Car Stereo in 15 Years

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Autonomous Mercedes

Ever wonder what will happen to car audio when cars go autonomous?

Some industry experts say in-car entertainment will be relegated to wireless headphones and the radio as we know it will just be a generic transceiver linked to the cloud.

Others say a more traditional radio will remain in tomorrow’s cars, as will amplifiers and speakers.

Before we explain, it’s helpful to know when autonomous cars will hit the roads.  True hands-off-the-wheel self-driving cars aren’t expected until around 2030, close to 15 years from now.  The beginning of autonomous cars will take place, however, in the next few years.  The first cars with autonomous capability may hit the road in 2019 and 2020, but people will still be required to keep their eyes on the road and a hand on the wheel.

But we may see convoys of autonomous trucks on highways in as little as 3 or 4 years, said Angelos Lakrintis of Strategy Analytics.  And around the same time, we’ll see autonomous Uber-like vehicles in certain cities or parts of cities, says Re/Code.

The OEMs are already looking ahead so we asked Mazda what it thinks of the future of infotainment.  Mazda Engineer for HMI & Entertainment Matt Valbuena (who was a Senior Product Planner at Pioneer for many years) believes future cars will include both an onboard radio system and a personalized system like headphones.  “It’s similar to airline travel, which is basically an autonomous travel mode from the passenger’s point of view…”  he said.  People use their own devices or the headrest screens or they use the plane’s WiFi.  “I see a lot of parallels,” he said.  “I think automakers will take the same approach.”

Analyst Roger Lanctot of Strategy Analytics says people have been saying for years that you won’t need a radio, just a phone, but it hasn’t happened yet.   “It’s the more things change, the more they stay the same…  Some say there won’t be radio.   But I don’t have a lot of confidence that’s the case…the radio was practically made for the car: local reception everywhere, free localized information and it’s contextualized, getting local new traffic, weather, all the stuff you need to know where you are.”

Valbuena said even with the “prevalence of Pandora, SiriusXM and Spotify, the number one listening source is still AM/FM radio….it’s familiar and you don’t have to launch an app.  I see that continuing to exist into the future.”

Keith Lehmann, a Technology Analyst & Strategist (formerly Executive VP of Kenwood) believes entertainment will become personalized so wireless headphones will be a preferred audio delivery method.  And our windshields will turn into either video screens or computer screens as needed.

Lehmann said,  “It’s all going to rest in the cloud. You wouldn’t need to generate anything in the vehicle.  Nothing like a CD or hard drive. You could just pull it all in.”  He said autonomous cars will require an onboard 3D mapping system, creating maps of streets as they drive and so cars will have a constant connection to the cloud anyway.

In the nearer term, Valbuena said,  “You are going to see a greater degree of built in features in the vehicle.  USB ports are the new cup holders.  In the 90s you had 4 cup holders in the car and now you’re seeing 4 USB ports.   We’ll see them in the door panels and the front and back seat.  Even though wireless charging is a cool feature,  you can’t use it while you’re charging unless you are staring down at the screen  siting on the console. “

You’ll see more multi-zone technology so kids in the back can have their own programming.  And while radio isn’t going to be jettisoned, he said, “At the same time, I see the brought-in devices [phones and tablets] will have a broader role….There will still be speakers in the car and amplifiers and a microphone. There will probably still be a tuner, but that could evolve. And there will not just be terrestrial radio but web radio,” he said, explaining, that if you ask the system to play Led Zepplin, it may deliver it from an obscure stream in Russia.

Photo: Daimler


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  1. I think with autonomous you run the risk of damaging a cars system more and more, installers are going to need to be highly trained and a lot of inter-phase will be plug and play, more then run wires and hook up. Its the only way this can be done without taking a risk in screwing up fragile electronics components of the car its self. These will not be DIY installs but uses will have a plug and play port. you might just find a full windshield view able heads up display for movies news or what ever your looking at or viewing but the driver will always have a roads eye view. When 90% of the cars on the road are autonomous then drivers will get to relax and take a nap on the trip. Windows will no longer show who’s inside a car or if you like you can play an immage on all the windows without an outside view like a movie in 360 view and 3d with your pick of aftermarket plug in 5.1 or 7.1 sound system like a home theater system with sub woofers and all.
    Auto manufactures will offer this as part of the car. You pick the parts and the dealer installs them at the dealership. Aftermarket is now being sold through the dealer. Some aftermarket shops are still around doing older cars buses boats and what ever they can scrape up to do. Speech passwords will unlock doors and car thefts will be a thing of the past. This is for the personal owned auto, I see us moving to mass transit your car drives to a auto train and gets on board for high speed transportation NY to LA in 3 hours.
    You arrive get off the train and get on a personal transport that drops you off at your job, you make this trip once a month because you work from home. You do not need to own a car. Food clothes and everything else is delivered from Amazon for free.

    Its hard to say where we will be in 15 years because 45 years ago all this was predicted to already be the case today and we have made major steps to it but its not so yet.
    50 years ago computers filed a football field size room your smart phone can out do that computers power today by a 100 times or more. you can send a message that took a week to get there in the blink of an eye today in 15 years technology will have evolved like it always has who knows what we truly will be doing? you might step in a room push a button and be there just like that and we won’t need cars anymore. we will travel on a beam of light at the speed of light. So much for trying to turn on a radio.

    I will say one thing, Its going to be a fun ride for some and a nightmare for others.
    Personally I like driving a car and would be upset to see that go away.
    So put your cell phone away stop texting and drive the car and enjoy the view.

  2. Driving your own vehicle is done in a controlled environment with friends and/or family in a confined area (except for a Taxi/Uber/Public transportation type ride). Therefore, car audio in 15 years assimilates to home theater rooms more than an airplane. Buses, planes and other large occupancy transportation (eg. boats) are closely related in how passengers enjoy personal audio due to traveling amongst strangers, but a vehicle’s road trip mirrors family movie night more. With that being said, pleasures and objectives such as more video, driver safety alerts, quality audio, and completing work inside an autonomous vehicle are all very real. What does that means for the aftermarket? It means it can actually grow as more people would be determined to enhance their in-car experience. It may not be a traditional Single or Double DIN at the center, but it certainly casts a wider net than present day.

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