NOVI, MI – Connectivity and the software-defined vehicle were the main themes of AutoTech Detroit 2023, which drew standing-room-only crowds to some discussion forums.
The event, at its traditional venue in this Detroit suburb, saw a return to the numbers of visitors from the pre-pandemic era and created the sort of buzz only major auto shows can muster.
We’ve tried to note some of the highlights in a packed agenda and start with:
Scott Nash, leader of the auto/OEM sales team at Verizon Business, is convinced in-cabin commercial transactions are becoming an increasingly vibrant area for services providers. Speaking at the discussion of Car, Connectivity and Electrification – Triangulating a Seamless Interaction, he says: “In-vehicle commerce is starting to make inroads, especially in the back seats with entertainment. Then you get into the capabilities of curated content, just like we see with BMW, where you only see branded content and that could be very powerful for brands.”
Nash says there’s also a great pull for people to stay connected within and without the vehicle in terms of improved safety for pedestrians as the car “talks” with nearby smartphones. He explains: “I think you will see more and more health and safety features like communications with the phones. For example, if I’m walking towards the road with my head down looking at the phone, it can warn me before it’s too late.”
He also welcomes a sea change among automakers who are more willing to engage in the data-exchange business than before. Nash says: “I’ve seen change in what used to be a very formulaic relationship between automaker and service providers. Now the automakers come to us and ask if we are interested in something new and we always say yes. Working with Honda on the 5G safety initiative, we were able to validate the test results.
“Things have to change because you never know what is going to be the next big thing in the commerce of safety innovation.”
The theme of commerce in the connected car is continued in the panel discussion, Connected Vehicle Commerce, which acknowledges that early attempts to entice consumers to use the technology fell largely on deaf ears. Jana Breitkopf, of Mercedes Pay USA, says: “A lot of the early use cases were ahead of the time and the customers were not ready yet for what were good ideas. Mercedes is now in a big transition from traditional carmaker to a service provider giving consumers what they want.”
Larry Rosinski of Nissan North America agrees, adding: “We were disappointed after we bought into in-car purchasing. It did not materialize in the way we wanted…the smartphone did it better. Some of the services, like ordering a pizza, just did not click with the consumer.
“Now we recognize we are fighting with the phone for this space. So, vehicle-centric services, things like parking and ordering automotive servicing are things that the OEM really know about and can add value.”
However, he admits working with third parties comes with some risks for automakers. He says: “The industry is transitioning to the software-defined vehicle. We approach it as built-in, hiring experts in the area we are interested in. Yet, borrowing entails partnerships, bringing in (outside parties) is where we have the most problems, such as Google which represents a threat if they choose to flex in any particular places where they can get away with it, such as Waze putting in electrical charging routes, something we thought we could be offering.”
Warnings for automakers also are echoed by Hans-Hendrik Puvogel, CEO of Parkopedia, who says in-vehicle offerings must be unique to the vehicle experience. He says: “It would be deadly to copy something you can get on different platforms. It has to be unique and associated with the vehicle and its operation. The second thing is that there is clearly a need to keep engagement with the consumer. If the customer uses it once, where is the follow-up so that the one-time customer becomes a regular customer? It has to be as frictionless as possible. It also has to be safe because we don’t want people to crash while typing for a pizza on a screen. Obviously, using voice support can help here.”
AI rears its head in an automotive-relevant assessment by Dominik Heinrich of TLGG in his presentation called From UI to AI Mobility Experience in the Digital Age. While many technology experts are warning of the dangers of unregulated AI, Heinrich says automakers must not ignore the advantages being offered by AI in bespoke services to the consumer.
He says: “It might become an amazing relationship between us and the machines. AI will allow us to personalize everything.” Heinrich says that while we have been used to monitoring human behavior, it’s time to start thinking about machine behavior too. He explains: “There is a very good point – machines have behaviors too. How is AI influencing the user interface? Now human language is becoming a vital interface, so things will be simplified because we are human. We don’t need a guide anymore – we just ask for what we want. It is created on the fly and is not stored anymore. The information will just disappear.
“The question for business leaders is, how do you get into this movement or is it just hype? I think by 2030 AI economy will have a global economic impact of $17 trillion. You have to be in it.”
Shared mobility is back with the end of the pandemic and providers are seeing a huge increase in revenues as explored in the panel discussion, The Resurgence of Mobility.
Valerie Sathe Brugeman of the principal engagement and strategy urban mobility solutions team for Mercedes-Benz USA, says this topic goes beyond just getting from A to B.
She says: “It’s about how cars interact with their environments, particularly in cities where more cities are making it about people, with the car coming after that. Via data from our vehicles, such as ADAS incidents, when the vehicle has a ADAS incident it stops, and if that happens more than once we share this data with the authorities to work out why. Many authorities want the data and we and other providers are giving them this. Not just cities but federal infrastructure – these are our clients.”
Collecting reports from vehicles can be a valuable way to help improve a local authority’s infrastructure maintenance strategy. Brugeman adds: “Our team is externally focused and because we take personal data very seriously, (we) don’t collect where their trip started and where it ended. We take data on what the conditions of the roads (are), and this is valuable information. Monitoring the roads and sharing with those who can fix the situations.”
Connectivity was still a major feature of the conference with T-Mobile Business’s head of IoT solution sales, David Cohen, saying consumers want continuity in the digital life and their vehicles are in a position to deliver.
He says: “Consumers want technologies that deliver on their expectations. They want continuity of experience just as they have with their Apple products, for example. Finally, there’s simplicity and we need to extend that into our space.” He says deploying a consumer’s Automotive ID means the smartphone to car is seamless.
“Automotive ID extends the profile of the consumer into the vehicle, so your preferences and choices move with you into the third space of the vehicle.
“Our global standardized connectivity launched last year (and) it delivers a single transatlantic experience. IoT enables this and we have had tremendous success with automakers. Now its 5G ANS (advanced network services) offers more choice in the private networks and then in the hybrid private networks for inside the building and outside. This simplicity supports digital transformation within the customers’ businesses.”
Infotainment sees its focus discussed in the panel on New Era of In-Vehicle Experiences – Getting Innovative with Entertainment exploring the future possibilities of in-car entertainment.
Sony Pictures’ entertainment director, new media distribution-automotive, Joseph Perry, says streaming options open up an exciting chapter for entertainment on the move. He explains: “We want to build an automotive-only content service called RideVu. This is an unlimited streaming option (that) allows vehicle occupants to buy new releases through credit card purchase. Ideally, when they buy their vehicle, they have the option to choose the entertainment package they want.
“We have to get harmony with all the elements involved here. Starting off, what is the first priority of a certain technology like holograms? One thing is, you don’t need vehicles with built-in screens – consumers can bring their own screens into the vehicle and still access the entertainment experience.”
New technologies are even influencing vehicle design, both inside and outside the car. That is the message from the discussion panel, Where is the Future of Automotive Design Headed? Ehab Kaoud, former chief designer-interior and exterior trucks at Ford, says AI will have a strong part to play. He says: “AI is going to be a disruptor both from the product development and marketing viewpoint. EVs offer challenges and opportunities such as range anxiety and charging time and this gives opportunities in UI and UX about time you spend there.”
Scott Krugger, Stellantis vice president for Dodge design, says it’s not just the headline technology that is having an effect. He adds: “There’s not one technology that is the only one (that is) disruptive. We are starting to see the re-emergence of the sedan, for example. The EV packaging allows for the redesign. Also, how do we keep the fun in the product and relevant for the modern customer?”
He suggests that even the look of the exterior is now being influenced by new technologies. Krugger explains: “Design used to be, start with exterior and then the interior and now that’s reversed. But with new sensors for Level 2+, you have to design around these. Now we are in the time when with the tools we have we can do both interior and exterior in lockstep.”
Naturally, to operate the future myriad of technologies that will reside inside our vehicles, we have to consider the human-machine interface as discussed in the panel Creating the Optimal Experience through Human Centric Design. Mandy Guty of Ford Trucks says: “If we listened only when we asked consumers what they want, we might hear a modern version of what Henry Ford heard – “We want a faster horse.” So, we look at customers in a future context. With the F-150 Lightning and its frunk’s newfound space, we knew it had potential for a cooler with a drain in the front for families using it for picnics.”
Consumers not knowing what they want until they see it remains a major challenge for innovative automakers, says David Mitropoulos-Rundus of the Hyundai American Technical Center. He adds: “Too often I see designers working on massive screens in an office and not considering how it works in a car where you have to keep looking over at something. The best example was the music producer Doctor Dre. The reason he was so good is that he spent more hours in the studio than other producers. Then when he got music burned to CD he went out to his SUV to listen to it because that’s where people listen to their music. So, we need to design with context more than we are (doing).”
How do we test the context for a new service? Mitropoulos-Rundus answers: “Have design teams sit in on a useability test and see people try out their design. If a second person doesn’t understand the product, then they have to change it. Having them watch this test has been the most compelling experience in my working life.”