Case Studies, HMI & UX

When a Driver Is No Longer in Control: The Driving Experience in an Autonomous Car as a New Revenue Stream for Automakers

This articles was guest-authored Victor Haydin, Automotive Practice Leader at Intellias.

In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of connected car technologies. They’ve turned vehicles into mobile communication hubs that send and receive data at high speeds while on the go. This connectivity has brought about previously impossible and unimaginable in-car experiences for drivers and passengers.

The next evolutionary step is expected after fully autonomous vehicles (AVs) hit the roads. OEMs should consider a completely new in-car experience for drivers-turned-passengers as a new way to monetize vehicles.

Let’s take a look at how advanced technologies will help car manufacturers and ride-hailing companies reimagine the driving experience in a self-driving vehicle and take advantage of it in the long run.

Shifting gears: How will the driving experience change?

Even though automakers are putting every effort into rolling out self-driving vehicles, most of today’s cars are at Levels 0 to 3 in terms of autonomous driving. That means you, as the driver, control every or nearly every aspect of the ride.

Source: NHTSA

Packed with advanced sensors and software that rely on artificial intelligence, deep learning, V2X connectivity, and computer vision, Level 4 and 5 vehicles will take the steering wheel away from us. These vehicles will be deeply integrated into smart urban infrastructure, forming a single dynamic and intelligent network of autonomous vehicles capable of making optimal decisions on the go.

And what will drivers do while (not) driving? By seeking the answer to this question and creating completely new experiences of riding in a car, OEMs will also discover extra revenue streams for their businesses. Self-driving technology is the next big thing for entertainment, eLearning, gaming, and eCommerce. It seems like a perfect time for automotive leaders to think about how to get the most out of cross-industry deals.

When we finally hit Level 5 automation, it will mean vehicles have become completely independent of human drivers and may even be rid of conventional control elements like a steering wheel, accelerator, and brake pedal. With no need to concentrate on the road, drivers of fully autonomous cars will turn into passengers and get the freedom to use a slew of interactive in-car services. They’ll work, relax, and consume various forms of media content while being taken from point A to point B in a futuristic, tech-packed capsule.

The driving force: Consumer needs

The most distinctive feature for automotive brands is definitely the in-car experience. And its importance will only rise.

When expanding their in-vehicle services, OEMs should deliver what’s hot and in demand. With global tendencies for hyper-personalization and customization, companies who can adapt to consumer needs win. The car itself has become a seamless continuation of a buyer’s mobile phone or smart home system. Multi-screen experiences, immersive video broadcasting, windshield holograms, and in-car augmented reality (AR) are just some of the ways to help drivers enjoy the ride and access their favorite services right in the car.

According to surveys, the average commuter spends about 50 minutes per day driving to the office and back. This adds up to nearly five extremely unproductive working weeks inside a moving vehicle per year. With the right tools in place, this time could be spent more effectively. Partnering with online service providers, content industry players, learning platforms, and eCommerce businesses, automakers will be able to provide many potential activities for drivers and passengers in semi-autonomous and fully autonomous vehicles:

  • Entertainment: streaming video, audio, games
  • Work: online meetings, interviews, document revision
  • Education: media-rich content from online learning platforms
  • eCommerce: shopping on marketplaces like Amazon
  • Video conferencing: high-definition video calls with colleagues, friends, and family
  • Travel: planning upcoming trips

Yes, Level 5 may still be in the not-so-near future. But the automotive industry has already started its gradual transition to smarter in-car systems, autonomous car software, and new services for drivers and passengers. Once the realm of sci-fi movies like Back to the Future, ingenious car features are becoming more common day by day. Today’s cars are smart, but future cars will be way smarter. Let’s explore tech advancements that will make drivers ride with pleasure and automakers earn from these rides.

Driving a hard bargain: New business models

The car of the future will be packed with digital services embedded into its very design. Whether in a personal car or a car sharing vehicle, these future services will be deeply personalized and tailored to the preferences and typical activities of the driver, adding to the refreshingly innovative experience.

Augment the driver’s reality

The first key to changing the way we drive and interact with our cars could be the advancement of augmented reality applications and natural language processing tools. Basic implementations of these technologies have already found their way into high-end models, but there’s lots of potential for growth in this area. Hundreds of companies worldwide are currently working on dramatically improving AR technologies.

