As seen at the Detroit Auto Show and Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, the auto industry is undergoing a rapid transformation as the car becomes the leading artificial intelligence (AI) platform. AI is now playing a role in the entire automotive design and engineering process, giving rise to an unprecedented amount of connectivity and functionality.
At the same time, OEMs are facing increased consumer demand for access to general-purpose assistants, no matter where they are. This new world is causing a fundamental shift in how OEMs think about design, bringing the human-machine-interface (HMI) to the forefront. But the emblem on the hood, the dashboard, and an automaker’s branding still matter in building a connection between the car and the driver and creating a relationship with the brand.
In this article, we explore four key ways OEMs can integrate AI-powered automotive technologies into design while still maintaining their brand identities.
1. Design a friendly and holistic HMI experience
The value of a thoughtful HMI strategy is clear: a vehicle that is designed with more intelligent, AI-powered features encourages drivers and passengers to engage with said features more often. Combined with cloud connectivity, contextually-aware databases, and natural language understanding (NLU) capabilities, these vehicle systems can offer relevant and helpful information to users in the car, demonstrating value to the driver and creating a connection with the car that will build favorable brand equity for the OEM.
2. Integrate with the competition
American drivers spend an average of nearly 18,000 minutes behind the wheel each year, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. As we move through our day, we organize our schedules, stream media, plan trips, and stay in contact with others using a variety of virtual assistants. It’s only natural that we expect continued access to these assistants whether we’re at home or in the car.
This poses a complex situation for automakers. If they refuse to enable access to the full range of assistants, they risk frustrating (and potentially losing) valued customers. But, if they let outside influence take over the assistant experience in the car, they are sacrificing an important opportunity for brand differentiation. Further, bringing these more general-purpose assistants into the car in place of a highly specialized automotive assistant limits functionality in terms of integration with in-car sensors and data.
To solve this problem, OEMs have begun integrating popular general-purpose assistants like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana into their own branded automotive assistants, creating a win-win for everyone in the ecosystem, especially car buyers.
3. Embrace a hybrid cloud and embedded approach
For a connected car platform to be truly functional, it must be built on a hybrid approach, with some systems built into the dashboard and others supplemented by support from the cloud. An embedded solution in a modern car also offers deep integration of the HMI with the manifold sensors, far beyond any level of integration a mobile solution can offer. As we witness the dawn of autonomous driving, deep integration will become crucial to maintaining drivers’ ability to access and leverage the sensors without gaps or delays. If you hand the steering wheel over to a virtual assistant, you want it to correctly understand all the information the car offers regardless of cloud connectivity.
In the case of a hybrid cloud and embedded approach, the assistant needs to understand when a request needs to be passed off to a third-party platform or the cloud. For example, if you are driving home on a cold winter night, your smart assistant can contact Amazon’s Alexa at home and heat up the living room or order a pizza. The assistant doesn’t need to do everything itself. Instead, it can distribute each task or request to the most appropriate virtual assistant, thanks to AI and contextual-based reasoning.
4. Anticipate the future needs of your customers
Long automotive development cycles and lead times mean that not every vehicle’s design can be completely future-proofed, but as automakers’ core identities continue to become more closely linked to their technological prowess, many are taking steps to ensure that they are designing with the future in mind. As OEMs work to reconcile their heritage, identity, and design precedents for a new generation of connected vehicles, they should also ensure they invest the time and resources needed to create new and intuitive user experiences that drivers don't yet even realize they will need.
What seems like a problem for traditional car manufacturers could turn out to be their biggest asset. They need to reconcile the importance of distinct design with the need for connectivity over multiple devices. If they can design a smart assistant that offers a unique voice and knows who is best at doing what, then they will maintain their status as design innovators.
Adam Emfield is Principal User Experience Manager and Head of DRIVE Lab at Nuance Communications.