"Your vehicle, your sanctuary" was a theme at the virtual CES (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show) display of new electronics and entertainment equipment in January.
Pandemic shutdowns have accelerated the yearslong trend for vehicles to double as home theaters and offices on wheels.
Cadillac showed the Personal Autonomous Vehicle (PAV), a concept for a self-driving car whose interior is essentially lounge seating for a small group, with adjustable lighting, aromatherapy and perhaps a daiquiri dispenser. GM isn't making any images of the PAV available yet — understandable in light of critics comparing the vehicle's appearance to a giant toaster — but the car's accoutrements dropped jaws.
Harman, busy transforming itself from an audio supplier into a company that does everything from speakers to augmented reality navigation and livestreaming, leaned into the concept of car as entertainment center.
Mock-ups showed headrests with wings that fold down to put speakers around the occupants' head, delivering surround sound and the capability for occupants to simultaneously listen to different sources at varying volumes. It's an improvement of the idea for headphones that let kids re-watch "Frozen" endlessly while Mom and Dad conduct a conference call in one front seat and listen to a podcast in the other.
Harman developed the system, called the personal audio headrest, with headrest supplier Grammer. It should be in production soon.
Another system, ClearChat, uses electronics to make it easier for one person to take a hands-free phone call while others continue to enjoy music.
"The car is becoming the third space for people," said Chris Ludwig, vice president of Harman's early pursuit and innovation concepts development team. "We're developing technologies to make in-vehicle time as much for living as traveling."
Vehicle interiors also can be optimized for creating content, including using high-resolution, professionally placed cameras and microphones to create video conferencing. Harman's 2021 ExP Demo Car showcases those abilities and more.
"It's leveraging the car for things other than travel," Ludwig said. "Using cameras and microphones to create a studio."
The car can become an extension of other performance spaces, as Harman demonstrated with its Live Interactive Virtual Experience.
The goal is to provide better sound and more interaction with artists than a normal streamed concert, something performers and fans would find especially welcome in a year when COVID-19 has shuttered most in-person venues.
The demo car's seats adjust for the best audio and video, the instrument panel converts to a widescreen stage and interior lights adapt to the music. The 5G link allows viewers to vote on upcoming songs, wave virtual light sticks that are duplicated onstage and create the feedback loop that makes live performances unique.
"It's a new way to think about concerts," Ludwig said. Called the Drive-Live Concert EXP, the system should be ready for production audio systems by the end of 2021. Needless to say, the interactive extras are hidden from the driver if the vehicle is in motion.