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Google previews Audi’s next-gen infotainment system

Looking for Droids: Despite Google developing software that will underpin Volvo and Audi’s next-gen infotainment systems, the two systems will differ from one another as each car-maker will design their own unique display.

Android-based technology to allow Audi drivers more integrated driving experience

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Audi logo18 May 2017

By TUNG NGUYEN

UPDATED: 23/05/2017AUDI has revealed its next-generation entertainment and infotainment system at Google’s I/O 2017 developer conference in California, showcasing its Android-based touchscreen system in the upcoming Q8 Sport crossover.

While still in concept form, the new system promises to better relay notifications and information to drivers, as well as providing a software environment where developers can more easily translate their applications to a driving situation.

Google Android Automotive head of partner engineering Dylan Thomas said Android mobile operating system (OS) is baked into the vehicle from the ground up, meaning no smartphone connection is needed to run certain apps.

“Android is now embeddable in the car,” he said. “We’ve seen in the past, you guys are showing on the phone or even connected over USB to the car – that’s Android Auto – now we’re showing Android as the actual embedded operating system in the car.

“So our goal is always to have safe, seamless integrated connected services. I think we’re seeing the seamless part of that – there’s no phone involved here.”

As reported earlier this week, Google will partner with car-makers to develop its Android platform as a basis for vehicle infotainment and connectivity systems, of which the first two will be European luxury vehicle manufacturers Volvo and Audi.

However, while Google builds its Android software as a platform for mobile phones, which then have bespoke software built over the top – think Samsung and its TouchWiz or HTC and its SenseUI – Audi’s system will still be Audi underneath.

According to an Audi spokesperson: “The core software system stays on the Audi foundation and Android should be integrated with selected functions and apps out of the field of entertainment and infotainment with the focus on social networks and communication channels”.

The advantage of this approach is that manufacturers still have complete control over the design of their own infotainment systems, while developers wishing to push their apps to a car display need only program for one software environment.

Google showed off Audi’s new-generation infotainment system from the inside of the forthcoming Q8 sport concept – which was revealed at this year’s Geneva motor show – via its large central touchscreen.

“We’ve obviously got a home screen, it doesn’t really look like a phone, a wearable or a TV, so this is a nice automotive integrated experience,” Mr Thomas said.

“We’ve got the kind of information a driver is used to seeing here, but the key aspect of this is that Audi did the integration and its Audi’s UI concept and it’s just not another phone or another car.”

Audi’s home screen utilises large tiles to navigate and display its different components including audio controls, maps and third-party apps such as Spotify, however, the Android based system can even display critical vehicle information such as driving range and oil levels through an app developed by Audi.

Mr Thomas revealed that the infotainment system will also be able to push notifications and information to the instrument cluster, but Google will leave the programming of vehicle-critical systems to car-makers.

“Over in the cluster display now – which actually isn’t running Android, this is a real-time operating system for the driver information – we do have information coming from the (Android) app from the APK (Android Package Kit), through the vehicle network and is being integrated into their cluster,” he said.

“This is the kind of integration we are looking to do with the partners.

“We still do want to show integration as appropriate so the driver has all the information they need right in front of their eyes and the passenger, for example, can still work with the system as well.

“We’re really focussing on what they call infotainment – the music, the maps, the media, the car information – but what we’re not going into is the critical (driving) information.”

The software environment will allow implementation of features such as Google Assistant – a voice-controlled function that operates similar to Apple’s Siri – as well as easier integration of third-party apps.

However, Mr Thomas reiterated the fact that manufacturers still have ultimate control over design and functionality of their infotainment systems, while still being an inviting space for developers to push their programs.

“It still looks and feels like an Audi, it feels like a premium experience,” he said.

“These are the key things we’re trying to call out with this concept demo with Audi.

“Number one, Android is a good operating system with the car, but number two is the developer ecosystem can come with it and tie really nicely with good vehicle integration as well.”

Showing off the technology in a Q8 SUV maybe an indication that Audi plans to debut the technology with the expected release of its new model in 2018.

However, according to Audi’s spokesperson, it is yet to be determined when and where the new system will debut.

“We consider and work on the implementation of this new technology in production cars,” he said. “But there is not yet determined a definite date for this.

“Globally, we are planning to connect all our models with the internet and with our Audi connected functions and services as standard equipment.

“It is not improbable to reckon with a possible start of embedded Android in serial production within the next three years.”

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