Your Car is More than Just an Accessory for your Phone

Over this last year we’ve met a lot of great people resulting in many interesting discussions about Brainiac and our goals at Workshop 12.  I myself have been a car enthusiast for as far back as I can remember, and during the process of building two different vehicles I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of other enthusiasts who share our passion for cars, trucks, bikes or basically anything with wheels and an engine 🙂

What is very apparent when car enthusiasts get together is just how much their cars mean to them.  It isn’t just a means of transportation. It’s an extension of themselves displaying their style, likes and dislikes and personality which becomes an incredible source of pride.  I don’t just say this as an observation, I feel it myself every time I turn on the ignition or stand out in a freezing cold parking lot with hundreds of friends and strangers alike trading stories of pride and failure.  Everyone is there sharing information to help each other achieve the goal of a perfect ride.

This drive to better our vehicles is one that pushes enthusiasts to reach higher, do more and build creations that make others say “holly shit, where did you get that!”

Perfect is different for everyone as it’s based on our personal style… and let’s face it… our wallet!  This enthusiast drive to be bigger, faster and better created a thriving aftermarket automotive industry.  In fact, next week we’ll be attending the largest automotive trade show on the planet known as SEMA to discuss our plans for Brainiac with potential partners.

There’re so many opportunities to better our vehicles and our driving experience.  In the past a lot of the focus was on the mechanical and appearance aspects of your vehicle, but with the rapid advance of technology we’re now seeing innovation appear inside the driver’s cabin.  If you’re thinking “what could be left to do inside the cabin?” you can check out some of the interesting work that Jaguar is doing.

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The Jaguar example looks towards possible systems in the future, but there are many systems that are already integrated into your vehicle.  For us enthusiasts we typically are ahead of the curve when it comes to equipping our ride with the latest cool technology.  We’re connecting dash cameras, GoPros, GPS, stereos, digital air suspension, intercooler sprayers, methanol, nitrous, lighting, actuators and the list goes on and on.  The tricky part is managing the many different systems in a clean and automated fashion.

We’re not satisfied with what comes off of the showroom floor.  We don’t want our car to be the same as the one that pulls up next to us at the light.  We’re tired of having to wait on the 3-5 year production cycle for a new vehicle to arrive, because that means that the technology in that “new” vehicle is already 3-5 years older than what we have become accustomed to.

A good example of technology delay are the “new” WiFi enabled vehicles hitting the market. The other day I was watching TV with my 9 year old daughter and one of the WiFi commercials appeared.  Here’s how our conversation went:

  • Her: Um… Daddy, isn’t everyone’s phone already a WiFi hotspot?
  • Me: Why yes they are.
  • Her: Then why would anyone want to pay more for it in your car?  Why wouldn’t you just connect to your Mom’s hotspot?
  • Me: Very good questions.

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If it were 5 years ago this would be really cool.  Outside of the car industry 5 years ago meant you were carrying an iPhone 4.  Just imagine if Apple tried to sell the iPhone 4 today to compete with the current Samsung Galaxy S6 or the Nexus 5/6.  This is inherently the difficulty in the automotive industry with in-cabin technology enhancements that are user focused and not safety focused.  Safety focused enhancements take lots of strict testing and by design require a lot of time.  In-car infotainment enhancements have the difficulty of competing with 3-5 years of outside technology industry advancements.

Recently Apple and Google have decided to throw their hats into the ring to find a way to help this gap, namely Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.  These solutions require a touch screen stereo that has been enabled for the associated Apple and/or Google protocol.  Essentially they provide a remote touch screen interface to your smartphone allowing you to bring up certain approved apps onto the vehicles’ screen.  Essentially making your vehicle an accessory for your smartphone.

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There have been various new aftermarket stereos which support these protocols as well as some auto manufacturers committing to including the technology into your new vehicle.  These systems have had mixed reviews and have had some auto makers reconsidering if they want to include them at all.  There have been some complaints around having to physically tether your smartphone to the stereo (uses battery and cannot be charged) as well as response time lag from touching the screen and the fact that it locks the user out of the smartphone when connected to the car.