Partial delegation of driver’s responsibilities to an autopilot system could enable OEMs to start using AR as a usual element of the navigation system either as an added value or as an extra in-car service. This would go hand in hand with raising the vehicle’s price, of course.

AR screens could be made retractable or even built into windshields, enabling the car to render high-quality, detailed graphics in the driver’s line of sight. This would require a new generation of hardware and software capable of reading real-time data from multiple sensors and juxtaposing it with rapidly changing road situations and maps to guide the driver, suggest maneuvers, and help avoid accidents.

Break the language barrier

Another huge area to explore and monetize is the use of voice assistants or handwriting recognition for interacting with a car and its applications. Existing solutions often fall short of expectations in terms of the quality of voice recognition and overall functionality. Autonomous car software will have to be a lot more capable and offer deeper integration with external services and car functions, allowing the driver to use arbitrary phrases and natural language constructs.

Existing voice recognition platforms including Cortana, Alexa, and Siri are still far from able to deliver the quality and accuracy needed for autonomous cars and their occupants. Progress in this area will depend on further advancements in AI, growth in the computational power of in-car electronics, and the widespread availability of 5G networks with their extremely low latencies and high data transmission speeds. A combination of edge and cloud AI, advanced natural language processing capabilities, wireless connectivity, and next-generation human machine interfaces based on AR will define the automotive landscape in the coming years.

Make deals

When shipping cars with advanced self-driving technology, automakers can earn by partnering with world-renowned learning, commercial, and entertainment platforms and service providers.

Many people would love the opportunity to spend their daily 30 to 60 minutes in traffic learning something new, which is a great opportunity for online education platforms like Coursera and Udemy to adapt their courses and materials to a format that will fit well into a mobile vehicle setting — especially one with advanced voice recognition and synthesis capabilities.

However, even more people would likely choose Netflix or Spotify. To enable these services, car connectivity should allow drivers to use apps and companion apps, just like we do on smartphones or smart TV systems. By smoothly implementing these in vehicles, OEMs can benefit from shared resources and storage, value-added elements, and even data on the number of views of particular titles. Offer subscriptions with unlimited access to services, data plans, or loyalty cards, and drivers won’t want to get out of the car!

Online marketplaces and advertisers are also on the list of potential partners. As more time suddenly becomes available, daily commuters will definitely try to put it to good use by shopping online in the morning to find their orders delivered by the time they get home. Shopping suggestions may even come from the road itself as passengers pass by stores equipped with beacons or billboards taking them directly to the store’s product page. Online retailers would fight to have their marketplace apps installed in car software systems by default.

Big data is also extremely likely to become yet another lavish source of income for OEMs. With every autonomous car collecting tons of information about the activities of its owner and passengers, typical routes, traffic situations, and other in-car and out-of-car events, monetizing this data will be natural. Here are just a few use cases that fall into the new monetization paradigm:

  • Improved maps and navigation systems based on radar data from smart vehicles
  • Convenient paid parking services based on up-to-date information on parking spaces available in the area (based on data from cars and IoT-enabled parking lots)
  • Minimized car downtime thanks to continuous self-diagnostics and timely service (also providing a stable flow of customers for service centers)
  • Optimized insurance offers based on car usage statistics collected 24/7 (insurers will be able to determine the best plan based on the geography of rides, driving style, and other factors)
  • Use of big data from autonomous cars to train neural networks and improve the performance of self-driving vehicles

At a crossroads: Getting ready for the autonomous future

The opportunities autonomous driving promises to OEMs, technology startups, online services, advertisers, content producers, and software development companies are truly immense. Software development companies will ultimately play a role of paramount importance, as they will have to marry all the new hardware platforms and technologies with a slew of all-new use cases and models of in-car behavior. They will be the driving force behind the wide adoption of new content formats and technologies that will serve as the foundation of the human machine interfaces of the future.

There’s no doubt that we have some exciting times ahead. As is often the case, a technological breakthrough may come in a “gradually, then suddenly” manner, so keep an eye on the market and stay tuned for more exciting news about the future of self-driving cars!

About the author:

Victor Haydin has software engineering background and genuine interest in automotive, car sharing, and autonomous driving technology. He is a regular participant of the international tech events like CES, ConCarExpo, Automotive Tech.Ad, CEBIT as well as Top Writer on Quora with answers focused on the future of automotive, mobility, and transportation.

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