only fill up at Apple owned service stations.
  • The oil, gas and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single "general car default" warning light and there would only be one Home button
  • Apple seats would only fit one sized ass – you want it, you use it
  • Siri would tell you where to go
  • People would get excited about the "new" features in iCar 6, forgetting completely that these had been available in other brands for years.
  • You would have to line up at midnight to get iCar 6

Imagine if cars were made by Google

Oh wait it does. But you could not start it withoutlogging into Google+, watching an advertisement and it would take you from A to B via all recommended participating merchants.

The author apologises for writing this article on a wet Saturday afternoon instead of doing really important stuff like house cleaning.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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