What is “Infotainment” in Cars?
Smartphones and portable technology like tablets and slim notebooks mean that we are now almost permanently connected. At first it was the ability to constantly make and receive calls, and then slowly email crept in, and now we expect to be able to search the internet, update social networks, do work and even watch TV while on the go.
Until recently, though, a lot of this functionality was lost when we stepped into our cars. Car manufacturers are now incorporating communications technology inside cars to give drivers and passengers the same connectivity experience they get elsewhere. This largely takes the form of a screen on the dashboard, generally a touchscreen. Features such as syncing with your mobile phone and built in navigation systems provide you with information, entertainment and communication in your car – “infotainment”, as the manufacturers like to call it.
While these systems were originally found in luxury vehicles they are being rolled out in more mass market vehicles. Ford have launched “Ford SYNC”, a Windows based in car communication system, which involves an 8 inch screen sat in the dashboard and provides navigation, climate control and media as well as communications. You sync it with your smartphone to get internet access, or use a USB. Similar systems are available from manufacturers such as BMW, Audi, and Honda. Advantages include being able to search for local petrol stations and then get directions all from one system, and staying connected with contacts in your car.
Obviously, these developments excite many drivers. But we’ve all seen how distracting mobile phones can be in day to day life. Can you imagine that in your car? Touchscreen systems in particular are a concern. With traditional buttons and dials, like on a radio, a driver learns to feel their way around the controls, but this sensory element is taken away with touchscreens meaning the driver will have to take their eyes off the road to use the system.
Far from empowering drivers with a better driving experience and more information, some argue that it will endanger them and others. In 2010, 349 accidents were caused in the UK by the driver using a mobile phone, with 26 being fatal, and 2972 were caused by “distractions in the vehicle”*, so it seems impractical to reduce driver attention further.
Manufacturers have tried to counter these claims by making the systems voice activated, and while Ford’s is reportedly quite a good attempt, voice activated technology has a long way to go before it will be used regularly. Car makers obviously disagree that the technology presents an inherent danger, and argue that if you look at all the advancements they’re making and new features they’re installing in cars, technology is actually working to make driving safer. Many manufacturers are developing “autonomous” cars, which sense crashes and react for you, and monitor when you’re getting drowsy or veering out of your lane, and it is hoped these will help to combat the distraction of communications or “infotainment” systems.
So you can, in theory, counter potentially dangerous technology with more technology. Over-reliance on technology already causes problems when drivers follow satellite navigation systems and ignore road signs, so some will feel that further innovations will just reduce driver responsibility even more, providing distractions and encouraging complacency. However others believe that these developments will lead to a safer, more seamless and convenient driving experience, with better directions and advanced warning systems to keep you safe. What will be the outcome? Only time will tell.
About the writer: This post was written by Kat Morris. She lives in the UK and is a keen blogger on subjects such as car finance, technology, driving and lifestyle. She currently writes for Car Loan 4U.