Garmin has was a pioneer in digital "glass cockpits" for aircraft, making it easier and safer to fly. Glass cockpits provide virtual views of the environment around aircraft to give pilots awareness of important features both seen and unseen. With the introduction of its prototype K2 infotainment system Garmin is bringing the concept of the glass cockpit to the automobile.
"Inspired by Garmin’s avionics and marine technology, K2 turns the car dashboard into a digital cockpit that provides drivers a safe and intuitive way to stay connected and access all the functions they need while on the road," states Garmin. "The system intelligently combines digital displays, voice control, infrared buttons and smartphone integration to provide drivers access to everything from navigation to vehicle diagnostics, office features, communications, music and radio to real-time information from the Web."
The K2 platform was developed by Garmin's OEM group and is designed to be specified and customized by car-company customers. The heart of the system is a 10-inch (diagonal) multi-touch screen that is to be positioned at the center of the dashboard, matched with a 12-inch digital instrument panel in the normal instrument area recess in front of the steering wheel. The digital instrument panel includes the normal speedometer and gauges, but it also serves navigation, audio, and communications information. The idea is to inform the driver while letting him or her keep their eyes on the road. "If the driver sees an incoming text message or email, for example, he can ask the system to read the message and respond via voice," states Garmin. "Garmin’s advanced voice controls allow the user to interact with K2 using natural and conversational language to get weather or traffic information, check their calendar or search for addresses or points of interest. Crucial functions can also be accessed using configurable infrared buttons that automatically detect an approaching hand."
The 10-inch center screen complements the instrument panel display, and is the focal point of GPS navigation features. The screen presents the types of GPS navigation instructions we've become accustomed to, including spoken, turn-by-turn directions. But it also uses the ample screen real estate (a typical GPS navigation device screen is only 4.3 inches) to provide 3D city models, and the integration of real-time information, such as fuel prices, parking, traffic, tracking, weather forecasts and images from traffic cameras. Garmin plans to integrate some experimental features into the K2 system as well. "To even further take some of the cognitive load off the driver, Garmin is developing additional features that automatically draw conclusions from accessible information," states Garmin. "Through the combination of calendar and navigation functions, for example, the system would know if the driver is running late due to traffic, so it could automatically ask if the driver wants to contact the parties of upcoming meetings and inform them about the delay."
Garmin further integrates the K2 system with the types of technology we use today, with Bluetooth smartphone connectivity. Through a Garmin app, the K2 system will link to the user's e-mail, calendar, text messages, music, and other content.
The challenge, with all of this on-board technology and displays, will be to use the systems to enhance safety, rather than distracting the driver. Voice control for major functions is a step in the right direction. Texting while driving has its own dangers, however, even when voice controlled, and should be considered with caution, and perhaps the system should be designed to let users disable certain functions. On the other hand, real-time knowledge of weather and traffic conditions can only help enhance safety, and this system also seems well suited to integration of proven safety features such as following distance lane-wander, and driver sleep warnings. In any case, with its long history in avionics and aircraft glass cockpits, Garmin should be among the best companies able to tackle the challenges of navigation and information tech in modern cars.