DEARBORN, MI – Integrating smartphones with vehicle connectivity systems is a hot-button topic among auto makers and suppliers, but overlooked is how to determine how much functionality a driver should be able to access based on real-world conditions, says a panelist at the Ward’s Auto Interiors Conference here.

Robert Schumacher, Delphi electronics general director-advanced product and business development, unveils a new system, dubbed “MyFi,” that he says determines what the driver sees and when he should see it.

“It’s not just about connectivity with smartphones but also with active safety systems,” he says.

MyFi weaves all the vehicle’s electronic systems together, including external cameras, radar and infrared detectors to determine what infotainment features should be accessible at a given time.

While the vehicle is motionless, a full range of infotainment systems are available to the driver. But when cruising along at highway speeds, especially during inclement weather, MyFi cuts back on available options.

The system also monitors what’s going on ahead of the vehicle and can automatically apply the brakes should a collision be imminent. A version of this avoidance system currently is found on a handful of Volvo vehicles.

While new to the auto industry, the MyFi concept has been around for years in the aviation field.

“Look at jet cockpits from the 1950s; it took three people to fly a plane,” Schumacher says. “Today, the cockpit of the 787 has far fewer gauges, with a large array of sensors and collision-avoidance radar. Pilots are not overloaded with information. A workload-management computer tells pilots what they need to know when they need to know it.”

Although some auto makers, such as Volvo, use some features of MyFi, it will be two to three years before all the elements are integrated into one system, Schumacher says.

Price won’t be a problem, he adds, noting just a few years ago systems that cost thousands now are just a few hundred dollars.

“I have not heard of any suppliers or OEMs talking about this type of synergy,” Schumacher says. “We’re bringing in active safety that is quickly moving into the market, along with connectivity, and adding workload-management algorithms that fuse all that data.”

Participating on the panel, called “Bridging the Gap Between Connectivity and Functionality,” along with Schumacher are Tom Schalk, ATX vice president-voice technologies and Kerry Johnson, QNX senior automotive-product manager.

Schalk says ATX is working on optimizing vehicle speech-recognition technology, considered by many as the safest way for drivers to interact with infotainment systems.

One of the challenges is clearly identifying voice commands, which can be difficult if the radio is on, a window is open or someone next to the driver is speaking, he says.

ATX currently is developing a system featuring an imbedded speech component that records the voice command, which then is sent to an off-board data center for interpretation. If the center is unable to understand the command, it sends the audio to a remote “cloud” server, which sends back accurate results.

The whole process takes mere seconds, Schalk says. “It seems seamless, but the driver is interacting with three speech systems without realizing it.”

Studies conducted by ATX have determined voice recognition is the best option for cutting back on driver distraction. In one test, Schalk and his team measured the time it took for a driver to send text messages via manual input on a smartphone compared with using speech recognition.

Test subjects were asked to send 144 text messages. When using the handheld smartphone method, test subjects on average glanced at their mobile devices 3,472 times. In comparison, those using voice commands glanced away from the road 213 times.

“Some of the glances were in excess of four seconds for manual tasking,” Schalk says. “The mental demand for speech texting is far less than that for manual.”

QNX’s Johnson says the software provider is working to determine the best way to integrate a driver’s smartphone with his vehicle. Some systems under development merely replicate a smartphone’s display on console-mounted monitor. But that’s not an ideal solution for several reasons, he says.

For one, the auto maker’s “brand” does not come through. Rather, it’s the smartphone maker, such as Apple, whose brand presence is felt. It’s good for Apple to get their solution imbedded in a vehicle, but then they control the user experience. Is it an Apple car?”

Another problem is information overload. Many of the apps found on today’s smartphones are not appropriate for use while driving. A better solution is a “remote skin,” which Johnson describes as an OEM-produced graphical representation of a smartphone’s functions.

This not only allows auto makers to convey their brand through the display, but also enables them to best determine which functions can be safely used in the vehicle, he says. “This (solution) is getting toward something OEMs control and is less distracting.”

bpope@wardsauto.com