SXSWi: Panel – The Connected Car – Driving Technology

This afternoon I attended a panel session on the future of Connected Car technology, with the following panelists:
Nick Pudar – On Star
Jessica Steel – Pandora
Joe Berry – Verizon

I attended this session as I think this is an emerging space, only in its infancy – and in particular the UX challenges involved with designing for these environments are really interesting.  Here are the key points I gathered from this session:

The context

Nick set up the context for the conversation today – generally,  we all know that connectivity is increasingly ubiquitous. He speaks briefly about the change in connectivity, a movement from person to machine, to machine to machine and the challenges involved.

For the automotive environment in particular, what’s most important is that companies need to collaborate to make it work.

An experiment…

Nick mentions an experiment done in conjunction with SXSWi – they sent 10 teams out in highly connected cars to drive to SXSW, and experience a connected car first hand.  Some things that were mentioned about these cars: cars would automatically tweet the location when you leave and arrive, the car would also figure out things to tweet, based on your activities. Passengers were connected with a multitude of other services such as twitter, facebook, and other social media services.

On Pandora

One of the panelists (Jessica Steel) was from Pandora – and she spoke of their experience in extending the service out to connected cars.  In particular, as the panel continued to discuss connected cars, one of the main points was that music, and radio, is a natural extension and evolution of an existing behaviour in cars, and this is why it works so well.

Pandora sought to take advantage of the connectivity to redefine the category of radio. We know that the promise of Pandora is to deliver a customised stream of music, catered to each listeners tastes individually, but also this connectivity allows Pandora to also take in a users feedback.

This brought up a thought of my own in relation to the broader end-to-end service lifecycle of Pandora.  As a company, they’ve realised that people were already trying to take the Pandora experience into the car, via mobile devices.  And providing an embedded Pandora experience extends this natural behaviour, but also allows Pandora and car manufacturers to ensure that the experience is safer, and designed for the environment.

In fact, Jessica mentions that half of their users are listening on smart phones, and not the web.  They are carrying the experience into to car, and it’s their job to try and make it as seamless as interacting with radio in the car.

The difficulties? Currently they have to work with three or four suppliers per car – and it’s a huge investment.

How does LTE change things?

For those that don’t know (I surely didn’t), LTE is about providing 4G connectivity. Nick discusses how this changes the nature of communication moving forward.  He thinks that it is truly a game changer, opening up the bandwidth to be able to do things, such as streaming infotainment. Devices that were not capable are suddenly now much more capable, and this changes the dynamics of what you will be able to do.  He mentions that generally, we’re going to see a lot more devices with Internet connectivity – it’s not just the connected car.

Just another device to render for?

Nick mentions that he sees the future of LTE in the HTML5 style browser with real time rendering – and eventually there may be a “vehicle” version of applications, where the browser can recognise the device type – similar to the way we have mobile and connected TV designed applications.

In fact, this highlights some parts of convergence I find quite interesting – will the connected car become “just another device” to design for? Certainly with the trend in the IPTV space closely following the mobile space, with the “appification” of the space, it’s possible – but there are other key factors that make this environment an issue of responsibility.

On entertainment:

Entertainment evolves so quickly – the issue is how do you keep it fresh, and on an upgradable path.

On the issue of driver distraction

One of the major concerns is the topic of “driver distraction”, and in particular, what the level of acceptable cognitive load is placed on the driver.

Things you have to think about differently in the distraction, awareness equation:
For Pandora, they knew that radio is fairly safe as it is not really pushing a new interaction. But also, the issue of driver distraction is why it is important for companies to collaborate, as they rely on their partners to understand issues of driver distraction better than they can.

On including social media in this environment

Joe from Verizon thinks that something where a decision has to be made by the driver is very dangerous. He believes that social media in the car does not work seamleslessly – radio does, because it enhances your driving. He mentions that if we push entertainment, we need to push it past the front seat, into the passenger seat.

The difficulty: 86% of trips are done with one passenger, so there are ROI challenges of putting things into the rear seat.

Vehicle to Vehicle and Vehicle to Roadside

There are varying explorations developed around communications. Right now a lot of the connectivity is up to the cloud. The speed necessary to deliver back in time in emergency situation is very different.

Vehicle to roadside requires much infrastructure work to happen.  Some of this is being led by pure electric vehicles e.g. electric cars need to know where the next charging station is.

On standards

Jessica mentions that it’s still early days.  Currently Pandora provides their APIs (Pandora Link) to the manufacturers of radios who can then write software for their devices.  She mentions that it would be great if there was a standard, but that currently it is still very early days.

Nick mentions that the solution will probably be that every car will be able to render HTML 5 and the browser will interpret that.

There will eventually be a set of APIs and developer challenges from On Star, giving a set of SDK components. The evolution will be the discovery of services that are relevant to the vehicle – but they need to first figure out what the correct range of APIs are, as things like security is a big concern.

Overall I found this discussion was very insightful, in particular the considerations of the appropriateness of certain types of functionality (e.g. social media) to the vehicle environment – particularly when a main concern is the driver distraction factor.

It’s interesting that these companies are considering they can’t control people already bringing these behaviours into the car (through other connected devices like smart phones), and they have a chance to mitigate the risk of driver distraction by providing a dedicated vehicle experience for existing behaviours.