Automotive UX, connectivity, digitisation

The Future of the Car: My Smartphone on Wheels

In addition to the slow shift away from the combustion engine, the automotive industry is undergoing another major change - digitalization. And everyone is involved: from garages to cities and communities, insurance companies, politicians and, of course, the automotive industry itself - it's everyone's business. What can we expect in the future? We can already reveal this much: It will be digital. Everything will be connected, everything will communicate with each other. Services will become more diverse. And it all boils down to a driving smartphone, with all the conveniences that a conventional smartphone also offers: Automatic updates, uncomplicated payment, biometrics and shopping. The prerequisite is a connected car, i.e. a car that already has internet access via mobile data. This opens up various possibilities, which we take a closer look at in this article.

08 MIN

Biometrics:

You can forget to take your car keys with you, but not your face. Anyone who goes through the classic checklist of "wallet, phone, keys, car keys?" in their head when leaving home may be able to leave out at least the latter in the future. We are not as far away from this future as it may sound. In September 2023, Continental and trinamiX presented a technology that uses a camera installed in the B-pillar to scan the face and thus only allows clearly identified people to open the car. (https://www.chip.de/news/Gesichtserkennung-im-Auto-So-sollen-kuenftig-Diebstaehle-verhindert-werden_184665402.html). A second camera is located behind the driver's display and only allows authorized persons to start the engine. This makes it a reliable means of preventing car theft and can also be used for functions such as tolls, authorization of apps and in-car payment services. Various driver profiles with preset preferences are also conceivable (https://www.elektroniknet.de/automotive/assistenzsysteme/das-gesicht-als-autoschluessel.213716.html).

Over-the-air services: Pitfalls and advantages

What do you think is the most common reason for car recalls? If you guessed brakes, engine damage, seat belts or airbags, then you were right - at least back in 2016. Nowadays, software faults make up a large proportion of recalls (https://www.rutronik.com/de/article/ota-updates-im-automotive-bereich-smarte-updates-fuer-smarte-fahrzeuge). But these can be easily fixed. So-called over-the-air (OTA) services enable vehicle manufacturers to wirelessly transfer software updates and new functions to vehicles without owners having to go to the workshop. Live diagnostics are also possible. This means less effort for vehicle owners and faster distribution of improvements and safety patches.

This sounds very good at first, but it also has a few pitfalls. Experts are not yet satisfied with the transparency of the updates. One concern is that car manufacturers are "secretly" carrying out safety-relevant software updates without communicating them to customers and the Federal Motor Transport Authority. According to the experts, customers should be allowed to decide for themselves which updates they want without having to accept any loss of quality (https://www.adac.de/rund-ums-fahrzeug/reparatur-pflege-wartung/reparatur-rueckruf/updates-over-the-air/). Another potentially pitfall is, if the update pops up just at the moment when you actually want to leave quickly. But waiting 15 minutes for the next data package is still more convenient than the hassle of a visit to the garage.

Over-the-air services: Simply add seat heating in winter with Features on Demand

OTAs do not stop at software updates. Services, also known as features on demand, can be easily booked and upgraded, just like in an app store. The types of extra services and features are very diverse. Audi, for example, offers nice gimmicks, such as various sound or alternator settings, but basic services can also be booked, such as a navigation system (https://www.audi.de/de/brand/de/service-zubehoer/audi-digital-service/functions-on-demand.html#nm-anchor-1584465026). But it doesn't end with digitally controllable services. Some features that require a physical component are also available. At VW, for example, you can book seat heating as required, as (https://www.volkswagen.de/de/konnektivitaet-und-mobilitaetsdienste/konnektivitaet/upgrades-uebersicht/upgrades.html) the components for seat heating are already built into the seat by default.

These features on demand make life easier for car manufacturers and buyers, but also for the latter's wallets. Manufacturers have the advantage of being able to produce standardized equipment more quickly, which shortens delivery times. For buyers, this has the advantage that the decision for some features does not have to be made at the time of purchase and the car (and also used cars) can be upgraded at a later date. Subscription models as well as lifetime use of the functions can be purchased. Depending on the manufacturer and purchase model, prices vary from a few euros to several thousand euros (https://www.adac.de/rund-ums-fahrzeug/ausstattung-technik-zubehoer/ausstattung/functions-on-demand/). This opens up a market worth millions for the automotive industry. How sustainable it is to equip cars as standard with pre-installed features such as seat heating, which may not even be used, is questionable and a point that has so far received little attention in the pros and cons of features on demand.

Over-the-air services: The marketplace rides along. In-car commerce and in-car payment.

Speaking of retrofitting, how does payment for these services work? It's very simple via in-car payments. On some models, parking tickets or refueling can already be paid for conveniently via the console in the car. This is usually done with a single click. Third-party services can also be integrated (https://www.adac.de/rund-ums-fahrzeug/ausstattung-technik-zubehoer/ausstattung/in-car-payment/). Purchases can then be made conveniently from the car via an in-car marketplace (also known as in-car commerce or in-vehicle commerce), provided that in-car payment is linked.

Is this also being used? If a technology has not yet been given a standardized name, this is usually a sign that it is still a novelty. A General Motors project has already been abandoned in which the shopping list was created in advance and the car automatically navigates to the relevant stores (https://paymentandbanking.com/in-vehicle-commerce-zukunft-aussichten/). Everyone agrees that the market potential is huge. A study conducted by GfK in 2023 shows that 2/3 of Germans would like to pay parking and fuel bills via in-car payment (https://www.mastercard.com/news/europe/de-de/blog/de-de/2023/gfk-studie-in-car-payment-im-auto-bezahlen/). However, the extent to which in-car commerce will prevail has not yet been decided.  

