Over the last decades, cars have become increasingly smarter, more digital and connected. These days, systems supporting the driver and providing more safety are just as important as a car’s performance or design – some would argue even more so. On the highway to autonomous driving though, it is a tech topic far from road safety concerns that is moving into focus, namely, in-car entertainment.
Are we there yet?
We all know how dull long rides, even in the nicest of cars, can be – yes, for grown-ups too. There isn’t a lot that passengers can do whilst on the road. Sound systems and screens installed for the rear seats are doing their best to provide some sort of distraction, but fail to engage people in the long run, or rather ride. So, what if the time on the road could be spent in an entertaining or even educating way? This is a question that more and more car manufacturers are asking themselves. Some have even presented first concepts on what in-car entertainment could become, dipping into a promising new field of car design.
A major question in creating new and better entertainment for passengers is how and where to place the technology. Evolving screen and virtual reality (VR) technology are opening up new and exciting possibilities, such as thinner and more flexible screens that can be installed in various car surfaces, screens that function as windows, digitally enhanced windows like smart windshields or VR-glasses that are connected with the car.
Fully immersive experience
The goal should not only be to divert passengers from the possibly tedious ride but to enhance the experience into something that can be fully enjoyed – immersion is the key. A way to accomplish this, aside from the hardware components, is to incorporate technology like vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure systems. Combined with the actual movements of the car, this enables a full 4D experience for passengers, that relates to what is actually happening around them.
It is easy to imagine that a holistic experience like this could not only be utilised for entertainment but also for educational or business purposes. With rising commuting hours and traffic density, cars have become a third living space for many people – aside from the home and the work place. Attending a meeting digitally from the car while on-the-go, listening to a workshop or participating in a virtual seminar in a 3D or 4D environment could prove to be very time efficient. The possibilities are endless.
Since many people are prone to feeling nauseous on car or bus rides, adding a VR component doesn’t seem like the sensible thing to add, at first thought. However, this form of in-car entertainment could theoretically solve this issue as well. By syncing what the passengers are experiencing in the real world – speeding, braking, curves – with a matching visual in the digital world, motion sickness could effectively be combatted.
Where are we headed?
Augmented reality enhancements through window-like screens and VR-tech in cars is something that we will probably see in the near future – and not only in private cars. Public transport and taxis could also become a substantial part of the market. This, however, only represents the tip of what in-car entertainment could evolve into.
As soon as autonomous driving really kicks off, the market for new entertainment systems is going to grow with it. Warner Bros. and Intel, for example, presented their take on the trend at the 2019 CES with an immersive Batman experience. Intel also expects pilotless vehicles to free more than 250 million hours of consumers’ commuting time per year only in the most congested cities in the world. The market resulting from this will be of interest for both entertainment providers and car manufacturers alike. By elevating cars to being more than just transport, but living rooms full of entertainment and education, their relevance is likely to last for many decades ahead.