By now drivers are, at least to some degree, used to their mobile devices working in tandem with their new cars. Whether it’s streaming music, hands free calling, or navigation, drivers expect some compatibility between their smartphones and their ride.
So what will car makers do next to impress consumers? It may be the ability to pair their new cars not just with a smartphone, but with themselves.
Big headline products like Google Glass and mass-market devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear turned public attention towards wearable technology in 2013. With market forecasts upwards of $55 billion by 2018 for a best-case scenario forecast from Colorado based analyst firm IHS and around $30 billion at a more conservative estimate, this is one growing market that car makers can’t ignore when it comes to vying for drivers’ attention.
One manufacturer is already testing the waters.
Just as drivers were receiving the first tickets for wearing Google Glass while behind the wheel, Nissan was busy cooking up its own smart glasses alternative. Debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in November, Nissan’s head gear will similarly connect to the Internet and allow the user to view information overlays on their field of vision.
Still in development, Nissan says the 3E (for “third eye”) may first be put to use to sell cars in Nissan showrooms, showing additional information about the vehicles as car buyers look at them. That would sidestep the legal issues of wearing a screen while driving for the time being.
Nissan Nismo improves driving performance
The 3E isn’t the only wearable tech card Nissan is playing either.
While tech industry observers had their eyes glued to smart watch announcements from computing technology firms like Apple Inc. and Samsung Corp., the automaker snuck its own futuristic wrist watch into the market too. Nissan surprised everyone with its Nismo announcement at the Frankfurt Motor Show last September.
Named after Nissan’s Nismo Labs division dedicated to studying biometric data from professional drivers and telematics data from their cars, this wrist watch is designed with driving pros (or at least those who want to feel like one) in mind.
The Nismo features a sleek unbroken wrist strap design with the digital display seamlessly embedded in a ring that’s firmly secured on the driver’s wrist with a snap-fit mechanism. It’s powered by a Lithium-ion battery that lasts for about seven days per charge and is recharged via a micro USB port.
In pairing the Nissan Nismo to cars with Bluetooth Low Energy wireless communication and monitoring the driver’s heart rate, Nissan hopes to learn how to better recognize early warning signs for both man and machine. The Nismo Labs program for example seeks to record biometric minutiae such as skin temperature, hydration levels, and even EEG brainwave readings to monitor driver concentration and seek signs of early fatigue while simultaneously tracking vehicle performance.
The Nismo watch takes that idea and packages it into an appealing consumer product. It will monitor the efficiency of your car’s average speed and fuel consumption readings, read your heart rate, and glean other performance information while tearing up the track. There’s also a social media scoring system that encourages sharing across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
While Nissan is developing its own hardware, German auto-maker Mercedes is partnering with others to reach drivers with wearable technology. It is working on an app for Google Glass, and unveiled an app for the Pebble Steel smartwatch at the Consumer Electronics Show. The watch app tells drivers where their car is, if the doors are locked, and if they need gas. While driving, it will try to make controlling the infotainment system as easy as possible.
Nymi wrist band offers secure keyless entry
It’s not just car makers that are contemplating the market for wearable technology among drivers. Toronto-based Bionym Inc. is developing an interactive identity product dubbed Nymi. Available for a pre-order price of $79, this black wristband checks your pulse to get your unique electrocardiogram profile, which then becomes your password to access any number of devices. Nymi uses Bluetooth Low Energy to wirelessly communicate the wearer’s identity and gestures. Its makers think that could be a big convenience for motorists.
Drivers of many modern cars are used to features like keyless entry and push-button engine start thanks to key fobs enabled with RFID chips. But those devices pose two problems that are overcome by the Nymi wristband.
First off, those key fobs use what security experts call “single factor authentication” – in this case, your identity is confirmed by having possession of the car key alone. If a thief obtains your high-tech car key, they can gain access to your car and drive it off just as easily as if it were a simple metal key. Secondly, the key fob can lead to unintended actions being taken by the driver. Simply walking down your driveway could activate a proximity trigger and leave your doors unlocked.
Nymi can’t simply be swiped to gain entry to your car. The thief doesn’t have your heart signature, so the wristband won’t trigger any locks. In fact, Nymi uses “three factor authentication” by requiring your ECG be read, the Nymi wristband be present, and the smartphone used to control Nymi must also be in the user’s possession. To avoid unintended actions on the part of the driver, Nymi relies on the user to make gestures to trigger a response. So if you want to unlock your car door, you could twist your wrist. To pop the trunk, perhaps you put your palms up and swing them upwards.
“The Nymi also incorporates a six-axis motion sensor (accelerometer and gyroscope),” a Nymi white paper explains. “The captured motion is used for simple gesture recognition and user input. The gesture recognition may be utilized to indicate the user’s intent, such as unlocking the front door of a vehicle versus unlocking the trunk.”
Nissan’s Nismo watch will also be able to read a driver’s ECG. Though Nissan hasn’t spoken of plans to use the watch to unlock and start its cars, or indicated that gesture technology will be built into the wearable device, you could imagine it could be incorporated in future vehicles.
We are still in the early days of products tapping tech to unite drivers with their cars. But signs are already pointing to devices that will take the bond between driving lovers and their cars to a whole new level.