V2V and V2X: Is there traffic jam? Thanks for the info! The car is happy to exchange with others.

Connectivity is also being taken further than is necessarily visible to the customer. Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) could be roughly described like this: The car maintains a constant chat with its surroundings about the latest news that is relevant to the driving process. The idea behind these communication technologies is to improve road safety and prevent accidents. Other drivers can be warned of accidents, traffic jams, black ice, roadworks or other dangerous situations before they are in sight. If the car is being driven (semi-)autonomously, the system brakes automatically, changes lanes or avoids the danger (https://www.vda.de/de/themen/digitalisierung/connected-car-technologie).

V2V enables direct communication between vehicles. V2X extends the communication range to all aspects of traffic, including pedestrians, cyclists and infrastructure components such as traffic lights. By using on-board units (OBU) in vehicles and road-side units (RSU) at road infrastructure, such as intersections, information can be exchanged in real time (https://www.atp-autoteile.de/blog/v2x-kommunikation/). All this collected data helps with issues such as traffic coordination, prioritization of road users and reduction of exhaust emissions, which is why V2V and V2X are often mentioned in connection with ecological aspects. Emissions and energy consumption can be reduced through anticipatory driving and optimized routing.

Does this all sound so familiar to you? Don't modern assistance systems (ADAS for Advanced Driver Assistance System) already do this? After all, the lane departure warning system or speed assistance system already recognizes the traffic flow or whether there are roadworks ahead. That is true, but it is based on a different system. The assistance systems are based on a sensor system (radar, lidar and camera) and must have a certain proximity to these sensors in order to receive this data. ADAS functions in isolation and autonomously. Weather and lighting conditions can cause problems to them. (https://www.vector.com/de/de/know-how/v2x/#c30298). V2X is based on a network of vehicles (OBU) and roadside units (RSU) that also use this technology. The more vehicles are equipped with V2V, the better the functions become (https://www.wardsauto.com/industry-news/limitations-adas-v2v-and-v2x-communications).

Test projects are already being carried out by cities and organizations, but mainly on individual components, such as traffic jam reduction (https://exxeta.com/blog/v2x-neue-technologie-fuer-intelligente-mobilitaet#:~:text=Some%20cities%20and%20organizations%20have%20in%20driver%20assistance%20systems%20(ADAS).).

Smart home system & car: combining the obvious.

What else can your smartphone do? Perhaps regulate the heating or switch on the lights? This is possible on the smartphone via smart home apps and should of course also find its way into the car operating system. Particularly tempting: geofencing. The smart home system communicates with the vehicle and recognizes when the vehicle is within a certain radius and can then, for example, open the garage door automatically. Or even put the coffee maker on (https://www.iaa-mobility.com/de/newsroom/news/urban-mobility/so-verschmelzen-smart-home-und-smart-car).

 

Data protection and security: the automotive industry is barely keeping up.

Connectivity always requires communication. During the journey, vast amounts of data are sent via the mobile internet: From the position of the car, to driving habits and also (if used) payment data of the driver. Where there is such valuable data, there are also people who want to access it. These could be companies or the car manufacturer, but also hackers.

A study by the Center of Automotive Management (CAM) and Cisco warns of the dangers of hacking attacks, which are on the increase (https://www.automobilwoche.de/bc-online/einfallstor-ota-updates-mehr-cyber-angriffe-auf-autos-und-infrastruktur). Awareness of such attacks has existed for some time. The topic attracted particular attention in 2015 when a case went through the press in which two hackers gained access to the operating system of a Jeep via the CAN bus interface while driving and were able to control functions remotely (https://www.auto-motor-und-sport.de/news/jeep-cherokee-erneut-gehackt/). This was a demonstration of how vulnerable the systems can be, which was previously agreed with journalists.

Even today, the CAN bus interface is still regarded as a weak point in the car. The controller area network links individual assemblies in the car and exchanges data. The sensors required for the function of the assistance systems also run via this point (https://www.atp-autoteile.de/blog/v2x-kommunikation/). Anyone who hacks into the CAN can therefore control all functions in the car. Hackers gain access to the system via the integrated mobile phone system (https://www.axa.de/pk/kfz/a/cybercrime-auto-gehackt).

Automotive manufacturers are making efforts to meet the new security requirements. There is frequent criticism that comprehensive cyber security strategies are still lacking and that these are often not prioritized due to market pressure and customer demand for more connectivity (https://www.security-insider.de/immer-mehr-cyberangriffe-auf-automobilbranche-und-ladenetze-a-86a48ce275a3632184d1bb7dc558c5ec/).

Conclusion:

We are not far away from a SmartCar. Everything that is possible on a smartphone will sooner or later also be possible in a car. You can't use your smartphone while driving, but you can use the car console. However, this should not be the goal, but services should mainly function via voice control. This could still be a sticking point at the moment, because we know how well or badly this works from arguments and misunderstandings with Siri, Alexa and co. The security risk posed by connected cars does not yet seem to be sufficiently covered by car manufacturers, if you believe the opinion of various experts. Nevertheless, these new possibilities also offer various advantages that are very tempting and convenient and not only benefit drivers and manufacturers, such as communication between cars, which also aims to improve safety for all other road users.

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Wolfgang Waxenberger

Wolfgang started his career as a UX professional in 2004 after completing his MA in Political Science and Sociology. He led SirValUse Consulting and GfK's UX department for 10 years before founding uintent. Wolfgang's focus is on automotive and healthcare research.

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