In-Car Infotainment: Changing the Driving Experience

the possibilities of in-car infotainment systems

The automobile of today is digitally enhanced, navigation system ready and virtually self-driving. These advances lead the majority of drivers to expect the same engagement from their cars as they do from their smartphones. That’s why automakers from Fiat-Chrysler (UConnect) to Hyundai (BlueLink) are focused on and offer in-car infotainment systems that keep drivers and passengers engaged and connected on the road. Being entertained and communicating with whomever and whatever you want with a swipe of a finger or simply speaking a phrase is considered the standard by which all in-car infotainment (also called in-vehicle infotainment) is based, but the experience has been around a long, innovative time.

What is in-car infotainment?

In its simplest terms, a vehicle infotainment system is the hardware and technology that allow drivers and passengers to experience audio/visual in-car entertainment while inside a vehicle. Today we view it as hands-free calling, touch screens giving us access to different music interfaces, backseat displays with built in DVD players or wireless streaming capability, and voice recognition/commands. And yes, all of that is in-car infotainment for the 21st century, but the first true vehicle infotainment was offered over 80 years ago and has been steadily evolving ever since.


William Lear teams up with Paul and Joseph Galvin to develop the first dashboard mono-radio for a car, calling it the “Motorola” for “motorized Victrola.” It was the 5T71 installed in a Studebaker–sold separately, of course. The cost? $130, which would be approximately $1788 today. Just to give a bit of context, the average car was selling for $540 at that time, or approximately $7426 in today’s dollars. That’s almost ¼ of the total cost of buying the car.


The British Crossley Motors–not to be confused with the Crosley Turntable or Crosley automobile–becomes the first car to be equipped with a factory standard radio.

1956 and 1960

1956 Chrysler attempts turntables for in-car infotainment

1956 Chrysler Windsor

Chrysler contributes to in-car entertainment with offers of record players–actual turntables—in the automobile first in the 1956 model year. The limitations of not only playability, but the kind of music available (only Columbia Recording artists) saw the idea scrapped at the end of that year. Chrysler tried again, however, in 1960 this time with a different system. Again, the player kept skipping, as with the first model, and lasted until 1962.


8-track tape stereos get installed into cars

Ford partners with Motorola to install eight-track tape players in their cars.

Early 1970s

Aftermarket car stereos take off, welcoming in the era of the Alpine, Blaupunkt, Kenwood and Pioneer brands.


cassette tape player becomes the new in-car infotainment

Vintage in-dash cassette tape player

Cassette players trump the eight-track with their smaller, writeable format–say hello to the mixtape.


The CD rears its head, signaling the beginning of the end for cassette players in general and showing a decrease in those for cars.


Mercedes-Benz becomes the first company to install CD players at the factory

Mercedes-Benz comes off the line with the first factory installed in-dash CD player (Becker’s Mexico).


Touchscreens make their way into the Buick Riviera, allowing drivers to change their radio stations by tapping their fingers rather than turning a knob or pushing buttons.

Early 1990s to the mid-2000s

More and more technology starts to be included in cars. Navigation systems become more the norm and satellite radio is introduced to expand listening options.


In-car technology, Ford Sync, is introduced, enabling hands-free calling and voice-controlled music choice.


the last OEM to include the in-dash cassette player as in-car infotainment

The Lexus SC430 becomes the last OEM to offer a cassette tape deck in the car.


A Ferrari FF is the first car to fully integrate the Apple CarPlay app.

Brought to life thanks to human machine interface

In-car infotainment owes its existence to telematics and human machine interface (HMI). HMI systems combine software and hardware to bridge the human with automated programs. HMIs do this through specialized software or panels. It’s the connection that allows you and I to talk to and control those displays that make things happen in our cars.

The push for more in-vehicle infotainment devices is driving growth in the HMI sector, per the Global Automotive Human Machine Interface (HMI) Market 2015-2019 report. Much of that expansion comes from the public’s ever growing desire for more connectivity on the road and an avid interest in accessing what infotainment has to offer.

