Discussions as to whether the connected car will ever be truly ‘finished’ continue, but it is generally thought that it will keep evolving as new services and devices become available. While there may not be a clearly defined vision for the connected car as a product, it is expected that in less than ten years’ time, every new car sold in key developed markets will be connected.
Tier 1 mega supplier Robert Bosch recently carried out a study on the future of the connected car, and surmised that every new car sold in the US, Germany and China’s metropolitan areas will be connected by 2025. As for how this will affect the car, Manfred Baden, President of Car Multimedia at Bosch, believes there will be a two-step development.
Not only will the layout of the cockpit change, but so will the way in which tasks are carried out – both by the driver and the car itself through automation. A connection to Internet- and Cloud-based services will provide a rich foundation of data which will allow the car to drive itself and offer assistance to passengers. Integrated sensors will communicate with road infrastructure and other connected devices – including cars – to reduce the chances of a collision, and to improve road utilisation. It is easy to see why the term ‘connected’ is often referred to as an umbrella under which various technologies fall.
We expect that in combination with driver assistance and active safety systems, you can reduce the number of road collisions in the US, Germany and Chinese cities by 260,000 per year, injuries by 360,000 and fatal collisions by 11,000
Bosch says its technologies are ‘invented for life’, and as such believes that connected mobility must serve not only people, but also society and the environment. As Bosch board member Dirk Hoheisel puts it: “Connected mobility will mean fewer accidents, less fuel consumption and less stress.” Baden agrees. “This will have a tremendous effect with regard to the reduction of accidents,” he says, and refers to findings from the supplier’s recent connectivity study. “We expect that in combination with driver assistance and active safety systems, you can reduce the number of road collisions in the US, Germany and Chinese cities by 260,000 per year, injuries by 360,000 and fatal collisions by 11,000.”
The effect of autonomy
Running alongside developments in connectivity will be continued advances in autonomous driving technology. In particular, highly automated driving of Level 4 functionality will have a significant impact on the way drivers interact with their cars, and will require new concepts of human-machine interaction.
“This technology requires that the driver is capable of taking over and driving manually, and for this you need special human-machine interface (HMI) concepts that build in the car’s ability to manage the situation,” says Baden. To build up trust, he suggests that the car’s windscreen could become digitised and used to visualise notifications from the self-driving system. Today, head-up displays (HUD) are already being used to present critical information to the driver, such as speed limits and active safety warnings. “We also see interaction with the steering wheel being useful, so that we can really ensure that the driver knows when he has taken over or when he has passed control to automated driving,” notes Baden.
Driver monitoring cameras would add another dimension, allowing the system to evaluate for itself whether the driver is ready to regain control. Level 5 automated driving would not require such HMI, he noted, as the driver is not expected to take manual control of the vehicle in any circumstance.
Staying in touch, with hybrid HMI
Interacting with an infotainment system today is akin to that of a smartphone or tablet device, with the driver manually controlling features via the infotainment screen. Typically, this requires the driver’s gaze to leave the road – a hazardous dynamic that can cause distraction and result in a crash. New HMI systems are being developed to simplify this task, which will not only make driving more comfortable but also far safer.
It is unclear whether the cockpit will go completely contactless in future, and Baden suggests there will likely remain a mix of hands-free and hands-on interaction. Touchscreen systems are common even in entry-level vehicles today, whilst many premium marques feature gesture control and speech-to-text functionality. These systems are likely to become out-dated as more capable hands-free technologies enter the market.
For example, Bosch’s smart haptic touchscreen, neoSense, creates digital surfaces and edges to replicate physical buttons and textures. This means that the driver can locate buttons on the touchscreen without looking away from the road, with a fingertip vibration to confirm the action. Through a partnership with UK-based start-up Ultrahaptics, Bosch has also developed an infotainment screen that can be controlled over-the-air. This technology uses ultrasound to register movements of the driver’s hands and fingertips, and can be used to control the navigation system or change radio station without needing to touch the screen.
The driver needs to be aware of the driving situation. After this has been confirmed by the driver-monitoring camera, he or she can take over control of the vehicle
“I envision an interior with touch control that uses advanced haptic feedback, and gesture control with ultrasonic feedback,” muses Baden. “We’ll have a combination of interfaces.”
Advanced voice recognition systems are likely to be used to control most features in future, and Baden believes it is the ideal technology in terms of safety and comfort, despite potential stumbling points when multiple passengers are in the car. “Voice control would be the best solution, but you have to make sure that noise is not an issue,” he admits. “It allows the driver to concentrate on other issues in the car with very little distraction, but other noises can make things complicated.” Driver monitoring cameras would assist here, working in tandem with the voice recognition system to focus solely on the driver’s commands. “I see a combination of all of these technologies,” muses Baden.
The road to 2025
Autonomous vehicles will not populate the roads in significant volumes for years to come, but various stepping-stones of automation are being implemented along the way. For those vehicle manufacturers pursuing Level 4 technology on the SAE scale of automation, the car will need to communicate its intentions to the driver, and whether the human needs to regain control.
What’s particularly difficult is just how to communicate this to the driver, and how to ensure the driver is ready to take the wheel. If control is given back too late, the car may be caught in a grey area of automation, and then crash. If control is handed back too early, the driver may not be ready, with the same outcome. At CES 2017, a Bosch autonomous demonstrator showed that unless the driver is paying attention, the car will remain in autonomous mode, slow down and analyse the safest opportunity to pull over.
Level 4 requires that the driver is capable of taking over and driving manually, and for this you need special human-machine interface (HMI) concepts that build in the car’s ability to manage the situation
“Even if the handover to manual control is not possible, you have this back-up solution,” explains Baden. As for the timeframe for taking over, he noted that Bosch is investigating anything from 30 to 60 seconds, giving the driver time to prepare. “The driver needs to be aware of the driving situation,” he continues. “After this has been confirmed by the driver-monitoring camera, he or she can take over control of the vehicle.”
In March, Bosch announced it would work with Nvidia to develop a computer system with Level 4 autonomous driving capability, but how this will link in with the supplier’s wider offering to OEMs – many of which have already partnered with Nvidia – is unclear.
Several manufacturers have announced firm production deadlines for Level 4 autonomous vehicles by 2021, and the race is on to find the most effective HMI solution. As for the roll-out of Level 5 automated vehicles, Baden is more conservative. “Robot-taxis driving around in platoons and Level 5 automated driving outside of cities – both will happen after 2025,” he suggests. By this time, the car will have open discourse with the driver and relay vital information to reduce distraction. The driver will continue to perform tasks inside the car, but primarily by voice – even in autonomous mode.
This article appeared in the Q2 2017 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue