NAB 2019: Autonomous Cars and Amazing Experiences

Must the passenger experience always be that of a captive cab rider trapped with a TV blaring ads?

On NAB’s opening Monday I attended a panel discussion on “Autonomous Cars and Amazing Experiences: Safety, Content and Connectivity”. The title was only slightly overambitious; it was in fact an interesting discussion focused on entertainment opportunities for passengers in general, whether in AVs, ride-shares, or other shared transport. I tried to transcribe the general flow of the talk; my transcription follows. Errors and omissions are mine alone.

Moderator: Carla Bailo, CEO, Center for Automotive Research


Setting the Context

Moderator: 37,000 people die annually in traffic accidents in the US, and 95% of accidents are due to human error. Everyone wants in-car connectivity. We want a seamless mobile experience for the customer, including the ability to order food, make reservations. The cars are getting smarter; they know a lot about you. Data: 2.1 trillion dollars can be made monetizing in-car data. How can we democratize that data? How to keep it safe? No one wants that responsibility. The user experience: now the primary reason to buy a car. “Does my phone connect” is more important than old-school metrics like performance and handling. This change is already shaking up the industry. It changes development cycles; the way you buy, drive, maintain cars.

Qualcomm: Qualcomm is already inside your car, providing the  LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth. We are a communications company, the software and network gateway to your experiences. 

Ford: It’s already a continuous discussion with the entertainment world: HD Radio, etc.

HD Radio

People want local content in their cars. What we’re trying to offer is the full range of what they want. Connectivity is simply the price of entry these days. We have the same expectation in vehicles as we have in homes. As we move into autonomous vehicles, what will people be doing, strictly as passengers? We see three categories. Replenishment: sleeping, eating. Entertainment: news and information. Work: working on the move. All will be enabled by connectivity. 

ITS America: We have a vision for a better world, transformed by intelligent mobility. I formerly worked for three different state Departments of Transportation, among other things. Transport kills 30,000 people a year, causes 15% of greenhouse gases; people spend on average 97 hours sitting in traffic. It’s critical from the safety perspective for tech to take over driving; driving is the distraction from what people want to do in their cars.

NAB: Think ACES: Autonomous, Connected, Electric, Shared. In-car radio is a prime place for audience engagement. But we see increased competitors from the like of Apple and Google.  Not just a threat, but an opportunity: what can we do to create a more engaged audience? Next-generation TV; ATSC 3.0’s mobile reception capability. At last year’s show we demonstrated an AV with 3.0 broadcast reception, which gave a peek at the possibilities. How would automakers use that pipe, aside from linear entertainment?

Harman's infotainment stack in a Maserati
Harman’s infotainment stack in a Maserati

Moderator: My children don’t even watch TV or listen to radio!

What We’re Doing

Holoride: We started 3 years ago, using extended reality / VR / mixed reality to create a better experience. The “passenger economy” is already here, with ride sharing. In private sector alone, 1.4 billion passenger trips per day: “are we there yet?” To combine riding dynamics with VR, people can just bring their headsets into the car.

Today, about 30% of passengers get motion sickness trying to consume media on the move. In autonomy, using VR/AR, how do you fix this? Motion sickness can be very severe, a third can’t even text on the go. If what you’re watching doesn’t match the motion you feel, that’s the problem. VR combined with car motion sensing, at low latency, you can match what you feel with what you see, have a 3x better experience. We started with VR entertainment, for example, you’re sitting in a spaceship, or on dragon, with virtual motions matching what the car does.

Ford: Ford continues to look at active suspension systems, using look-ahead systems to take out the bumps.  It takes a lot of horsepower to compute and smooth out the dynamics on the fly. The technology continues to improve. How are cars getting smarter for this integration? Part of what Ford does in changing to focus on mobility, the vehicles need to get smarter. Connectivity is the key piece. Today’s AVs are stand-alone: smart vehicles in a dumb environment. In the longer term, vehicles will be able to rely on the world around them. V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle communications); new avenues for low latency, high performance communication. 

Qualcomm: The more you can do with fewer components, the better. The goal is to aggregate all the infotainment stack and primary display on a single processor. Better than a whole telematics network with multiple separate processors.

Panasonic's simulated dashboard...
Panasonic’s simulated dashboard…
..and the head-end processor that drives it.
..and the head-end processor that drives it.

