Over the last quarter-century, automobiles have evolved into increasingly sophisticated—and computerized—machines. Today, some motor vehicles contain upward of 100 electronic control units with microprocessors that manage everything from steering and braking to navigation, climate control, and entertainment. They also have hundreds of millions of lines of software code. Overseeing the tangle of systems—and integrating buttons, knobs, voice commands and more—has emerged as a growing challenge, particularly as consumers carry smartphones into cars and look to integrate all these systems and controls seamlessly.
"There is a huge challenge associated with providing a driver with the right amount of information at the right time. You don't want to overwhelm a driver or have someone get to the point where they are distracted or tuning out crucial information," says Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst on the Transportation Efficiencies Team at Navigant Research, which closely tracks automobile technologies. In recent years, auto manufacturers have introduced apps, speech recognition, and other systems, but often with limited success. "While these systems have delivered extra features to drivers, they've been limited in capabilities and the user interfaces have been relatively clunky," he notes.
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