OEM and aftermarket vehicle infotainment systems

The connected car is bringing forth an immersive experience like never before. We’ve come a long way from the mono-radio being the singular form of in-car infotainment. And just as back in the days when we wanted to either upgrade our older car with the newest, coolest removable CD player or splurge on a newer model with a top-of-the-line factory installed stereo system, we can experience this via two different types of devices–OEM and aftermarket.


You may recall in our article outlining telematics in which we discussed the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). In the car world, this means the automaker has installed whatever feature into the vehicle there at the factory. Here are two examples of OEM infotainment systems available now:

Fiat-Chrysler UConnect 8.4

FCA no. 1 in-car infotainment per Consumer Reports

Per Consumer Reports, this is the standout of the factory installed in-car infotainment systems. The touchscreen is user-friendly and successfully incorporates Bluetooth and voice recognition/commands capability along with traditional knobs and buttons.

Hyundai Blue Link

Hyundai offers top notch in-car infotainment

The Blue Link also brings together an easy to read and use touch screen and knob control. It is standard in all Hyundais that are model year 2015 and newer.


Items that are aftermarket are those things that are installed and/or purchased for your vehicle post-sale–basically, non-OEM. There are a few ways you can connect these devices to your car–via Bluetooth, USB or replace your head unit with a brand new, high-tech infotainment device. Again, we’re sharing two of the top examples of aftermarket infotainment systems:

Pioneer Avic-8200NEX

This Pioneer unit is considered by many to trump the quality of today’s factory in-car infotainment system. Features include both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a way to switch between the two, a 7-inch touchscreen, CD and DVD playability, and everything an OEM infotainment system offers.

JBL Legend CP100

This simple, straightforward unit allows you to link your smartphone to your in-car infotainment via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It plays off of whatever smartphone apps you have as well as connects you to your vehicle’s parking cameras and steering wheel buttons.

Apple CarPlay & Android Auto

Apple CarPlay in action

These two platforms give you a dynamic in-car infotainment experience by allowing smartphone functionality across various car screens. Approximately 100 vehicle models support either one or both of these programs. However, older model cars cannot interface with them without an aftermarket infotainment unit.

Android Auto assists with navigating

But what exactly do these platforms offer? Apple CarPlay and Android Auto gain you access the same things for which you use your mobile device through your vehicle’s built-in display. Instead of taking your eyes off the road to plug in a phone number, go to a navigation app or bring up your music, you can use voice recognition/commands or interact with a display that is more eye level. This creates a safer ride.

Haptics and the effect on the human-to-car interaction

While we don’t spend as much time in our cars as we think we do–our automobiles are dormant 95% of the time–drivers have come to expect to be as engaged as they are in their homes. This has led to a much more expansive human-to-machine experience in our vehicles.

Got a road trip with the kids? A rear seat entertainment screen makes for a more relaxed ride. Want the ability to make and take mobile calls or browse your music safely? Voice recognition and infotainment systems that react to voice commands allow you to keep your hands on the wheels and eyes on the road while connecting with others or getting your jam on. New displays are becoming even safer with the addition of haptic feedback or haptics.

the space in which haptics live

To explain haptic feedback, imagine a typical touchscreen experience. You press your finger on the display, feel only smooth glass, see the button or key you touched light up or slide or simply hope it’s doing something. This means you have to get visual information, keeping your eyes on it, not the road, creating a safety hazard. But with haptics, you feel your display respond through a sense of pressure, vibrations or motion. By adding this technology to your infotainment system means your glance time–the measure by which you look away from the road–decreases.

Haptics go beyond infotainment systems to just about anything you, as a user and driver, can control in your car. For all of these in-car technology innovations, however, the effect of infotainment on the driving experience–good and bad–are leading to a great many conversations.

