Volvo, Microsoft, Ford, Amazon, Meridian, AMX Driving Smart Cars Towards Smart Homes

The drive towards the connected car is big news. But who is involved and what does it mean for the smart home industry?

At the last CES show in Las Vegas, many major car brands announced ‘smart’ additions to in-car infotainment and connectivity options.

Volvo referenced 80’s TV show Knight Rider, when announcing its wearable voice control system developed with Microsoft.

Volvo owners will be able to talk to their car via their Microsoft Band 2, allowing them to set the navigation, start the heater, lock the doors, flash the lights or sound the horn via Volvo’s mobile App, Volvo on Call.

It’s significant that companies like Volvo and Microsoft are collaborating, a relationship which began last year with the first automotive application of HoloLens technology, described as the world’s first fully untethered holographic computer, which Volvo plans to use to redefine how customers first encounter, explore and buy a car.

Working with a company like Microsoft, it must have occurred to people within both organisations that there could be further scope to the project involving the home.

Both say they are focused just on the car right now, but the temptations for both brands to enter new areas must be strong, particularly for Microsoft with its presence in users homes with products like X-Box.

Ford, Amazon

Things are further down the road at Ford which announced its own project exploring SYNC Integration with the Amazon Echo connected music device, which talks to Amazon’s cloud based comms package, Alexa.

The project will also look to work with Wink, Amazon’s smart home App.

The idea is to get SYNC Connect and Amazon Echo to provide voice control access between the car and home, with drivers also able to access Internet-enabled devices, such as lights, home security systems, TVs and garage doors.

Using Ford SYNC AppLink, drivers may also connect with the Wink home platform offering the ability to program a garage door or a porch light.

Whilst in the home drivers can check the status of the vehicle, amount of fuel, etc. or interact with and set up a sat nav journey.

This particular project does not appear at least to leave much room for installers, with its reliance on off the shelf products like Amazon’s, but since when did that stop installers coming up with better and more user friendly ways to do things?

The important thing is to establish the link, establish the expectation and who knows what opportunities may come.

Going up a little in class, Meridian has often partnered with quality car makers and CES this year was no different.

This year however, the UK audio company partnered with Jaguar Land Rover, but also Intel in a demo to show how ‘technology in the future will place people in control at the heart of a fully connected life irrespective of their location’.

The demo showed how Meridian’s Sooloos music system could reach out from the home and also enter the car through the Meridian surround sound system in a Jaguar F-Pace.

So there is still not too much for the installer to ‘do’ here apart from making sure the two connect up in any future release of the concept, but it’s certainly a nice add on feature to assist in the sale of the Sooloos system.

A specialist in the field of connected cars, Vinli Inc is also looking to spread its influence with the launch of a new cross-platform Vinli Home Connect system which is designed to bring home and car into one interface compatible with Icontrol Networks, Nest and
Samsung SmartThings.

The company seems confident it can spread the concept beyond its own home market of the US.

Basically the Vinli on-board device talks to home products using an App to offer control of temperature, lighting, security and similar simple interactions.

The car-home connection means that home automation settings can be based not only on the presence of the user in the home, or on the clock, but on where the car is located; so lights and temperature can be adjusted as the user nears their property.

Vinli says its 4G LTE / Wi-Fi compatible device brings the concept to virtually any car on the road today.

Harman and AMX?

Now when we first put our minds to writing this article, the obvious choice to be leading the charge here seemed to be the Harman/AMX group.

Harman has for many years created in-car infotainment and intelligence systems for some of the world’s biggest car manufacturers and since Harman purchased AMX with its building automation capabilities, it seems logical to join those two parts of the company up.

So far however, the company is playing at any questions in this area with a straight bat defensive policy that would make even Geoffrey Boycott blush.

However, this does not mean the company has been idle as far as in-car development goes.

Recent announcements include 3D and augmented navigation, multimedia support, Apps for device integration, high speed connectivity, intuitive and multi-modal user interfaces and a new generation of automotive cloud services.

Harman says its fully featured next-generation scalable infotainment platform offers automakers a choice of operating systems and software ecosystems (QNX, Genivi, Linux, Android, HTML5) accommodating downloadable Apps to ensure the system remains ‘future proof’.

The platform supports internal and external connectivity, including mirroring, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, LTE and V2X solutions.

Thinking back to Vinli’s ability to deliver automation based on where the car is, it’s significant that Harman has worked hard to improve its nav systems, promising to make them more intuitive, connected and reliable with faster updates and more accurate data on where the car is and what it is doing.

Harman has also been talking about its Life-Enhancing Intelligent Vehicle Solution (LIVS) with a Rinspeed Etos concept car at CES.

Rinspeed

The company says LIVS with the most complete end-to-end system to provide drivers intelligent, adaptable and personal solutions in the car.

Bringing all the entertainment, security and nav functions into one system, the concept is to offer features capable of learning and anticipating the preferences of vehicle passengers using voice, hand gestures, physical controls or touch and/or a combination of these.

Again, here Harman is pushing at the boundaries of what the car ‘knows’ and how well as the concept car, Harman announced its own collaboration with Microsoft, including increased integration with its systems and platforms such as Microsoft Office 365, looking to bring the office more into the car.

So Harman is cramming intelligence and connectivity into cars and not a single person within the company has thought; ‘hang on a minute, what if the car could talk to the house?. It does seem unlikely.

A Harman spokesperson says: “There is no current plan for this application (connected car and home systems), but as a connected services company, Harman is always investigating ideas for a better connected world.”

Fair play if the company wants to keep things under wraps – Harman added that our enquiry was the first it had received along these lines.

However, if it’s not working on something, the company had better get started, as others will flood into the space.

So what does all this mean? Lots of the systems here look ‘closed’ in the sense that they leverage Apps and IoT products.

In a way this market may develop in the reverse from the home market, which installers invented and major manufactures have copied with the IoT.

What if veterans of the smart home market could reverse the trick and create better ways to offer an enhanced connection between home and car than larger less imaginative entities?

Once you start to think about it, the functionality possibilities based on comms between the car and the home are endless.