Consumer technology and automotive technology has been converging in the area of in-car entertainment and information processing. The trend has spawned a more discerning and demanding market of car buyers who expect to experience inside the car what the experience at home or office. The idea of seamless home-to-car-to-office technology can only become more exciting over the next decade. Whether it’s social networking, the latest mapping technology, high definition television, heart pounding multichannel sound, or high speed internet connections, car enthusiasts can expect more features, higher performance and tighter integration across all computing and entertainment devices in their cars, SUV and campers.
What road infotainment is about
In-Car Infotainment, also referred to as ICI or in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) is the catchall technology buzzword for hardware and software that bring together audiovisual entertainment, satellite based navigation, and internet access inside your automobile. It’s a portmanteau of information and entertainment rolled into one with the enabling hardware installed in your vehicle that you can enjoy while on the move.
More specifically, it covers CD/MP3 and DVD and high definition Blu-ray playback, Freeview/TV, USB connectivity, and multichannel surround sound system. Increasingly popular are video gaming features incorporated in these systems. There are now single hardware consoles that feature all these, including several playback features supporting FLAC, WMD, MP4 and other audio and video file formats that can be downloaded to the ICE from your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
Just like smartphones and computing devices, there’s no limit to the technological advances those devices will progressively inherit from faster processing and broadband communications. ICI and IVI technology cannot be far behind. Below is a list of future possibilities with the technology of in-car infotainment.
The sound of music on the go
Bluetooth may be just another wireless data connectivity option in your laptop, but it has become a useful interface for music and video playback across disparate devices. To date, the best in-car infotainment systems don’t just play streamed music from devices such as smartphones. They also show track information and provide transport controls for changing tunes. Among the most welcome features in the best infotainment car systems is to seamlessly switch music listening via headphones on your portable device to the car audio system. You simply get into the car and hit the ignition to make the seamless switch happen automatically. Several in-car systems can also store music locally and enable CD ripping. We can expect more of this feature even in modest in-car systems of the future.
Heads-Up Display (HUD) SatNav
Garmin has shown that your windshield has more practical value than just protecting your face from the wind while on the move. Its latest portable navigation device called the Head-Up Display (HUD) works in tandem with a suitable app in your smartphone navigator to project turn-by-turn directions right on your windshield. Gone is the need for another display that takes your eyes off the road. This one makes your car windshield as functional as those in Jet Fighters that have been enjoying HUD data all this time.
Google takes a step farther when it was recently granted a patent that brings augmented reality and Street View, into one single GPS guidance system that overlays data via a remote video feed onto your windshield. The technology enables a video sensor in your car to “see” the street or landmark and Google’s server could flash on the windshield pertinent information like the name of the street, buildings and places of interest, or where it is in a map so you precisely where you are. Still a long way off, this is just one potential technology that can further enrich ICI features to make it both practical and more safety-centric.
Not necessarily for the car driver, but passengers can readily turn on their laptops and get online wirelessly through WiFi hotpots. But as the car moves, the problems of connection can be intermittent. But why suffers when you 3G or 4G smartphones have no problem lacing and receiving calls or going online? Indeed, online users at the back seat can expect more stable internet connection while on the move. BMW, for instance has updated its ConnectedDrive system, allowing for the connection of a 3G dongle via a USB port and support for Wi-Fi hotspots.
Upgradability of ICI systems
Just like your smartphones, tablets and laptops, gone are the days when ICI systems depend mostly on hard-coded source codes to get things done. The evolutionary path has been defined by your portable computing devices that benefit from such upgrades. Car owners no longer have to fear that as the car ages, so would its electronics. Expect ICI to have upgradable software, firmware and installable apps to further enrich and update its infotainment features.
Docking your iPad to your Car
What could make your in-car infotainment system more personal? It’s when you can dock your iPad, laptop or smartphone in a special dashboard docking port so that your car’s infotainment features are controllable from where you know how to do so. It’s a selfish technology that won’t make your ICI useful without you docking your portable infotainment device. The giant Volkswagen does this with its Bulli concept which is a dock for Apple’s iPad. Simply dock the iPad and it assumes full control of your ICI. Even climate control gets controlled from it.
Some Words on Safety Issues
State laws governing the use of in-car infotainment systems are less mature that those for cell phones. While a good number of states either prohibit the use of cellphones entirely or ban text messaging, there are just a few states with laws limiting what drivers can see on the ICI. The jury is still out on the impact of ICI visuals on road mishaps, but as Charlie Klauer of the Virginia Tech Transport Institute said based on real world studies, drivers who take off their eyes on the road to look at displays increase the risk of crashing the longer those eyes are of the road.
There is obvious advantage in having HUDs on the windshield for basic information that help the driver become a better driver while on the road. It is, however, doubtful, if the driver will ever want to watch a Tom Cruise movie on the windshield while driving. But that may not matter soon. The laws will most likely make it highly improbable.