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A demonstration unit for Harman's new eye-pupil-based driver monitoring system has Daniel Chun, a senior engineer for Harman software development, in the driver's seat. His colleague Amy Chu explains how the system functions.

Harman launches new HQ for connected-vehicle developments

Harman International’s $30 million investment in a new, three-story building in metro Detroit consolidates technical specialists from eight separate locations into one vast connected-vehicle workplace.

"This facility is a vertically integrated innovation hub. Engineers can sit together, collaborate together, and push the ideas for navigation, telematics, safety, [cyber] security, over-the-air-updates, tuner technology, and audio,” said Dinesh Paliwal, Chairman, President and CEO of Harman International Industries.

Paliwal and other Harman executives spoke with Automotive Engineering at the company’s newly opened North American automotive headquarters in Novi, MI. The 188,000 ft2 (17,465 m2) center houses 1000 engineers and support staff. Engineering labs, infotainment design studios, an anechoic chamber, and a full-scale pilot factory will be among the facility’s features.

Tim VanGoethem, Vice President for the Infotainment platform group, said the center’s engineering teams will build system prototypes, then integrate and test technologies to validate that a connected car platform functions properly from an end-to-end perspective. The big target is proving out technologies in a shorter time frame.

“With what has historically been done with vehicle development, there’s a pretty sizable disconnect compared to the product development cycles for personal use and in-the-home technologies,” VanGoethem said. “We’re trying to shrink connected car product cycles by solving problems ahead of winning business with a car company, and this new facility will help Harman achieve that.”

Phil Eyler, the Connected Car division president, said an in-vehicle infotainment experience should be similiar to what consumers have with their mobile devices. “That’s one element that we think is extremely important. But there’s also a productivity side to connectivity,” he noted. Eyler cited the recently announced collaboration with Microsoft that will integrate elements of Microsoft Office 365 into Harman infotainment systems.

“Our job is to bring more entertainment, productivity, advanced navigation, and other functionality [as the industry] moves toward the autonomous car,” Eyler explained. "We also know that we have to be a leader when it comes to the driver interacting with those features in a safe way.”

One safety-orientated development is a driver monitoring system. The system relies on a driver-facing cabin camera and proprietary software algorithm, according to Amy Chu, Director of Project Management for the Corporate Technology group.

Harman has partnered with other companies to help develop the innovation, which is now in the advanced engineering stage. “The camera measures pupil dilation, and algorithm strips out the pupil’s reflex due to light or other reasons," Chu explained. "What is unique about this technology is the cognitive workload calculation. It’s that calculation that indicates if the driver is distracted.”

In a production application, the pupil-based driver monitoring system would be used for adjusting how much information is available to the driver. For instance, the connected car could put a mobile device in an unavailable mode and/or block access to certain non-critical in-vehicle information.

Harman’s connected-car strategy is wrapped around cyber security. Israeli-based Red Bend Software, a pioneer in over-the-air (OTA) software and virtualization technologies for cyber security, was a recent Harman acquisition. Harman is also acquiring TowerSec, a company that developed real-time, embedded software security products to protect vehicles from hacking intrusions.

Said Paliwal, “The technology convergence in connected cars will continue to happen, and we are leading that.”

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