Digital Cockpits Arriving Before Autonomous Cars, Claims Forbes

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【Summary】Lars Knoll, the Qt Company’s Chief Maintainer and Chief Technology Officer, believes that self-driving cars are still a few years away, but claims that digital cockpits are right around the corner.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Aug 07, 2018 9:15 AM PT
Digital Cockpits Arriving Before Autonomous Cars, Claims Forbes

Autonomous vehicles and self-driving technology are in the limelight, as they're a large departure from the norm. For roughly 130 years, humans have been behind the wheel of a vehicle, but automakers and technology companies believe that will change in the very near future. That, obviously, is exciting and different – of course it will get a lot of attention. 

While some automakers claim that autonomous vehicles will be on the road by 2021, others aren't sure if that's possible. Still, everyone continues to explore self-driving technology, as it will have the largest impact on the way people get around. 

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Digital Cockpits Are Safer And Easier To Develop Than Autonomous Cars

Other companies, though, are hard at work on coming out with other pieces of tech that will help change the way we commute and it doesn't involve autonomous vehicles. In a piece for Forbes, Lars Knoll, Chief Maintainer and Chief Technology Officer for the Qt believes that digital cockpits are not only a way to introduce dynamic innovation without risking the lives of people, but are also on track to come out quicker than driverless vehicles. 

As some background information, Qt makes various services, but when it comes to the automotive scene, the company specializes in developing software for digital cockpits, which includes instrument clusters and head-up displays. So Knoll has a good idea about what he's talking about. 

According to Qt, the company's statement when it comes to digital cockpits they "should be a wow-factor in modern vehicles." They should also "ensure a consistent and functionally safe user experience and make it stand out from the crowd." 

When Knoll refers to a digital cockpit, he's talking about a "digital experience within a car covering multiple screens, digital assistants and different means of input." To put it a little more simply, digital cockpits are more high-tech systems that are replacing old-school instrument clusters. 

Instead of having traditional instrument clusters that display your vehicle's speed, engine revs, and fuel, automakers are moving towards digital screens. Other digital cockpit systems include heads-up displays, high-end infotainment systems, or copilot screens, which Knoll claims aren't out yet. 

While digital cockpits are expected to come out before self-driving vehicles, they are related to autonomous and connected cars. Drivers that have gotten behind the wheel of a vehicle with driver-assist features like adaptive-cruise control and lane-keeping assist can attest to the fact that regular clusters and displays can't project the necessary information in a usable manner. This is where digital cockpits come into play. As Knoll points out, digital cockpits can be used to help consumers "fully utilize your connected car." Robust and well-designed cockpit systems help consumers get a better understanding of all of their vehicle's functionalities. 

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How Can Digital Cockpits Help Drivers Today? 

There are three areas that digital cockpits are changing the lives of drivers' today: safety, personalization, and convenience. When it comes to safety, traditional instrument panels and displays can't keep up with new technology. Thanks to sensors, cameras, and hardware, cars are safer than ever and digital cockpits can make getting from one location to another safer, too. With high-end digital cockpits, drivers get a clear view of what the sensors, cameras, and hardware are seeing, which is crucial. 

Smartphones have gotten smarter, more high tech, and more personalized every year, but cars lag behind. Digital cockpits give automakers the opportunity to bring a level of personalization to cars that's been missing. Another area of cars that have been lagging behind are infotainment screens. Modern units found in cars are difficult, slow, and hard to use. Digital cockpits will bring easy-to-use interfaces to cars that mimic smartphones, which will help consumers get the most out of their vehicles. 

Lastly, cars serve one purpose at the moment – transportation. Digital cockpits can help cars become dual purposed by adding a sense of convenience to cars. The trend of convenience has already started, as automakers have added CarPlay and Android Auto to vehicles. High-tech cockpits will gives users a better and quicker avenue to using convenience systems in cars. Not only that, but cars with artificial intelligence and digital voice assistants will make arduous tasks easier and help take the stress out of driving. 

While automakers and technology companies are focusing on autonomous technology, a user's in-car experience is quickly starting to become the second most important item. This is apparent from things like smartphone integration, assistants, enhanced voice recognition, and larger screens. Digital cockpits, as Knoll states, "offers a safer and easier-to-use experience than cars without digital cockpits." 

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Digital Cockpits And The Future

Mercedes-Benz is arguably the leader of digital cockpits, which is something it showcased at the beginning of the year at the Consumer Electronics Show. The new A-Class sedan features the automaker's Mercedes-Benz User Experience, which is also known as MBUX, that's powered by NVIDIA AI. The wide-screen displays provide users with an easy place to access infotainment, navigation, and other functionalities. 

In addition to being an easy place to access various functions, the infotainment system can also change the way it looks to reflect the driver's mood. The system also has an intelligent assistant that, according to Mercedes, is "intuitive, simple and unexpected, and at the same time it's very beautiful and sensual." All users have to do is say "Mercedes" and the vehicle listens. The automaker wants users to interact with the assistant in a way that mimics another human. 

Mercedes' system is exactly what Knoll is talking about in his lengthy piece. The next step, though, would be for systems to be all-encompassing items. At the end of last year, Intel previewed a high-end digital system that would turn an autonomous car into a roller coaster ride. Autonomous vehicles may change the way people get around, but digital cockpits will come out first and ensure that drivers have a better understanding of what's going on in their vehicle. 

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