Future of the Connected Car

This morning I participated in a lively panel discussion on the future of automotive technology at the SAE Convergence 2012 event in Detroit, along with the CTOs of Ford and GM and several other panelists.  In my opening remarks, I spoke about the future of the in-vehicle user experience in particular, and thought I would share those thoughts here as well.


SAE Convergence 2012 – Blue Ribbon Panel
Detroit, Michigan October 16th, 2012
Prepared Remarks by Justin Rattner, Intel CTO

While my wife will tell you I’m a car guy, in this crowd I’m strictly an IT guy or should I say an ICT guy, since Intel builds both computers and radios. Suffice it to say, and with apologies to Al Jolson, “folks, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” In-vehicle ICT is really in its adolescence. Let me take my few minutes to whet your appetite for what’s to come. The most exciting development is what many, including Intel, are calling the connected car, and by that I mean a car that is constantly (or almost always) connected to the Internet, and through the Internet, to both cloud-based services and to other vehicles. Connectedness, if I can use that expression, is likely to change the in-vehicle experience as much as anything we’ve seen from the so-called infotainment systems of today. But, nothing in life is free or perfect, so there’s bound to be runs, hits, and plenty of errors.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of getting the in-vehicle experience right from the get-go. Some years ago, a Florida real-estate development featured a speech-driven master control system in every house. When asking the system to turn off the lights often resulted in a long-distance phone call to some distant relative, the developer literally pulled the plug. It’s our responsibility both as vehicle makers and technology suppliers to ensure that what we deliver works flawlessly before it hits the road. Getting the experience right requires new sets of skills, skills that aren’t often taught in engineering school. At Intel we’ve spent a decade building up expertise in areas such as ethnography, anthropology, and the social aspects of computing, to be sure our products comprehend not just what the engineers think is “cool” or “neat” but those qualities of technology that occupants truly enjoy and relate to on a level some would describe as love. Now, that I know they didn’t teach at my engineering school.

Getting the experience right also means improving safety for both the driver and the passengers. Technology doesn’t have to make things harder and more distracting. We know for sure that passwords have to go. You can’t have people trying to type in a different password for every unique in-vehicle service. Biometrics will be essential in authenticating the driver or passengers to the vehicle. Once done, the vehicle can authenticate the occupant to any service. I recently demo’d such a system at the Intel Developer Forum where we used the pattern of blood vessels in your hand to authenticate the user to the platform, which could have been an ultrabook, a smartphone, or a car. Once done, the system quickly authenticates the car to whatever registered services you require. No passwords at all, ever.

Experience-driven design is about to take a very important step into the future. Technologies well along in development will allow the vehicle to become “context aware” which is to say they will know a non-trivial amount of things about the driver and other occupants. That knowledge will only increase as the vehicle is driven, making the car appear smarter over time. Context awareness is based on the fusion of hard sensors, such as geolocation and weather conditions with soft sensors such as your calendar, your contacts, and your social network. All these knowledge sources working together will allow future vehicles to adjust to your driving behaviors, anticipate where you are going without explicit input, and help you manage your life while you are driving. Making sure this information is kept private and secure is an absolute requirement and must be built-in from the get-go.

One thing is for sure, the connected car is going to be a lot smarter and a lot more fun to drive. Simply put: a great personal experience and one that you’ll enjoy again and again. Sounds like love to me.


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