Changing the state of the driving experience

One of the clearest benefits of in-car infotainment is how it enhances the driving experience. Whether it’s the ability to be fully hands-off with voice recognition/commands or providing more salient vehicle information than was available before, smarter cars create better prepared drivers. Another is the way it keeps eyes on the road for a safer, more connected commute. The heads-up display (HUD) is available on more vehicles as standard, and not just in premium styles like BMW and Lexus. Most models have information projected on the windshield while some, like the 2016 Mini Cooper, offer a retractable screen that rises from the dash when the driver needs it. All of the options are crafted to allow for eye level interface that lowers glance time.

the world the connected car sees

There are some concerns over these immersive systems, however. Cyber-security and the possibility of having your car hacked while connected to your smartphone are a big issue. The software that allows the communication between your in-car infotainment system and mobile device leaves your vehicle open to remote attacks. Researchers at both George Mason and New York University discovered this anomaly and outlined potential security risks in some models.

Distracted driving is another worry that has arisen from the in-car infotainment explosion and connected cars, in general. While some believe the smarter automobiles actually cut down on driver error, others feel these innovations are akin to having a television set or entire computer at your fingertips as you motor down the highway. Per the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “Fiddling with an in-car infotainment system can leave a driver distracted for as long as 27 seconds.” At 25 mph, that is the same as traveling the length of three football fields blindfolded. This is, of course, the worst case scenario, but it is something safety experts and carmakers are working together on as these units are designed.

The look of tomorrow

in-car infotainment in tomorrow's connected car

The connected car is here, growing stronger, and in-car infotainment systems are part of that. Whether OEM or aftermarket, these innovations are creating a more immersive driving experience and making the human-to-machine interaction safer and more dynamic. Standard models are beginning to offer this technology as part of their package and only time will tell if it helps drivers stay more focused on the road or not.


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Telematics: The Bridge to Your Connected Car

Telematics enables screen in carFrom automatic crash notification (ACN) to fleet management, Telematics is the “connection” that makes the connected car a wireless marvel of the automotive world.

Telematics is a hot topic these days. With the current focus on self-driving vehicles, connected cars, cyber security, and especially, rising levels of traffic fatalities, the communication network that makes it possible for your automobile to move and react on its own is rapidly innovating. Telematic solutions are more readily available for all vehicles and even mandated as standard in some countries. The technology’s origin is oddly similar to that of the Jeep, and its integration into day-to-day life has been as seamless as that ubiquitous, stalwart vehicle.  But what exactly is telematics?

The term “telematics” is a translation of “telematique.” This was coined by two French scientists in a 1978 report to the French government on the computerization of society. They combined “telecommunications” with “informatique.” Per the Oxford Dictionary, it is defined as “the branch of information technology which deals with the long-distance transmission of computerized information.” And this brings us to its origins.

U.S. armed forces initiative goes globally civilian

The United States Navy began experimenting with satellite navigation to track its nuclear submarines in the early 1960s. By using the “Doppler Effect”–shifts in the satellite’s radio signal–captains could accurately find a sub’s location in minutes. The Department of Defense (DoD) then took what naval scientists had learned and launched its first Navigation System with Timing and Ranging (NAVSTAR) satellite in 1978. By 1993, it included 24 satellites and became the Global Positioning System (GPS).

Today, GPS is owned by the U.S. Government and run by the United States Air Force (USAF). It operates on two different levels to accommodate the separation between military/government use and worldwide access: Precise Positioning Service (PPS) and Standard Positioning Service (SPS). PPS is accessible to U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Federal agencies, and selected allied armed forces and governments. SPS is globally available to any and everyone free of charge.

A global collaboration

While GPS was being created in the United States, the European Parliament was seeking systems to achieve better road safety. They established a resolution in 1984 to investigate solutions, inviting the European Commission–a body representing the interests of all European countries as a whole–to suggest appropriate research. Studies began around current and future innovations in telecommunications and informatics to discover what, if any, possible application there may be. One of these was the GPS. Over the next several years, telematics evolved as a way to improve the following: road and vehicle safety, environmental impact, and transportation efficiency.

