of passing vehicles. What’s more, the same onboard technology could also be used to call home — provided, of course, that you’re the owner of a “smart home,” like the T-Com House in Berlin (see p. 20). In that case, your home will be able to contact your vehicle via mobile radio and transmit information on the status of various household systems, includ- ing heating, lighting and alarms.
Other web-based functions are also an op- tion, including the so-called buddy-tracking system unveiled by Siemens at the beginning of the year. For instance, if you’ve somehow been separated from friends while on vaca- tion, all you’ll need to do is call the buddy tracker, and a map display on your navigation system will show you their locations. The only
swerve. Should vehicles be permanently con- nected to the Internet, such communication could also take place directly, possibly via WLAN. However, WLAN technology was not originally developed for mobile applications and still encounters problems when it comes to moving vehicles. “We’re striving to create a mobile WLAN technology that can reliably transfer data between vehicles travelling at high speed,” says Belhoula.
It’s also crucial to ensure that all this vehi- cle-to-vehicle communication doesn’t over- burden or distract drivers. Designers and er-
ture. At Siemens Corporate Technology (CT) in Munich, experts such as Gerhard Hoffmann and his team are busy working on the next generation of voice-recognition technology, a solution known as the Very Smart Recognizer (VSR). Lab-based computer systems of 20 years ago were already able to handle around 5,000 spoken words, although this required a large host computer. For onboard applica- tions, the dictates of space, cost and durabil- ity initially meant the use of mini computers. Two or three years ago, these were capable of recognizing around 500 spoken words.
If vehicles can communicate, they can also warn each other of impending dangers.
requirement is a mobile radio connection that’s always online — via UMTS, for exam- ple. Such a system should be ready for market launch in around five years.
Future scenario. Tomorrow’s vehi- cles will network with one another and exchange information on traffic conditions and potential hazards.
Slippery When Wet. Belhoula’s vision of communicative vehicles also includes cars ca- pable of exchanging the kind of information that will improve road safety. Earlier this year, at the closing presentation for the Invent project, which was sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Siemens demonstrated how accidents can be prevented when vehicles are able to commu- nicate safety-relevant data via radio. On a test track in Munich, a car was made to skid on a wet road. As it did so, it transmitted a warn- ing, including its exact location, via GSM to the — in this case imaginary — vehicle be- hind it. As a result, the driver of that car would have had more time to brake or
gonomics experts at Siemens are therefore examining how drivers might best handle var- ious information and display systems. In this connection, the consensus is that voice-acti- vated controls will play an increasingly impor- tant role in tomorrow’s vehicles. In fact, some of today’s cars already feature onboard sys- tems, such as air conditioning and hi-fi, that can be operated by simple voice commands, including the selection of a radio station or a favorite CD. Yet tomorrow’s voice-activated technology will be so advanced that it will even be able to deal with vague or incomplete requests, such as “Play the next song from Robbie Williams!”
In other words, we already have a clear road map to the virtual passenger of the fu-
Tomorrow’s vehicles will be online all the time. Navigation and enter- tainment systems will be fully networked and operated by voice commands.
My Car Understands Me
Automobiles are becoming increasingly intelligent. In tomorrow’s cars, engine performance will become less important as their ability to process and relay infor- mation grows. For example, a virtual passenger will talk to the driver, warn of im- pending traffic danger and even hunt down music on the Internet. To this end, Siemens is merging informa- tion and communications to generate infotainment.
Since then, however, there has been sub- stantial progress. “Although the processing power of an onboard computer is still only around 10 percent that of a modern PC, our use of enhanced technology means that this type of system is now capable of understand- ing up to 75,000 words,” says Hoffmann referring to the team’s current lab model. A mass-produced derivative of this, featuring a capacity of 30,000 words, should be ready for market launch by the end of 2006, although ultimately VSR technology will be capable of understanding 100,000 words or more. By the same token, the capacity for recognizing fluent speech is set to rise from today’s figure of 2,000 words to over 50,000 — and that goes for a range of languages.
W hen drivers climb into their cars in the future, they will probably be met by a virtual passenger who inhabits the cockpit display. This avatar — a species of digital aide or companion — might first ask where the driver wants to go before reminding him or her of appointments and asking if the house alarm has been activated. “Of course, this kind of scenario goes way beyond what we can do today with our onboard infotainment system,” admits Dr. Hans-Gerd Krekels, head of Product and Innovation Management for Infotainment Solutions at Siemens VDO Auto- motive in Wetzlar, Germany. “At present, cars feature a range of individual devices, such as radio, CD player, DVD changer, MP3 player and navigation system. The driver therefore needs to know which content can be ac- cessed on what device,” he explains. Accord- ing to Krekels, however, this type of multi-de- vice setup is destined to be superseded by
content-based multimedia systems. Users will thus no longer have to look for specific con- tent. Instead, a central search function will lo- cate it for them, either in the trunk of the car, where the DVD and CD changers are installed, or on the Internet via a wireless network (WLAN), or via mobile networks such as GSM or UMTS.
“In the future, we’ll have vehicles filling up with not only gasoline but also new data,” continues Dr. Abdelkarim Belhoula, who works in preliminary development and is responsible for telematics and driving-assis- tance systems (see p. 23). Stop at the gas station, and your car will automatically log on to the local server via a WLAN or similar sys- tem. And if you have a loyalty card, you may well be eligible for privileges such as a free music download. Likewise, radio hotspots lo- cated on the outskirts of a city or town might transmit the traffic news or “what’s on” infor- mation to the onboard infotainment systems
Read My Lips. But today’s voice-recognition technology will have to become much more robust if it is to operate in a noisy environ- ment such as that of a vehicle. In quiet condi- tions, Hoffmann’s VSR can recognize practi- cally all the words in its vocabulary. Dealing with the automotive sound environment, which includes engine noise, tire and wind noise, is, however, a completely different proposition. If a window is open, even people can have problems understanding one an- other. Yet the VSR is already highly immune to background noise and performs better in this category than rival systems. That’s because it features smart noise-suppression techniques and an echo suppressor that filters out known sources of sound such as signals from the au- dio system. As a result, the navigation system can be operated even when the radio is on.
In their efforts to boost recognition rates, experts at Siemens Corporate Research (SCR) in Princeton, New Jersey, are using a range of
Pictures of the Future | Fall 2005