Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Trend Spotting at SAE Convergence 2012

Guest post from automotive journalist Doug Newcomb

One of the Technical Sessions at the semi-annual SAE Convergence in Detroit on October 16 and 17 is titled Mega Trends and Their Effect on Automotive Electronics. While you’ll have to wait to find out what the participating executives, engineers, and analysts will reveal in the session concerning the rapidly evolving car technology space, here are three areas that are bound to be hot topics at the show.

Driver Distraction
This issue is at the forefront of everyone’s minds — automakers, suppliers, safety advocates, government officials, and consumers — as cars become increasingly connected. In order to help drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel while still accessing the features they want, car companies and suppliers like QNX are developing cutting-edge technologies ranging from intuitive and configurable touchscreen displays to more accurate voice-activation systems that make control easier and less distracting.

Automakers are also being proactive in anticipating distractions: Ford is developing technology that assesses a driver’s workload so that some features can be deactivated in certain situations, and BMW’s pioneering work in “pupilometry” helps determine how drivers visually react when receiving information behind the wheel.

Ford's driver workload estimator (source Ford)

As more automakers integrate portable devices into the dash, drivers are increasingly frustrated by the fragmentation that’s occurring with first-generation systems. Features that are available for one smartphone platform may not be available for another, for example, and incompatibility issues are common. A push for an industry-wide standard has resulted in the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), of which QNX is a member. With MirrorLink, CCC’s industry-wide standard, portable device integration would be more straightforward and seamless for consumers. Getting all parties onboard will take significant effort though, since automakers have traditionally developed proprietary systems. But MirrorLink has substantial support, and the HomeLink system that’s allowed integration of garage-door openers into vehicles for years shows that such standards can be achieved.

Autonomous Cars
Two years ago, self-driving cars would have seemed like a distant sci-fi dream. But since the last SAE Convergence in 2010, Google has logged more than a quarter of a million miles with its fleet of self-driving Toyota Prius and Lexus RX450h vehicles. And this year the company has been instrumental in pushing through legislation that’s made self-driving cars legal in Nevada and California.

Audi is another pioneer in the space, developing an autonomous TT that drove solo up Colorado’s Pikes Peak. BWM has also debuted self-driving technology, and Cadillac recently revealed that its semi-autonomous Super Cruise lane-keeping technology will be available by the middle of the decade. Plus, Google’s announcement of its intention at the SAE World Congress in April to work directly with automakers and suppliers on self-driving technology will undoubtedly help accelerate this game-changing trend.

These are three topics are sure to be heavily discussed — and debated — at SAE Convergence 2012. Stop by the QNX booth during the show to see what the company is doing in these and other areas — or to share what trends you’ve spotted.

More about Doug
A widely respected reporter and editor with nearly three decades of experience in automotive journalism, Doug Newcomb currently writes for WIRED Autopia and for his own car technology portal, In 2008, he joined as a senior editor, where he created the site’s Car Technology section. Prior to Edmunds, he worked as an editor for a variety of automotive publications, including Car Audio and Electronics, Car Stereo Review, and Road&Track Road Gear; he also contributed to many others, including Popular Mechanics, MSN Autos, Corvette Quarterly, and SEMA News. In 2008, he published his first book, Car Audio for Dummies (Wiley).

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