The European telematics solutions expanded upon the U.S. based GPS technology to create something wholly unique–a vehicle tracking and support system beyond turn-by-turn navigation. It took the information gathered via satellite and interfaced with the electronic control unit (ECU) in a car. This made it possible for the system to digitally sense not only where automobiles traveled, but how they behaved and the different situations they may encounter.

The first car company to propose driver assistance technology for its customers was General Motors (GM) and it wasn’t OnStar.

A 30 year-old vision realized 20 years ago

some auto brands with OEM telematics

OnStar was unveiled at the 1996 Chicago Auto Show and first offered to customers in the production models of 1997 Cadillacs. The system was the first time vehicle embedded telematics was broadly available on the market, but it wasn’t the first time GM pursued driver assistance technology.

Driver Aid, Information and Routing (DAIR) is a system that GM engineers designed in 1966 that was then installed in two prototype vehicles and used punch cards to aid with turn-by-turn navigation. The gaps on the cards represented the basic directions needed on a specific route. This made it possible to drive to a pre-chosen destination without a map. But DAIR didn’t stop there. It also proposed restructuring America’s roadways by burying magnetic sensors beneath the pavement. These sensors would receive communications on highway conditions and accident reports from relay stations set-up all over the country. This information would be sent to drivers via a Visual Sign Minder–a basic heads-up display–mounted on their dashboard. It was recommended as a response to the rapid highway expansion of the era.

Per the DAIR brief, “Today’s complex roadways, increased vehicle speeds and heavy traffic intensify the driver’s need for frequent directions and information. DAIR meets this need for increased safety and driving enjoyment with a simple, low-cost communications system.” Because of the extensive infrastructure overhaul that was required to bring the idea to life, however, DAIR never got beyond prototype. GM kept working and activated its 1960s vision 30 years later with OnStar.

Telematics OEMs and stand-alones

where OEM telematics are installed

The initial OnStar was a classic case of telematics original equipment manufacturer (OEM) implementation. An OEM is usually defined as parts from one manufacturer used to create an overall product sold by another. In the case of transportation it reflects vehicles coming off the factory floor with the automaker’s proprietary technology already installed. Per The Global Automotive OEM Telematics Market, a study conducted by Berg Insight, the number of OEM embedded systems will hit 159 million globally by 2020.

The reason for this push is primarily safety and many of the rooted systems will be rudimentary “first responder” based, such as the ACN telematics of Europe’s eCall and Russia’s ERA-GLONASS. By 2018, all cars in those two regions are mandated to come off the assembly line equipped with a telematic system built to react to accidents in two ways. The first is by automatically sending a signal to E112–Europe’s 911–when a connected car is involved in a crash. The second is by a motorist pushing a button on the telematics enabled dashboard to alert E112 of a collision or incident they’ve just witnessed. It’s a way of ensuring all drivers are protected–whether they have telematics or not.


In 2012, GM decided to make OnStar’s basic features available to everyone and created OnStar FMV (For My Vehicle). This dongle-based solution joined other systems– such as Verizon’s hum–that work through a car’s onboard diagnostics (OBD) portal. These standalones allow you to plug the telematic device into your OBD port and upload software into your car’s ECU to gain such benefits as navigation, hands-free calling and automatic crash notification (ACN). What it doesn’t give you that OEMs provide are more advanced features like unlocking your car via satellite.

The new world of usage-based insurance (UBI)

This telematic solution is also the brain behind usage-based insurance (UBI). UBI means exactly what the acronym stands for–usage-based insurance policies and premiums. Instead of crafting policies and charging motorists through statistics and analytics, UBI calculates based on how someone actually operates his or her car. Because the device is plugged into the car’s OBD, it gathers and sends driver behavior data back to insurance carriers. This has made it possible for policy flexibility and leads to charging more accurate rates and lowering costs for drivers who are at less risk.

