The automotive landscape remains in constant flux as ride-sharing services implement autonomous driving platforms and driverless cars and trucks appear on the roads. Billions of dollars and euros are flooding the sector as chip companies (Intel and Qualcomm) buy vehicle systems companies (Mobileye and NXP Semiconductors), traditional car manufacturers (Daimler, Ford, and GM) put money into driverless taxis (Lyft and Uber), and ride-hailing services (Uber) purchase self-driving truck technology (Ottomotto).
In the process, vehicles have morphed into computers – if not supercomputers – on wheels. Software now controls the engines as well as the dashboards. BlackBerry’s QNX operating system and middleware run in more than 60 million vehicles worldwide, while Apple and Google continue developing their own underlying software platforms. That means user experience design is just as important as body or parts design was in the past. At the same time, vehicle ownership continues to be a rite of passage in many countries as people enter the middle class and aspire to continue moving up. These customers expect the same personal attention they see in every other market. Language, of course, enables a more intimate level of experience.
However, drivers can’t be distracted by Google Translate or stumped by poor translation when they are lost at night on dark streets or traveling at 140 kph on Beijing’s 6th Ring Road. Dashboards must look familiar and resemble the screens on their phones, and be accurate and responsive – and for some drivers – integrate with their preferred wearable or digital personal assistant. These requirements mean that localizers in the automotive industry face new challenges as they adjust to delivering what are, in essence, very large mobile devices:
- Design focus has shifted from autobodies to software and connectivity. Car manufacturers now compete against well-funded and experienced software companies such as Apple and Google. Dashboard design, and the software that runs it, have become top criteria for many buyers, whose expectations come from their everyday use of smartphones. No one wants to learn a new interface, especially if it’s clunky or diverts attention from driving. In this context, localization quality becomes a critical issue. Getting internationalization right for these components is essential.
- Infotainment screens are just one of several components to be localized. Software now runs drivetrains, tires, and various engine components. Embedded sensors report data via the internet to help technicians focus only on what they need to review, fix, or replace in order to speed up service delivery times. As a result, documentation for technicians must evolve as their functions change.
- Vehicles integrate more deeply with the world around them. Anyone who has purchased a new car within the last 24 months is driving a device that is connected to the internet: AT&T alone reported 11.8 million connected cars as of Q4 2016, up from eight million in Q1. This connectivity serves multiple purposes: 1) providing vehicle-to-vehicle communication; 2) enabling vehicles to connect to infrastructure, such as when Audis talk to traffic signals; 3) facilitating telematics to help track vehicles; 4) supporting personal digital assistant, smart home, entertainment, and security apps; 5) delivering over-the-air updates; and 6) creating built-in hotspots. These new scenarios have profound implications for localization, including increased demand for multilingual speech integration, manipulation of multimedia formats, adaptation for local regulations, terminology rationalization, and software testing.
- Automotive content continues to iterate at faster rates and in smaller pieces. Customers want intelligent cars now, at affordable prices, and in their local languages. Auto manufacturers have been scrambling to get the design right for their infotainment screens. Connected vehicles raise the possibility of continuous upgrades and improvements post-sale. Not all brands are quite there yet, but their focus should now turn to iterating their enhancements faster in all languages. When they do, localization teams must be ready to support Agile workflows.
Fortunately, the localization managers in charge of multilingual content and code production don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They can pick up the baton from colleagues who have already figured out how to localize for the small screen. They can also benchmark themselves against competitors such as Apple, BlackBerry, Google, and Intel by applying the same CMMI-based benchmarking methodology used by those companies: CSA Research’s Localization Maturity Model(TM).
Language – whether expressed as text, speech, or gesture – will only become more essential for enhancing customer experience for drivers worldwide. As software, hardware, and user data are more tightly integrated through vehicular connections to the Internet of Things (IoT), localizers in other industries may be able to learn a thing or two from the automotive sector over the next few years.