Q&A: Telematics and voice control technology
David McNamara, principal of McNamara Technology Solutions, on innovations in voice control technology and how they play into the bigger question of developing safe and highly usable HMIs
David McNamara has an inside track on auto apps, thanks to more than 36 years of work in electrical or electronic architecture, vehicle networks, Intelligent Transportation Systems, wireless and consumer device connectivity. His 30-year career at Ford culminated with his role as manager of Advanced Infotainment Systems at Ford Motor Research, where he developed new infotainment features for the Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo brands. As principal of McNamara Technology Solutions, McNamara has worked with a variety of industry clients, including the Vehicle Infrastructure Initiative Consortium and the USDOT. McNamara talked to TU contributor Susan Kuchinskas about innovations in voice control technology and how they play into the bigger question of developing safe and highly usable HMIs. McNamara will be representing Telematics Update at the Mobile Voice Conference in San Francisco on April 15-16.
What did you see at the most recent CES that was exciting and relevant?
The biggest news is that everyone is moving to voice-based solutions to deal with driver distraction. We are recognizing the benefits of having voice built into the car, cloud-based voice systems, and approaches to dealing with the growth of features and services we'll find offboard in the cloud. (For more on CES innovations, see What CES trends mean for telematics.)
Apple mentioned it was working with carmakers, and Hyundai has announced integration of Siri. Have you had a chance to evaluate this feature?
Generally, everyone is moving to cloud-based service. We are moving away from the cloud holding the data to more doing the important tasks of actually processing and doing offboard calculations—actually doing functions offboard. There is a tremendous advantage to OEMs of developing a cross-vehicle platforms and also being able to update and give consumers the latest applications across all platforms. It's an important development because it allows the OEMs and suppliers to migrate solutions from luxury vehicles to all vehicles.
What about latency and dropped connections?
Those are the problems. Connectivity has always been a dream of being seamless, working any place, any time. Also, dropouts are very annoying. [During voice calls], we take dropouts for granted; we can just call back. I think OEMs have dealt with this problem by making their cars give you some functionality without the connection. That is key, especially with driver distraction; you can't have a screen with a big hourglass spinning that you're watching while you're driving.
Do you think voice technology is responsible for the growth of new connected car services, or is it just one tool among many important ones?
It's just one of the tools. Voice has had a long history, but it's never until recently gained the traction. There are two reasons for that. One, voice in the automotive environment is very difficult; just open your window and try to talk to somebody. Also, customer acceptance has been weak. Those two limitations have changed with the introduction of Siri and also the improvement in the technology and cloud-based services. This is becoming the golden age for voice. All that said, there's nothing like having a large, easy-to-read display and a button by your hand. (For more on connected vehicles, see Industry insight: Telematics and apps and Industry insight: The connected car.)
Voice is an important answer to driver distraction but not the only answer. What else needs to be developed or worked out?
Putting large and bright displays high up in the instrument panel where they can be easily read is a vehicle packaging and OEM task. You will see best practices at the Detroit auto show, with many vehicles doing that. You might see other vehicles that are violating those rules, where the display is too low, down by the shift register and even blocked by the shift register. There is some blocking and tackling that has to go on, the fundamentals of design. Also, putting controls by your hand and making them easily accessible in the reach zone. Those are the fundamentals. What's emerging is a holistic cockpit design approach, multimodal, where you can control an input to your car in many different ways, via voice, touchscreen or maybe a haptic control. There are many good ways to control your vehicle. (For more on HMIs, see Industry insight: Telematics and the human-machine interface.)
Are voice-based solutions enough to answer governmental concerns about driver distraction?
We will have a fractured situation. Many in the industry are responding correctly to the concerns, realizing that consumers are pushing them into a bad place. Consumers want safety, but they want all the features. The consumers who talk about safety and complain about their neighbors' texting and using a cell phone in the car are doing the same things themselves. Many OEMs will realize that they have to be highly responsible. But it's fractured, because we will see practices in the aftermarket and possibly among OEMs that should concern governments.
Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.
For all the latest on voice technology, check out the Mobile Voice Conference in San Francisco on April 15-16.
For all the latest telematics trends, check out V2X for Auto Safety and Mobility Europe 2013 on February 20-21 in Frankfurt, Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2013 on March 19-20 in Amsterdam, Telematics India and South Asia 2013 on April 17-18 in Bangalore, India, Insurance Telematics Europe 2013 on May 7-8 in London, Telematics Detroit 2013 on June 5-6, Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 18-19 in Munich and Telematics Russia 2013 in September in Moscow.
For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.