A recent Mercedes-Benz advertisement aired at the US Open 2012 illustrates a growing desire in the automotive fraternity to perfect the customizable and seamless in-vehicle infotainment user experience. The ‘All From One Place’ ad had a young man sitting in his car yet feeling like he is swinging between real life events – a match, party, storm, trading floor, and a date – an experience promised by telematics platform MBrace2. Today, every OEM is adding fresh dimensions to redefine the ‘All’ achievable by their smart telematics solution. Ford SYNC, for instance, is betting big on health facets via its In-car Health and Wellness solutions, while Toyota Sweden, Fiat and Renault believe eco-drive to be the unanimous voice of the future drive! Such a drift towards context-aware integration of content/services is making virtual personal assistant (vPA) platforms a necessity and a key opportunity for Tier 1 suppliers.
vPAs should exhibit context awareness of the driver, vehicle and vehicle environment. Further, it should have self-learning capability and with minimalist user intervention. For instance, if there is an incoming call when the driver is approaching a complex driving maneuver in the road, the vPA should be able to place the call on hold while playing back a prompt to the caller to ensure minimal driver distraction and “un-hold” the call after completion of the maneuver. Similarly, in case of a vehicle fault and display of corresponding tell-tale in the Instrument Cluster, the vPA may bring up the corresponding section of the user manual in the display on user prompt and provide expert guidance on the fault and corrective actions – e.g., a “limp-home” drive or immediate navigation guidance to a nearby service center.
Realization of such vPA systems requires an on-board device, with minimum user interaction and ubiquitous connectivity, and an offboard system, allowing intelligent integration and delivery of content/services in sync with the on-board device. Tier 1 suppliers having a strategic SI (system integration) partner can design and deliver these much-desired vPAs with ease.
Looking for an Opportunity Window
Where do Tier 1s stand in the infotainment landscape today? The advent of smartphones and related intelligent context-sensitive speech-based solutions like SIRI, Eyes Free and MirrorLink have encroached the in-vehicle Infotainment space – a traditional bastion for tier 1s. Most OEMs (like Ford and BMW with General Motors expected to follow) are moving human machine interface (HMI) development in-house, shrinking the HMI-led infotainment business for Tier 1s. Add to this the increasing affinity of OEMs (BMW, JLR, PSA, Toyota, and Nissan) towards Linux and GENIVI based platforms, the magnitude of the problems threatening Tier 1s increases manifold. Standardization and platform commoditization could well hamper the creation of new platforms in future – a core business for Tier-1s today
As a result, Tier 1s are looking for a new opportunity window to create value added services on top of traditional infotainment and vPAs could provide just that. Tier-1s, with support from OEMs, can provide an elevated driving experience to the end user by transforming Infotainment human interface (HU) into a Virtual Personal Assistant for the driver. They can outsmart the mobile world with vPAs, as unlike infotainment HUs (developed by Tier 1s) smartphone in-vehicle integration approach comes with limitations regarding access to vehicle bus and in-built sensors. Usage scenarios like accessing vehicle data to provide eco driving tips or driving suggestions for insurance discounts; leveraging driving pattern/preferences history on specific roads to adjust suspension controls, seating and air conditioning etc. would be hard to achieve for a smartphone based infotainment solution. Further, user interfaces of smartphones, primarily, not designed to be used while driving makes, smartphones unfit for vPAs.
Getting the vPA Right
Creation of a contextual integration (mash-up) of on-board and off-board services and delivery of vPA services through wireless connectivity and the HU Platform is no easy task. It involves multiple components working seamlessly with each other as shown in the diagram below.