Economy, Auto

Harman, Microsoft to Create Smart Dashboard

Harman, Microsoft to Create Smart Dashboard Harman, Microsoft to Create Smart Dashboard

Harman International has formed a partnership with Microsoft Corporation to create an in-dash “personal assistant” that will allow motorists to Skype, listen to emails, schedule meetings and check calendars.

The service, which was announced on Wednesday, will give the driver access to Microsoft Office 365 and cloud-based personal data via the center-console screen.

Phil Eyler, president of Harman’s Connected Car division, said the service will work with any infotainment operating system, such as Linux or QNX.

It can be activated either by the motorist’s smartphone or by an embedded Internet connection in the car. And it will analyze the user’s data and habits to predict the motorist’s needs—then offer appropriate options.

“It’s meant to utilize the power of cloud-based computing,” Eyler said during a Dec. 14 teleconference. “It’s a system that could learn the individual’s habits and devise a personalized solution for that consumer. That’s the direction this will go."

Harman’s alliance with Microsoft will give automakers an alternative to the personal assistants created by Apple and Google, which will be available in most vehicles within a couple of years. The deal also signals Harman’s ongoing transformation into a supplier of infotainment software. Harman, a top producer of speakers and other audio equipment, announced plans about a year ago last year to ease out of the hardware business over the next four years or so in order to focus on software.

At the time, Harman announced its new strategy, infotainment generated roughly half of the company’s sales, and software accounted for at least 75% of that.

But Harman is not quite ready to turn its back on hardware. Today, the company unveiled a new innovation for entry-level vehicles: portable speakers that can be used outside the car. Dubbed Voyager Drive, the system would include a removable Bluetooth-enabled speaker, six in-dash speakers and a removable rear subwoofer.

Motorists could use the system on the beach, at picnics or campsites. The battery-powered sound system will operate up to five hours outside the vehicle.

The system does not require speakers mounted in door panels. Voyager Drive would be available only as original equipment and each unit would be tuned to match the acoustics of individual car models. Harman does not have any production contracts as yet, cautioned John Fitzgerald, Harman’s senior vice president of global automotive audio.

“This is a brand-new concept that we are launching at [the International Consumer Electronics Show]CES,” Fitzgerald said. “We are hosting a string of customers, but we do not have contracts."