Mobile telematics data gathering

The future of telematics has to do with mobile data gathering. Your smartphone is now able to collect the same information that was only available via OEM or dongles. Verizon’s hum is an example of a three-way system–speaker, OBD reader and cell phone. The speaker works like OnStar, which allows you to contact live emergency services with the touch of a button.

Drivewell from Cambridge Mobile Telematics, on the other hand, is testing mobile telematics technology that tracks your driving behavior with or without a “wireless tag device.” The optional  attachment fits on your windshield and sends the telematics data captured by your smartphone to either the company for diagnostic purposes or to your insurance carrier. The company has also added a unique gaming aspect to their telematic service by creating safe driving competitions and incorporating leaderboards. A recent trial in South Africa–where the traffic fatality rate is among the highest in the world–showed a 30 percent increase in better driving due to the play factor. It’s one of many data gathering software options showing more expansive ways the technology can be used in the non-commercial space. But telematics has long been an invaluable tool in commercial fleet use.

Fleet vehicle tracking with telematics

fleet of trucksVehicle telematics play an essential role for fleet management. The systems keep costs down, productivity up and drive the overall efficiency of commercial transportation by tracking vehicle movement, its status–does it need gas? Is it time for maintenance?–driver behavior and more. By attaching a telematic unit to each truck that wirelessly connects to a central hub in the fleet’s business office, managers can track the vehicle’s location, manage performance and monitor conditions for driver safety and protection. Incorporating the technology in the commercial vehicle industry has modernized it and made it a more efficient business.

These telematic devices are excellent commercial partners and have also been embraced by the U.S. government to help it manage the vast fleet of the General Services Administration (GSA).

Example of connecting cars to government with GSA

The GSA offers workspace to over 1 million federal employees, manages the preservation of 480+ historic buildings and handles the purchase and distribution of goods and services used by the federal government. Part of this agency includes GSA Fleet, which has been providing motor vehicles to 75+ participating agencies since 1954.

As of 2016, all GSA Fleet vehicles available for purchase have OEM telematics while lessees can choose installing a non-OEM telematic device. To better streamline this technology, GSA shifted from working with two different providers and awarded AT&T Mobility the Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA). AT&T’s two-tiered solution–simple GPS vehicle tracking and full diagnostics–enables the federal government to keep tabs and maintain their spread out automobile inventory more efficiently and consistently.

Flexible and expansive path to safer, more efficient driving

Telematics are capable of everything from sending information back to auto insurance carriers to affect your premiums to automatically alerting emergency services when you’re in need of roadside assistance. What began, basically, as the GPS has grown to include such things as infotainment, hands-free calling and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication. Companies all over the globe are embracing the technology in strategic and actionable ways.

In June, Visiongain released a report on the Top 20 OEM and Non-OEM connected car companies entitled Top 20 Connected Car Companies 2016: Leading Suppliers of Automotive In Vehicle Telematics By Service Provider Featuring Technologies For Safety, Security, Infotainment, Remote Diagnostics & Vehicle to Everything Communications. The 181-page report outlines the different strategies, strengths and futures of each company. Per the report, the companies to watch in both categories are as follows:

Top 10 Telematics OEMS


Daimler AG

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)

Ford Motor Company

General Motors

Honda Motor Company


Toyota Motor Corporation

Volkswagen Group


Top 10 Telematics Non-OEMs

Apple Inc.

AT&T Inc.

Broadcom Corporation

Google Inc. (Android)

Qualcomm Inc.


Sierra Wireless

Tech Mahindra Ltd.

Verizon Telematics

Visteon Corporation

Outlook for the future

As automobiles become more autonomous, the technology that enables their interaction with infrastructure and each other will continue to innovate. Moving forward, more governments will continue flexing auto legislation muscles to ensure vehicles driving on their country’s roads are the safest and most efficient–for the environment, motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and economy. This means expanding, innovating and pushing telematics even further as cars become smarter. It is the bridge that puts a zero fatality, eco-friendly future within our grasp.


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