Think short range V2V, V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure) communications to gather local info, integrated into the head unit. Our goal is seamless one-stop shopping for vehicle electronics systems. Connectivity is already there: built-in or brought in. Simply pairing phone through the vehicle; kids in back seat already working on their phones and tablets.

Holoride: Bring in your headset, tie it into the car, procedurally generate experiences that match travel time. “Elastic content”, adjusting to the kinetics and the timing of the ride. For content creators it’s a new playing field. We have an SDK for VR developers, letting them build something that works in the car, then the AI in the SDK does the rest. Every time you take a different route you get a different experience. Turn every vehicle into a moving theme park.

Ford: AM, FM, Sirius XM, Wi-Fi, cellular; plus radar, LIDAR, a number of different channels. Separate the content from the delivery channel. Seamlessly use the best value connection at any time. 

Working Towards the Future

NAB: How can we be more engaging? I plugged my phone into a rental car, and the car wanted access to contacts, photos, etc. What happens when you leave an urban area where the rich connectivity isn’t there?

ITS America: How are the Departments of Transportation providing that V2I connectivity that everyone craves? It’s just the speed of transformation; the post-iPhone world where everyone demands services. Government simply doesn’t move at that speed. Consider focus: AVs care about road striping and reflectivity (for lane-finding/following) more than they care about potholes. It takes 15-20 years to turn over the fleet; during that time AVs will have to interact with each other, with existing infrastructure. I just came from Dubai, which has the 6th best roads in the world. We can’t have these sorts of benefits without updated infrastructure.

NAB: Are traffic jams good or bad? Consider radio “drive time”. From an environmental standpoint jams are bad. From an experience standpoint, for content consumption, people enjoy it. We have to make content so compelling people will want that time. In the home, Alexas [the Amazon speakers, not the ARRI cameras] are used to listen to streamed radio. In the automotive future, those home habits will translate to vehicles. NAB’s PILOT program: Avis Budget Group are members (zipcar), what’s that next generation of entertainment? If you’re in a vehicle that talks to our phone app, you can navigate your radio stations by genre, not just by scanning the dial. 

The AVIS PILOT radio experience
The AVIS PILOT radio experience

Holoride: What will delight the customer, make him buy your car? Industry has to focus on getting a common infrastructure to get content into the car. How can the auto industry become a part of this value chain? If you’re not part of it, you’re not contributing. But if you contribute the vehicle data, and enhance the value chain… The content industry needs manufacturer agnostic interfaces. I don’t care what the vehicle is, as long as it’s open to the passenger experience.

Moderator: Nils raises a good point. Only 20% of 16 year olds got driver’s licenses last year. In the future, it’s the shared-mobility experience. They like being in their own space even with shared rides. Multi-modality: public transit, AVs, scooters, feet; how can a platform cover all those? It’s not the platform, it’s the connectivity.  There has to be safety communications … it’s a whole bunch of radio spectrum transmissions.

Success for the future: “Know me”, the customer. Personalization. We have to be careful, but that will distinguish it. 2nd piece: how will it work? A model around APIs, the key to the future. Allows innovation to happen quickly. Open, designed and architected to allow this. Final question: I foresee the car being like Rosie the Robot. What will the Rosie car look like? How will that enhance the experience?

Mercedes digital dashboard
Mercedes digital dashboard

Ford: Interesting question. A Personal Digital Assistant, like Alexa or Siri. It’s going to help you be more efficient. Traditionally, the user interaction was steering wheel and pedals. But in an AV, the user interface will change. The car will be very personalized.

Qualcomm: Nowadays, the car is sheet metal wrapped around electronics.

NAB: We talk about how much time we sit in traffic. What happens when you can tell your car to go run errands? Its dwell time decreases, it becomes an assistant. Do you need as many vehicles when you can leverage this? An environment with many more pathways.

Holoride: More vehicles that are use-case driven, special-purpose. Maybe there is not the need to travel physically so much. You’ll get into vehicles to experience something, more than to get from point A to point B.


Rebooting the connected car
Rebooting the connected car


[The following day, this story appeared on Axios: Study: Phone addicts are the new drunk drivers. I for one welcome our new autonomous vehicle overlords — they can’t come soon enough!]

Disclosure: There is no material relationship between me and any of the panelists.

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PVC Staff
Adam Wilt has been working off and on in film and video for the past thirty years, while paying the bills writing software for animation, automation, broadcast graphics, and real-time control for companies including Abekas,…

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