From 3D-printed sports cars to Alexa integrations – the direction of travel for automotive innovation

There has never been a more exciting time to be involved with the automotive industry, with the possible exception of the 1880s when Karl Benz was developing the first production automobile. Innovation is everywhere, from alternative power sources to fossil fuel, to autonomous driving, to new and exciting user interfaces within the vehicle. And there was no shortage of inspiration at CES this year.

Ford debuted an Alexa integration with its Sync 3 in-car system, allowing users access to entertainment and voice activation features within the car, and control of connected products within the home. Volkswagen also announced a similar Alexa integration, following a trend of devices at CES embedding this technology within their own systems.

NVIDIA and Audi announced a high-profile partnership to produce an AI-powered car. The system will use deep learning to provide a safe and reliable autonomous driving capability, but also react to a user’s needs with minimal input. This is achieved through a combination of face recognition, lip reading, gaze tracking, natural language and integration with devices within the user’s connected eco-system.

Hyundai MOBIS demoed similar functionality, including the use of the driver’s biometrics data to manage exceptional situations as they arise. Nissan also presented Nissan Intelligent Mobility, with its Seamless Autonomous Mobility (SAM) system. SAM also uses AI to allow the vehicle to make good decisions in treacherous situations, in partnership with the driver. And of course, Faraday was in evidence demoing its electric Tesla-beater. It hopes.

Divergent 3D was showing off its 3D-printed sports car (main picture) and motorcycle. Both looked amazing, and due to technological advances in 3D printing, its manufacturing plant cost a mere $50m as opposed to the billion or so cost for a comparable traditional plant. According to Divergent 3D, not only is the cost of the plant lower, but the cost to the environment and speed of manufacture are both significantly lower than any other car manufacturer.

And on the interface side of things, we saw Royole’s flexible dash and Denso’s touchless HMI (Human Machine Interface) system. The former allows digital controls and content to be displayed on a large contoured digital screen; the latter a touch-free experience for the driver who may control navigation and entertainment functions solely through gaze and gesture tracking.

Out of everything at CES this year, the three things around automotive that digital marketers should consider are interfaces, integrations and driverless vehicles. Interfaces are changing; they’re becoming more flexible and software-configurable. This gives brands the opportunity for partnerships and personalisation. A high-end fashion brand may develop a partnership with an automotive manufacturer to offer after-market custom interfaces. A technology company may partner with the same automotive manufacturer to offer enhanced after-market functionality. And machine learning techniques may allow automatic customisations for the driver based on what the system learns about them.

We’ve seen integrations being a big part of many new products and services across CES this year, and cars are no exception. The Alexa integrations show us a path forward, where a car becomes one of many of the user’s connected products. These integrations will be bidirectional, with smart home devices or wearables able to influence the behaviour of a car, and vice versa. These integrations aren’t likely to develop at the same pace as more trivial use cases due to safety and security sensibilities, but we should already be considering how to develop such partnerships for our clients.

And finally, driverless vehicles – the entire driving model is set to change for the majority of users in the coming years. Whether it’s entertainment, content, or utility, the environment inside a driverless car will be so radically different that huge opportunities will open up for brands to engage with commuters and travellers in a completely different way.

Christopher Marsh is director of technology at AKQA

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