How Automotive Infotainment Units Are Shaping the Future of Driver Safety

Asaf EldadMarch 15, 2017

How Automotive Infotainment Units Are Shaping the Future of Driver Safety

By Asaf Eldad, Vice President of Strategic Business Development for GreenRoad

There was a time, not long ago, when we didn’t expect our cars to talk to us. The only screens in our vehicles were the ones we used to change the radio station. But as GPS navigation systems, mobile devices, and telematics aftermarket solutions became more popular, automakers saw the opportunity to trade the traditional stereo interface for something much more interactive and versatile – the infotainment unit.

Infotainment units are becoming a standard installation in new vehicles, no longer a luxury add-on so much as a key decision factor for buyers. It’s estimated that 80 percent of new cars will be connected in this way by 2020.

The reasons to love infotainment are plentiful, especially for fleets – infotainment units not only handle GPS and navigation duties, but give drivers basic information about the health and status of their vehicle, serve as the hub for music streaming, and often enable drivers to interact with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Most importantly, they do all of this without distracting drivers, thanks to features like voice activation and buttons on the wheel.

If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like a mobile phone embedded in your drivers’ dashboards, you’re catching on. Infotainment is becoming its own mobility platform where developers and enterprise software providers can deliver apps. Interacting with it feels a lot like using the App Store or Google Play. In some cases, that’s exactly what you’re doing – Apple and Google have both built their own mobility platforms for infotainment.

Some vehicle equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are connecting infotainment units to the car’s Controller Area Network (CAN) bus, allowing vehicles to communicate back to app makers and fleet managers about road conditions and other factors that may affect the driving experience. This two-way data sharing facilitates the ability for app makers to provide context-based experiences, altering the app’s UI, functionality or feedback based on road conditions, time of day, vehicle health or other information that can be gleaned from the car’s sensors. For example, picture your employees using GreenRoad on an icy winter day, and our infotainment app automatically adjusts to ensure drivers brake sooner and drive more slowly than they would on a sunny day.

It also offers fleet managers the opportunity to get accurate insights into how their drivers are handling these road conditions. In the past, fleet managers were limited to the insights they could glean from telematics. But in the near future, a combination of ADAS, telematics and built-in connectivity will create a new level of nuanced visibility that will make it easier to analyze and predict driver safety concerns.

When this shift to infotainment happens, it will make fleet safety initiatives easier to roll out, as companies will no longer need to install custom hardware. The challenge will be in managing the different data feeds and formats produced by fleets comprised of vehicles from a variety of OEMs. However, over time, I believe unified conventions will arise and some traditional telematics companies will evolve into “omni-OEM” data aggregation solutions, similar to today’s IoT solutions that can take data from a variety of sources and normalize it into a unified structure.

The connected, software-based future of driver safety may be closer than you think. GreenRoad’s award-winning safety and fleet productivity solutions are becoming some of the first software-only solutions to be offered over infotainment units. This will give fleets hardware-free safety coaching, fleet tracking, and driver safety improvements over and above what’s provided by the onboard ADAS, without requiring any downtime for installation.

We might not have expected our cars to talk to us several years ago, but we also didn’t expect ideas like “zero-fatality roads” to suddenly seem achievable. In the very near future, whether we’re driving for personal or work reasons, we will expect our cars to play a proactive role in our safety. And they will be up to the challenge.