Håkan Hellman: The Innovation Interview

Håkan Hellman, Product Manager, Infotainment & Connectivity for the Volvo Car Corporation, shares his thoughts and insights on the connected car and how technology is allowing Volvo to innovate and the in-car entertainment experience.

Mr. Hellman has had an illustrious career at Volvo spanning over 30 years. He first began his career as a Development Engineer in the Electronic Climate System division of Volvo. Today he is working on the Sensus Connected Touch system which will the in-car for owners of Volvo cars.

Mr. Hellman holds a Master of Science, Electrical Engineering degree from the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is a new way of doing something that is made more useful. We talk of incremental and radical innovations. Incremental innovations are evolutionary innovations built on an existing development. Radical innovations are innovations that will have a breakthrough effect on the market or are challenging the way we do things in the company. We actively work with product innovations as well as business, market and process innovations. We use eg. processes of “crowd based” idea generation within the company. We also have dedicated teams handling innovations at the top level as well on dedicated innovation teams for certain areas of technology, for instance active safety, that is a key area for us.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Generally you want to lead the market, or be very early, with the introduction of innovative products. In industries where the cycle time is very short, there is little time to validate new innovations. In industries with longer cycles, the risk of not being unique is more pronounced.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

Be open minded to new ideas, be a good listener and try to see the whole picture. Have endurance. Utilize and enhance the strength and possibilities of teamwork and the force of good team spirit and good partnerships.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

1. Working as project manager introducing a completely new car electric network architecture for Volvo cars 1998. It was innovative and very challenging in many ways. We introduced new technology by utilizing new working processes to make this happen. And it was a big step into future electronic possibilities for Volvo cars especially for introducing new functionality and, later on, connectivity. This early project was the first time we at Volvo were planning for the introduction of connectivity with a system called “Volvo On Call”, but the Volvo On Call system was delayed until 2001.

2. Introduction of the Volvo USB & iPod Music Interface in 2006. This was an important step into interfacing new consumer electronics products like iPods and USB devices.

3. The introduction of the Sensus Connected Touch. A major step to introduce Connectivity for Volvo Cars.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Professionally, digital, due to great access and richness. Personally, for pleasure, I appreciate physical newspapers and books. I enjoy reading physical books and the feeling of real physical books.

With Irv Gordon’s 1966 Volvo P1800 going for four decades and over 2.7 million miles, how will Volvo build on such a great legacy?

I think that this points out the great heritage and core value of Volvo cars . They are long lasting quality products that we continuously need to live up to and work for, and something that we as employees of Volvo Cars are very proud of.

What technologies did Volvo use make the Sensus Connected Touch system a reality?

For the Connected Touch we had an advanced engineering project study which was started  as early as 2006. The project was then put on hold as we felt that the market was not ready or mature enough for this technology. When we finally started the sharp project up again late 2011, we demanded and requested a solution from a creative supplier with a rather powerful and flexible platform.

1. A powerful processing hardware platform able to handle functional and graphical features to satisfy good customer experience and to have the capacity to handle future expansion. We selected the french supplier Parrot to fulfill our criterias for the Sensus Connected Touch system.

2. An open operating system enabling flexibility and quick to market possibilities. We selected Android for the Sensus Connected Touch system.

3. Creating a “light” interface to the car’s infotainment system to handle the HMI, but without jeopardizing the base car functions and security.

4. Partnerships: Software partners for developing applications and also for the the interaction design (HMI) and graphics together with Volvo cars. We selected partners like Cybercom and Interaktionsbyrån here in Gothenburg Sweden, partners with high competence and located very close to the Volvo Cars development centre.

5. A new working process and environment, working with software/functionality with agile / scrum process that shortened the development lead times.

6. Ability to upgrade functionality over the air, a necessity to be able to provide apps like the integrated Spotify. The very strong development of smart phones, their fast growing market share and roll out on the markets, with apps and increasing network data capacity, also including better business models for data traffic over the air, has of course been a necessity for the introduction of the Sensus Connected Touch.

How important was it for Volvo to add Spotify and TuneIn Radio to the Sensus Connected Touch system? Was there a demand from your customers to add streaming music?

Yes, there is definitely a very strong demand from the markets. The increased popularity and growth of streaming music services like Spotify and also internet radio is putting requirements on a car connectivity system. The car is a very good place to enjoy your favorite music and radio channels. Many customers use those music/radio services at home and on their smart phone. Now with the Sensus Connected Touch they can enjoy Spotify and TuneIn in the Volvo cars safely while driving without using a mobile device and have that as a distracting factor while driving. So to be able to incorporate music services with the Sensus Connected Touch was very strong demand from the beginning. This was driven by consumer behaviors and expectations.

When did Volvo first identify a consumer demand for in-car wi-fi?

Bluetooth was the technology first chosen in the early study as the link for data transfer between the mobile phone and the Sensus Connected Touch. But from the beginning of the sharp project, late 2011, we changed the track to WiFi internet data transfer between the mobile phone and the Sensus Connected Touch. At the same time this enabled us to provide sharing a WiFi network in the car if you use a USB 3G/4G broadband dongle to get the internet connection to the Sensus Connected Touch. So WiFi was strongly driven from technology benefits, but also from a strong customer demand.

What is the future of the connected car?

Currently the Volvo On Call system has, for instance, a 50% take rate on the Swedish market and in Norway the take rate is even higher. The tendency is high take rates for connectivity solutions. The future for connected vehicles is very positive. We foresee a great interest in many markets and a heavy increase in connectivity take rates in the coming years starting now. We forsee a strong demand from our customers to make the car driving experience more enjoyable and car ownership simpler thanks to connectivity solutions. In addition, we have experienced an extremely high interest worldwide from customers and markets for the Sensus Connected Touch.

Additional information on the Sensus Connected Touch:

The Sensus Connected Touch product is a quick to market solution to enable connectivity in Volvo cars, connectivity with a very rich content, with a fresh, intuitive/easy to use HMI. The system will be available in the following models: S60, V60, XC60, S80, V70, XC70, V40, V40 CROSS COUNTRY starting in May 2013.

The Sensus Connected Touch can also be installed in cars from model year 2010 and onwards that have a 7″ screen.