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Harman Suprises Us With Unusual Connected Car Tech, Including Office 365 Integration

We usually think of Harman as an audio company, but they’re busting out of that box at CES 2016 with a slew of connected car technologies we might find in more than a few cars in the next few years. Instead of getting involved with the autonomous car movement, Harman is making bets on connected car features — either a bridge technology or the future, depending on who you ask. Either way, there are tons of safety, productivity, and navigation features here to get excited about in the near term.

Harman is trying to make driving safer with a new eye and pupil tracking system. Using eye trackers, Harman’s technology uses algorithms to determine when someone is driving drowsy, drunk, or distracted — either way, the software will be able to take action if it finds that the driver is posing a danger to themselves or others. Action could include putting mobile devices into do-not-disturb mode or cutting down on the number of in-car infotainment features accessible to the driver. That’ll go along with alerts that will help drivers understand their own condition and hopefully take a rest, making the road safer for everyone.

Harman is also using their cloud computing and analytics software to make navigation more useful. Their services will be able to analyze driver habits and detect their location to deliver useful information, but this is something that goes far beyond restaurant recommendations. The higher-level goal is to get connected technology into not only consumer automobiles, but emergency vehicles, bicycles, and even pedestrian accessories. With a big enough network, Harman could use their cloud services to provide drivers with a real-time map displaying the location of nearby emergency vehicles, traffic jams, stoplight outages, bicycles, or even erratic drivers, possibly taking data from their eye tracking software. The algorithms could also use data from a number of in-car sensors including GPS, gyroscopes, accelerometers, LIDAR, and cameras to build out its database.

While in-car infotainment systems are coming to revolve around Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Harman could be the unexpected partner that gives Microsoft a bigger presence in the car. A new partnership between Harman and Microsoft announced at CES 2016 will see more Office 365 integration in cars along with voice commands. That could allow people to set up reminders, send emails, or take notes using OneNote, but it could also enable in-car Skype conference calls — provided the car is in park, as Harman made sure to specify.

This is all brought together by LIVS, Harman’s own smart car platform. Unlike many other infotainment systems, Harman’s platform aims to encompass safety features and connectivity to a network of cars to enhance driver safety and knowledge. Ultimately, it’s the main rival to the idea of the autonomous car — instead of technology replacing the human as driver, technology is used to augment the human driver’s capabilities while also boosting automated in-car safety features. As the moral quandaries of the autonomous car continue to rise to the forefront (should a car make a decision that would kill its driver to save five pedestrians?), the increasingly connected car might end up being the more realizable way of improving road safety.

The technology Harman is floating here has been talked about in automotive circles for a few years, but the legal framework for a network of connected cars has been a recent development. In other words, things are ready to move forward. We don’t know when we’ll see these features on the road, as Harman is currently looking for partners, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see some 2017 or 2018 models running this Harman in-car tech.

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