Now before someone points out that the upcoming release of iOS  will allow wireless CarPlay, it will also require you to upgrade your current CarPlay stereo to one that has WiFi.  For those who just bought a new CarPlay equipped vehicle, you’ll be out of luck until they add the wireless feature into a newer version of the car.  To be fair, I’m not putting down the technology.  It’s architecture simply relies on auto manufacturers and stereo manufacturers to have modern capable electronics which in the past have been industries that have looked to provide the minimum viable electronics to reduce costs.  It’s very difficult for the goals of two very different industries to align.

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One can totally understand the reasons why Apple and Google have limited user interactions and apps while connected to the vehicle.  It’s quite simple, you don’t want someone trying to use their smartphone while driving.  The trouble is that people have been unplugging their phones from the system when they encounter these limitations in order to complete their task.

The tricky bit about limitations are, as humans, we work around them.  If something doesn’t work as expected, we simply resort back to the way that it worked for us before.  Even if that way isn’t the best for our health or safety.

Distracted driving is a problem.  There’s no denying it.  Unfortunately technology seems to find its way into the cross-hairs of the discussion because of the amount of people using their phones while driving.  Simply put we need to find better ways to integrate our busy lives into our driving experience.  But we need to do so with human nature in mind.  We need to integrate the reasons of “why” we reach for our smartphone while driving into a frictionless experience so that we don’t resort to our previous unsafe behavior.

Distracted driving encompasses all of the distracting things that people should not do while driving.  In one drive alone the other day I witnessed a dog sitting on a driver’s lap with their paws on the steering wheel and a woman actually reading a novel in stop-and-go traffic.  Both are considered distracted driving offences along with things like spreading a map out over your steering wheel or eating a big ol’ hamburger while driving.  It’s the human at fault, not the hamburger 🙂

I can’t even count the amount of people who have complained to us about the limitations of their existing infotainment systems.  Whether they be Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, aftermarket stereos or built-in systems for their vehicle.  It’s like they have been designed for only one person in the vehicle at a time and that person is the driver.  I had an interesting discussion with a Honda minivan owner who was telling me how their passenger was about to type in a destination in the navigation system but it wouldn’t let them because the car was moving.  They literally had to pull over for the passenger to type in the destination.

So why are all existing systems designed to only have the driver in mind?  Sure, lots of us are the only people in the vehicle when we’re driving, and everyone’s trying to protect the driver from “distracted behaviors”.  But if car’s design followed the limitations of the current available infotainment systems, all of our cars would only have one seat!  What about experiences that can be provided in the vehicle with multiple passengers? Or systems that can be automated for the driver or made better based on many different inputs?

Our belief is that your smartphone provides lots of great data and connectivity for your vehicle.  But to create a great experience for drivers and passengers there needs to be an integrated set of electronics embedded into the vehicle itself making decisions on how and when to present information.  Wired connections into a vehicle’s systems creates the necessary backbone for integrating different experiences for a vehicle’s occupants.  Smartphones are great accessories that can aid and enhance these experiences.

As a car enthusiast this notion of a world of integrated hardware and software in my car is extremely exciting.  Especially if I can add it to the vehicle that I already own and love and expand it when I choose.

Our goal with Brainiac is to provide the integration platform for hardware and software.  Providing computing power capable enough to create new rich experiences pulled together into a cool looking package for different vehicles.

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Our 10.1″ Brainiac designs bring an incredible “WOW Factor” to your car’s interior.  But we also realized that not all vehicles have the necessary space/design to allow for a full 10.1″ experience.  Which is why we packed the same features and capabilities into a smaller standard ISO double-din installation that utilizes a smaller 7″ touch screen.

We aim to bring new in-cabin experiences to your vehicle at the pace of the technology industry and not the automotive industry.  Bringing the latest concepts to the vehicle you own today.  So let Brainiac coordinate your smartphone’s data into an integrated vehicle experience, toss your phone into your glove compartment and plug it into our quick-charge USB port so that it’s all charged up and ready for you when you’ve finished driving.

We’re just at the beginning of a new connected car revolution and we encourage you to join us as we explore what’s possible.

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