As auto manufacturers continue developing tomorrow's self-driving cars, there's a parallel design process taking shape. Because as soon as engineers have perfected the autonomous vehicle, a new kind of passenger experience will take center stage, one that includes the sophisticated integration of rich, enveloping audio and video.
Self-driving cars won't only be used for transportation. Conveniently, passengers will be able to work as they travel along, holding video meetings and conference calls. Or they will enjoy music, TV and movies much as they would in their own home theaters.
But this will require a multimedia experience on-par with more traditional solutions, including high-quality audio. And to deliver the kind of audio clarity and accuracy that passengers will demand, automakers will need to incorporate sophisticated digital audio algorithms that optimize sound inside their vehicles.
Design freedom and 'sound zones'
Already, automakers have begun experimenting with different speaker configurations, including small speakers installed in unique locations, such as a vehicle's dashboard, roof, floor, and headrests.
Digital software algorithms bring these new configurations to life, generating high-end sound quality and other immersive audio experiences from ever-smaller speakers. And their positioning allows even greater design freedom.
For example, autonomous vehicles will allow designers to re-imagine seating. Some seats may swivel, others may be oriented around a small table.
Ultimately, a self-driving car will include various "sound zones" where audio characteristics vary based on seating. In that case, autonomous vehicles will need directional audio software to ensure each passenger hears the same sound regardless of their physical position, orientation or distance from a speaker.
What's more, such audio software and signal processing could turn the zones into separate audio environments within the vehicle. Passengers in front could listen to news while those in back could watch a movie and with limited audio interference across zone. True sound zone separation is a research topic for many audio suppliers.
Better meetings on the move
When it comes to commuters using their autonomous vehicle as an office and conference room, the audio system will play the same role it does in a traditional office situation.
Along with the speakers, audio software will need to deliver clear, conference calling capabilities. Directional audio processing can create a virtual meeting experience inside the vehicle, where the voices of conference participants come from specific directions, offering audible cues that improve communication.
And whether the passengers in an autonomous vehicle are working, playing, or watching the world go by, digital audio processing inside the cabin will keep unwanted noise to a minimum.
Intelligent noise-canceling algorithms can offset soundwaves generated by the car itself, benefiting every aspect of the in-car experience, from watching movies and listening to music, to making phone calls and holding video conferences.
Self-driving cars are the result of relentless technological innovation that touches all our lives. That includes people's 24/7 consumption of all things digital media. Bringing the two together -- autonomous vehicles and immersive audiovisual experiences -- is the next step in this evolution. Digital audio technology stands ready to play an important role.