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CES 2020: Dashboard Distraction Dilemma

CES 2020: Dashboard Distraction Dilemma
by Roger C. Lanctot on 01-05-2020 at 10:00 am

CES 2020 Dashboard Distraction Dilemma

Tesla Motors did it again. In September of 2019 Tesla launched its “Software Version 10.0,” a software update targeted primarily at in-vehicle infotainment systems. Principal among the extensive menu of updates was something called “Tesla Theater” which added streaming video content sources including Netflix, Hulu, Youtube, and vehicle tutorials, to the in-dash system.

Before you safety Mavens get your regulations in a bunch, the streaming content is only accessible when the vehicle is in park. Still, the streaming sources join an expanding roster of games, audio sources, and even a karaoke app complete with singalong lyrics in the dashboard of Tesla vehicles.

While Tesla always seems to be well out in front of automotive technology trends, the increased quantity and variety of in-dash content reflects a trend sweeping the industry via which infotainment screens are becoming much more lively and informative. I can’t say I am a fan of video content in the dashboard, but video was already there before Tesla launched Software 10.0 and I believe the entire industry is missing some obvious and more driving oriented applications for in-dash video.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandated in-dash live back-up camera video implementations beginning with new cars manufactured in 2018 onward.  This means, as I am fond of noting, that the NHTSA doesn’t want you staring at your dashboard screen – unless your driving in reverse. (It’s worth noting that the U.S. is the only automotive regulatory authority in the world that has chosen this mandatory path to safer driving.)

The backup camera mandate in the U.S. is creating a generation of befuddled drivers that now believe it is best to drive their cars backwards while looking at the in-dash display. It is just as horrible as it sounds. I still remember my first backup camera driving experience shortly after I took delivery of my new 2007 Infiniti G35 and immediately proceeded to back into the garbage cans at the end of my driveway. (More a reflection on me, I suppose.)

Before the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act was signed into law, though, moving images on dashboard screens had already become common in the form of embedded navigation systems. The CGKTSA was intended to save approximately 200 lives a year from back overs.

During the time preceding enactment of CGKTSA, the NHTSA was actively pursuing safety regulations for automatic emergency braking and targeting distracted driving with infotainment system design guidelines. The transition from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration, though, saw a further erosion of the NHTSA’s regulatory leadership.

The CGKTSA was brought about by legislation (following extensive research by the NHTSA) and not by regulatory oversight. The adoption of infotainment system design guidelines was voluntary within the automotive industry as was the latest effort to broaden the adoption of automatic emergency braking technology.

Tesla’s flirtation with in-dash distractions arrives with the NHTSA at an ebb in its regulatory authority at precisely the moment that issues of automated driving, privacy, and vehicle cybersecurity are crying out for governmental guidance. CES 2020 in Las Vegas next week will find auto makers and their suppliers plunging into this regulatory vacuum with dazzling and distracting in-dash displays spreading across dashboards and designed to enable everything from singing karaoke while driving to buying a café latte on the go.

The evolution of the in-dash experience started with the onset of digital radio adding meta data for artists and radio stations; and integrating digital content such as traffic, weather, fuel, and parking information; enabling search for broadcast content; and setting the stage for integration with streaming audio sources – i.e. hybrid radio – see: Audi/RadioDNS.

In the U.S., the range of digital content now available in dashboards is staggering and includes satellite radio, broadcast radio, podcasts, content from connected mobile devices, and even audio books. In this regard it is important to note the pre-CES 2020 merger of Tivo and Xperi – two kings of meta data and content management – and the potential acquisition of iHeartMedia by Liberty Media (which owns a majority stake in SiriusXM). The objective of all of this content delivery is to reach a captive seatbelted audience more than likely in transit to a destination for economic activity – cue timely advertising messages.

The contenders for this audience, who will be in attendance at CES 2020, include SiriiusXM, Xevo, Telenav, TomTom, HERE, iHeartMedia, Cumulus, Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and, of course, every auto maker and Tier 1 supplier. (To be honest, Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, and multiple other payment players are in on this game as well.) What all of these organizations are missing, though, is the need for critical driving information in the dash.

Over the Christmas/New Year’s break I had the occasion to view Alex Roy’s “The Secret Race” about his record setting drive across the U.S.

Apple and Amazon links: https://www.apexthesecretrace.com/

Car enthusiast Roy set the record with the help of extensive route planning – taking into account traffic, weather, and local law enforcement – and aerial reconnaissance in the form of a following spotter plane. In crossing the country in less than 28 hours Roy overcomes various surprises in the form of construction, some traffic, weather, and some very slow drivers – some of which might have been avoided with tools available today that were not available when Roy made his record-setting journey.

Not every driver can be assisted by an eye in the sky, but it is precisely this sort of capability that is enabled by existing analogs.

To this day car makers have failed to find a way to integrate traffic camera information to in-dash systems. TrafficLand, a traffic camera service provider based near my home in Northern Virginia and which helps local departments of transportation manage their hundreds of traffic cameras, has an app to allow users to access live traffic camera videos showing live feeds from the road ahead.

To me, an in-dash traffic camera application accessible via voice interface to display traffic conditions is a more relevant and essential in-dash video experience. But it doesn’t end there. I expect consumers will want to be able to access their Ring and home Webcams in their car dashboards before long.

Ever listening to a different drummer, Tesla has added Twitch to its in-dash infotainment access to go with the Tesla Arcade. Tesla also enables video clips created by its cars’ Sentry Mode to be shared via the company’s mobile app – so that, too, is a means to leverage vehicle-based video.

A further step might be a full integration with other Tesla drivers to share their live dashcam info – or clips – in the event of roadside incidents that may be impacting traffic conditions. It won’t be long before Tesla’s – and other so-equipped vehicles – are able to report traffic violations to local law enforcement – live. Whether on a long drive or a daily commute, what driver wouldn’t want to actually SEE what is happening along one’s intended route – from live cameras be they built into cars or installed along the roadside?

Suffice it to say that there is ample space in the increasingly ample dashboard displays being deployed in the automotive industry for companies to capitalize on advertising, customer engagement, collision mitigation, traffic management, and brand differentiation opportunities. CES 2020 in Las Vegas is the perfect place to assess the progress and efficacy of these gambits and place your bets.


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