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Auto industry in a position to make the car a digital identity hub to rival the smartphone

Major brands already launching cars that forefront voice and face biometrics
Auto industry in a position to make the car a digital identity hub to rival the smartphone

For many, certain key life relationships have a core of trust that is beyond question – a bond of the sort that biometrics and digital identity providers might envy. One of these is between people and their cars. Like houses, cars are products that, because of their importance and financial heft, feel woven into the fabric of life. Automotive financing, meanwhile, is one of the most trustworthy loans around.

That core of trust is part of what is allowing automakers to be well positioned among digital identity stewards of the near future. A recent Automotive World article by Louie Abonador, senior director of Synacor’s Cloud ID group, looks at the factors driving the shift toward digital in the aftermath of CES 2024. And a wave of other innovations across the sector point to a long, open road for automakers to become players in the digital identity and biometrics sector in much the same way as smartphones.

Driving factors include billing, biometrics and a potential commercial bonanza

According to Abonador, there are several key factors that make automakers likely to become a major arm of the digital identity business. Trusted identity and billing relationships already established through leasing and financing agreements contribute to automakers’ high level of credibility among loyal customers. The commercial opportunities are huge, as interactive digital displays evolve to be able to collect customer data and offer a wide range of services, subscriptions and upgrades to an audience guaranteed to return on a regular basis.

And, for access, they can deploy biometric tools and security features to automate unlocking, ignition and other actions. Abonador points out that, “as they take increasing ownership over the digital experience, automakers are exploring the implementation of passkeys” and “leveraging methods already familiar to users, such as fingerprint sensors, face recognition, and wearable device confirmations.”

Combined, these factors give automakers the chance to replace plug-and-play smartphone capability with their own digital ecosystem, with a dedicated network connection and app interaction originating exclusively within the car.

“Ultimately,” writes Abonador, “automakers will find themselves in a more strategic position, not only in terms of vehicle functionality but also in expanding digital identity management roles.”

Move over, Tesla: major automakers showcase future cars at CES and beyond

What will these data centers on wheels look like? The answers are already rolling off the production line.

Chrysler’s Halcyon Concept looks a bit like a silver Batmobile or a steel Corvette. Face biometrice enables hands-free vehicle entry and start-up, with automatic locks and doors. According to a brief in Auto Futures, the model “offers sustainability-driven exterior and interior design, combined with full autonomy and personalized driving experiences.” These are delivered in part via an augmented-reality full-screen head-up display (HUD), and in part by an in-car AI assistant.

The car’s digital brain runs on the Stellantis STLA Large platform, delivering over-the-air (OTA) updates, automated diagnostics and troubleshooting – part of what Chris Feuell, Chrysler brand CEO, says will usher in “a fully electric tomorrow.”

One fun detail of the sustainably designed interior: the Chrysler wing logos are made from crushed and recycled CDs.

Chatty chatty bang-bang: Mercedez offers a dashboard to cry on

Mercedez-Benz, meanwhile, is not content to sell a mere car, no matter how deluxe; the German automaker wants to offer you a bestie, or perhaps a therapist. Writing in The Drive, Adam Ismail quotes Mercedez Chief Software Officer Magnus Östberg, who says the company is taking cues from the Asian market, where customers want a chatty car.

According to Östberg, “the chattiness – just talking – is actually something that our customers in Asia want to have. They don’t have a purpose, they just want someone to talk to.”

If that sounds like the premise for a depressing Japanese drama film, Östberg says the basic idea is to tailor digital services to customer needs and preferences in different parts of the world. German customers might not want a talkative car, but might want voice biometrics to offer an easy, hands-free way to access services. As such, the on-board AI assistant will have four mood options: natural, empathetic, personal, and proactive. Facial recognition data may also be used to modulate the system’s responses.

Subaru’s facial recognition-equipped Forester, meanwhile, was the brand’s highest-selling model in 2023, according to Eurekar. Its FRT capability detects if a driver’s gaze diverts from the road for a dangerous amount of time and triggers alerts. And the Mazda CX-90, featured in a review from WTOP news, uses facial recognition to remember drivers’ profiles to customize settings.

Biometrics are just one technology propelling the automotive industry into the future. A blog from Microsoft highlighting exciting trends in automotive design set to emerge in the next five years includes developments in biometric vehicle access. But there’s also dynamic holographic dashboards for augmented reality, Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) communication networks, and, of course, self-driving vehicles. To paraphrase an old rock anthem, an old Internet term and an old poet, life is an information superhighway, and we are all merely drivers.

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