Software-driven user interfaces, Smartphone connectivity, and a host of new technologies designed to monitor the driving conditions and cognitive load of the drivers are reshaping the way customers see cars and driving in general.
The influence of the IT industry over the traditional automotive electronics sector appears to be growing daily, with both Apple and Google announcing plans to be significant players in the invehicle connectivity markets. Industry watchers are now looking to see how automotive companies including those such as Clarion respond to Apple’s proprietary CarPlay platform (the new name for previously announced iOS in the Car) and the highly-anticipated version from Google.
This January, Clarion Corporation of America walked away with two of the much-coveted CES Innovations Design and Engineering Awards for 2014 at the International CES held in Las Vegas. Clarion’s value-oriented NX404 in-dash navigation multimedia unit won the CES Innovations award in the In-Vehicle Accessories/ Control/ Navigation product category partially due to its capability to offer full Smartphone connectivity.
The other award went to Clarion’s marine specific CMS5 in the In-Vehicle Audio/ Video category. CMS5 is an all-in-one digital media receiver system featuring a global AM/ FM/ weather band tuner with RDS, J1939 connectivity, and the latest in Bluetooth technologies for supporting Smartphone connectivity in a watertight black box construction. In 2013 Clarion had announced that its next-gen in-vehicle multimedia and navigation systems would feature natural speech recognition as well as search and positioning technologies powered by Google.
By incorporating Google’s cloud-based Google Places within its Smart Access connectivity platform, Clarion’s new infotainment systems equipped with Intelligent VOICE allow users access to the same type and level of location-based search services in their vehicles that they are already accustomed to on their mobile devices and at home. Google started the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) in 2013 with the intention of extending the success of the Android platform to cars. While Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Ferrari have already committed to Apple’s CarPlay, Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai and NVIDIA have joined Google to form the OAA, a global alliance of technology and auto industry leaders committed to bringing the Android platform to cars starting in 2014. Android’s open development model and common platform will allow automakers to more easily bring cuttingedge technology to their vehicles, and create new opportunities for developers to deliver powerful experiences for drivers and passengers in a safe and scalable way.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Allen H. Gharapetian, Vice President of Marketing and Product Planning, Clarion Corporation of America, what were the highlights of the CES 2014 for Clarion.
Gharapetian: Given our corporate drive since 2012 to transform our business from an In-Vehicle Equipment Manufacturer to a leading In-Vehicle Information Service Provider, our focus for the past 2 years has been to immerse ourselves in what it takes to research, invent, design, develop, and market connectivity technologies and capabilities for in-vehicle use. As such, we rolled out four all new connected navigation and entertainment automotive systems at CES along with an advanced version of our Smart Access connectivity platform which now includes Clarion’s Intelligent VOICE technology powered by Google. Visitors to our display rooms at CES were quite impressed with the ease of use and accuracy of Intelligent VOICE which allows users to speak conversationally to the head unit without using special commands or follow choreographed steps. Our new connected systems also support an expanded list of Android and iOS Smartphones, including the latest models, which allows more users to integrate their mobile lifestyles into their vehicles with ease and efficiency.
AI: How do you see the OAA impacting Clarion’s IVI technology efforts?
Gharapetian: OAA will most certainly provide us new opportunities to work closer with Google and be an active part of the development of new technologies and capabilities for in vehicle information systems. Given Google’s traditional style of promoting openness, collaboration, customization, and rapid evolution, OAA will help accelerate adoption of in-vehicle specific technologies. This ubiquitous support can achieve the necessary scale needed for developing and fueling more ambitious and futuristic expectations such as autonomous cars. These vehicles will be seamlessly connected to an ecosystem that will be essential to the efficiency and safety of our transportation grid many years into the future. Overall, we welcome OAA and quite excited to be working closer with Google to shape the future.
AI: Do you think Google’s in-car connectivity system will offer stiff competition to CarPlay (iOS in the car)?
Gharapetian: Apple and Google have traditionally followed distinct paths as far as technology deployment and strategic partnerships are concerned. It is likely that they will continue as before and not compete head on against one another but, instead, focus on offering distinct advantages to the market (and third party software and hardware developers) that will attract like-minded automakers and automotive electronics manufacturers to their respective camps. And, in the interest of supporting consumers, it would be natural that mobile electronics companies and tier1suppliers will pursue any path that supports both iOS and Android Smartphones. At the end, the polish of the UI (user interface), number and quality of compatible apps, ease and speed of use (including effectiveness of voice recognition systems), expandability and reliability of the system, and associated costs of each system will determine adoption rate of one versus the other just like what we have witnessed in the Smartphone market segment in the past 5+ years.
AI then asked Adam Thomas, Vice President of Engineering- Program Management, Clarion Corporation of America, how Clarion’s Smart Access platform will be impacted by the OAA.
Thomas: Clarion sees them as being complementary. One is more focused on the operating system in the embedded head unit and one is more focused on getting relevant content to that head unit. Clarion’s Smart Access is agnostic in terms of operating system support and can be used to connect a variety of products through Smartphones or embedded Telematics ECUs.
AI: Tell us a little about how OAA can change in-vehicle communication and entertainment.
Thomas: Clarion sees it as a way to bring a familiar consumer experience into the center stack. In the big picture, there is a potential savings for Clarion and our customers by reusing OAA’s development efforts across multiple platforms and programs. In addition, there should be a large development community on which we can mutually rely. There is a great deal of similarity between what OAA will likely be doing for the in-vehicle entertainment system and what Android accomplished for the Smartphone category so drawing parallels there will likely be a prudent bet.
AI: What is Clarion’s view in relation to in-vehicle connectivity technologies and innovations being primarily driven from the United States?
Thomas: Clarion sees that as a trend which seems to be closely connected to the rapid and extensive adoption of Smartphones in the US, which is where most of the app and user interface technology developers have established themselves. Also, the US consumer appears to be the most interested in in-vehicle connectivity today, which means the US market demand is fueling activities. With that in mind, Clarion offices in US, along with our global research centers including our recently opened Silicon Valley Research Center, are working in a concerted fashion to bring key automotive market players into alignment by building strategic partnerships and participating in standardization efforts.