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Automakers push envelope on wearables, augmented reality despite regulatory concern

While automakers are leading the way when it comes to leveraging wearables and augmented reality for next-generation mobile experiences, challenges such as planned legislation banning in-vehicle use and determining the return on investment could hamper growth.

While regulators and consumer advocacy groups are still unsure about what role mobile devices should play for consumers inside a car, automakers are plowing ahead and leveraging Google Glass and other wearables for integrated in-vehicle experiences. Another key area of focus for automakers going forward is creating unique augmented reality applications for use both inside and outside the car.

?With wearables, that is another way of adding even more relevant user interface,? said Dominique Bonte, London-based vice president and practice director at ABI Research. ?This is a way for the auto industry to bring advanced interfaces into the vehicle and bring more entertainment services into a vehicle in a non distractive way.

?The controversial thing is that lot of the governments and the lawmakers are very anxious about Google Glass and eyewear that they would increase distractions,? he said. ?This is a panicky reaction, it is more about banning certain things to do with it, like watching a video.

?Receiving alerts about blind spots or obstacles ahead in the road - that would be a great way to use Google Glass. There is still a lot of discussion going on.?

Remote start
New data from ABI Research shows that wearables will interface with more than 90 percent of vehicles shipping in 2019, either directly or via a smartphone.

There are already signs that the trend is picking up with a series of announcements from automakers over the past few months.

For example, the 2015 Hyundai Genesis will allow owners to connect with their vehicle using Google Glass app integrated Hyundai?s cloud-based Blue Link platform to make features such as remote start and service information quickly accessible. Information, including push notifications, will be presented as cards optimized for the Glass user interface.

Additionally, Mercedes recently introduced the Pebble smart watch Digital DriveStyle app, BMW rolled out an i3 EV Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch integration and Nissan launched the Nismo concept smart watch, which displays biometric and vehicle diagnostics and performance data.

Driver safety
The automotive industry is looking for ways to leverage mobile technology to provide customers with the in-car information and entertainment they want while at the same time trying to improve driver safety by using gesture recognition, eye control and augmented reality to help reduce driver distractions.

Still, the use of wearables inside cars is controversial, with legislation in the works in the United States and Britain to ban their use.

Evidence is still lacking as to just how distracting wearables are for drivers. It may just be a case of needing to prevent certain use cases, such as watching videos.

There are use cases where wearables can contribute to safer driving, per Mr. Bonte.

The opportunities could also extend into ways to inform drivers about nearby gas stations and restaurants that would leverage augmented reality.

?When you are looking for places for go, you could imagine notifications about restaurants you want to visit,? Mr. Bonte said.

?It is all about not overloading the driver too much so he doesn?t get distracted and only providing the relevant information,? he said.

Immersive experiences
Augmented reality is an area where automakers have also shown a lot of interest.

While augmented reality has been growing over the past couple of years, its evolution is really just getting started. Juniper Research forecasts that nearly 200 million unique users across smartphones, tablets and smart glasses will use augmented reality apps in 2018, up from over the 60 million unique users forecast for this year.

One of the factors that will drive growth in augmented reality will be growing penetration for wearables such as Google Glass.

?I think one of the big platforms for propelling augmented reality and vice versa is the mass commercial launch of smart glasses,? said Josh Flood, London-based senior analyst at ABI Research.

?In 2014, I don?t think we will see the true potential for AR in smart glasses, as Google Glass is still working on its AR functionality and has stated its new glass ware is a notification type device not a fully immersive AR device,? he said.

?This will change in the coming years though. You can already see the benefits of AR on hacked Google Glass prototypes at some of the conferences I have attended.?

U.S. marketers lag behind
Innovative augmented reality experiences from the auto industry include the Audi A3 iPad app, which lets users experience what it is like being in the driver?s seat of the car.

To look into the back seat, users move the iPad over their shoulder. The app has been downloaded more than 20,000 times and 90 percent of users interacted with at least one of the augmented reality features.

This example shows how augmented reality is moving towards creating 360-degree experiences for consumers and away from some gimmicky early uses such as bringing a display to life.

?In 2014 we?ll see immersive, 360-degree experiences, personalization and advancements in the physics of augmented reality where the virtual experience, like a bouncing ball, will be seen as seamlessly interacting with objects in the physical world,? said Michael Becker, market development and strategic advisor for North America at Somo, San Francisco.

Automakers are embracing augmented reality because there is a need for immersive and engaging content given the complexity of car features and the high-ticket value of purchases.

However, in general it has been marketers outside the U.S. who are pushing the envelope on augmented reality.

This is because U.S. marketers have been struggling with how to integrate augmented reality into larger campaigns.

?We see more requests for AR overseas than we see it stateside,? said Atul Sabharwal, founder of Snipp Interactive, Washington. ?Probably points to the fact that marketers in the U.S. have tried it but not really experienced a huge return given the higher costs associated with setting up campaigns and the obstacle of getting a user to download an app.

?AR cannot be looked at as an isolated mechanic, but needs to be viewed as part of an overall program given the investment needed to do it right,? he said.

?Consequently it has to be part of a larger whole that justifies the need for a consumer to download an app to experience the AR.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York