The rush of interest in smart speakers has focused the attention of broadcasters on possibly reclaiming a place in the home and office listening environments. But the automotive audience remains a crucial one; and though it has remained relatively stronger and more loyal to radio, maintaining that relationship is vital for radio companies.
In November, the National Association of Broadcasters announced that it is collaborating with members of the GENIVI Alliance on automotive radio technology as part of NAB’s Pilot program. This partnership has been highlighted at recent industry events like AutoMobility LA 2017 and CES 2018.
The GENIVI Alliance is a non-profit organization that provides standards and an open connectivity platform for in-vehicle infotainment systems, or IVI. The name combines Geneva, “international city of peace,” and the acronym IVI. Members include original equipment manufacturers like BMW, Honda and Volvo; “first tiers” like Alpine, Pioneer and Visteon; numerous software, hardware and service companies; Silicon Valley names like Intel and Analog Devices; and other entities including broadcast group Cumulus. Its chairman is Kyle Walworth, VP of Solutions and Strategy, Automotive for Harman Connected Services.
Steve Crumb, executive director of the alliance, said it came into existence to serve the needs of an industry in transition.
In-vehicle infotainment systems such as this prototype X-wave deliver navigation, safety and infotainment media to a car’s driver and passengers.
“Both automobile manufacturers and their suppliers were accustomed to automotive devices as discrete boxes connected with wires. The software revolution came along fairly quickly to car manufacturers; all parties in the production chain were challenged to deliver fully-functional infotainment systems. Standards needed to be developed so things worked much the same way from one company’s vehicles to another’s,” he said.
“Our current work involves developing open standard interfaces and code that bridges multiple car software domains,” says Crumb. “This work is critically important in delivering a unified passenger interaction across different in-car systems such as safety, infotainment and consumer electronics.”
Crumb said the partnership with NAB is evolving into a mutually beneficial relationship for broadcasters and automotive industry.
“I had some conversations with NAB this summer. They were interested in ways to introduce themselves to the auto industry and influence future technology. I also saw an opportunity for us to have a conversation with broadcasters.”
How can radio best fit into the connected car? Crumb urged broadcasters to put themselves in the place of passengers and think of the experience being delivered. A number of media options are available in the automotive environment.
“All of these footprints need to be integrated into a single experience; and radio is a part of that greater digital experience that a person has.” As a practical note, radio broadcasters should compare how their product appears on the dash with other options, especially satellite radio. In that realm, the quality of graphics and visual materials is important.
Autonomous vehicles also are closer to reality than many people realize, and Crumb speculated about changes they will bring to IVI systems.
“The distinction that we now make between driver and passenger in terms of ‘distractability’ will simply go away. We can imagine high-resolution screens showing sporting events and concerts. Think of what you can do on an airplane or train; that’s the future. Another possibility for the car of the future is a mobile office. It can have the same functionality as a brick-and-mortar base of operations.”
A lot of this functionality will be made possible by 5G technology, he said.
“You will be able to transfer what you do, as well as how you want to interact with devices. Things like your identity, your playlists and your preferences will travel with you in the cloud and be available wherever you go.”
Given that visuals presumably will play a growing role in autonomous vehicles, how can radio best adapt to the self-driving car of the future?
“If radio doesn’t adapt, it could be left out,” Crumb said. “It has already taken steps to add a visual component, and I think it needs to keep pushing in that direction. Radio also needs to keep doing what it does best, including the delivery of emergency information. Right now, it is the only source in the vehicle for weather alerts along with other fast-breaking emergency warnings.”
TRENDS TO WATCH
A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that use of some vehicle infotainment systems can lead to distracted driving. How are such concerns being addressed?
“We are moving towards natural language integration, the same technology used in smart speakers,” Crumb said. “This type of voice interface is already available in some premium brands and should be more widely dispersed moving forward.”
Simulators are also being refined with an eye towards safer driving. “The simulators that auto manufacturers now use to test their HMI interfacing rival what are used for pilot training. With these, they can get some hard numbers to determine the distractability factor and build the best interface possible.”
The interface design is being evaluated, he said. “On most current designs, there are two display areas, one for speed and traditional dashboard instrumentation, and another for the IVI system. There are also different standards for the two, with more stringent requirements for the instrument display. We are working to determine the best way to simplify things and put all the information on one display.”
Crumb made note of two factors that will bring bigger changes to the connected car soon. “The first is connectivity. There’s a lot of content and data in the cloud that we can’t bring into the automotive environment right now because we’re restrained by bandwidth. When 5G is deployed, that limitation will disappear. There will be a lot more content pushing and pulling that can take place.
“The second is content. With autonomous vehicles, distraction concerns disappear. We can envision some possibilities for entertainment, such as movies and sports, but there are other ways to engage with passengers that we haven’t fully explored or even thought of yet.”
ADOPTION AND AVAILABILITY
From the GENIVI website:
“GENIVI delivers an essential, efficient and cost-saving development approach. This approach, grounded in open source software, has resulted in the rapid deployment of non-competitive IVI and connected car software for today’s vehicles.
“In the fall of 2013, BMW’s Entry Media and Navigation system rolled off the assembly line and is found in the Mini and 1, 3 and 5 series product lines. Since then, GENIVI technology continues to be adopted worldwide and multiple major automakers have deployed GENIVI technologies including Alfa Romeo, BMW and Mini, Hyundai/Kia, Jaguar Land Rover, Peugeot-Citroën, Renault/Nissan, Suzuki and Volvo Cars.
“Many Tier 1 suppliers and system integrators have also adopted the GENIVI flexible model of software development and delivery leveraging open source software. Some even consider the advantages (speed, reuse, redeployment) as primary reasons why they have made GENIVI solutions their ‘lead’ products. Suppliers offer automakers worldwide multiple GENIVI products for current and future series production programs.”
At the annual CES convention each January, alliance members gather at a reception to discuss connected car technology. The alliance also produces a track of panels with SAE International called Connect2Car.
“Cars have always participated in a broader context — think traffic or in-car entertainment — but those contexts are growing and changing as the car is becoming increasingly connected,” Crumb said.
“Now, instead of just being another hunk of metal in a traffic jam, cars are now becoming roaming sensors feeding information to smart city infrastructure so that traffic jams can be reduced.”
The relationship with NAB Pilot is in its early days but Crumb described those conversations with enthusiasm.
“I enjoyed having NAB actively participate in our member reception at CES 2018. I could see this phase culminating during our respective member meetings in April. But the refreshing thing I see in NAB is the desire to ‘just build something of value.’ Large organizations can confuse talk with action, but I don’t see any of that in my conversations so far.” He said joint projects may eventually result from that work.