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Wayne Cunningham/CNET

For Harman, you are your phone

Auto electronics supplier Harman International demonstrated a new concept in human-car connectivity at the 2012 Geneva auto show, using a smartphone with near field communication as a personalization key.

Harman International built a mobile DJ setup into one of Rinspeed's packs for its Dock+Go concept. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Harman International, in looking for a way to personalize the in-car experience, found that the most unique thing everyone carries is a phone. In its demonstration of a new dashboard electronics system, Harman pointed out that people are more likely to loan someone else their car keys than their phones.

At the 2012 Geneva auto show, Harman used Rinspeed's Dock+Go concept car to show off the new system. In the car we had a number of smartphones, each equipped with near field communications, belonging to a variety of different people (set up for the purposes of the demonstration).

When a phone belonging to an avid skier was placed in the car, the LCD brought up current ski conditions. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

As each phone was set down on a spot in the car equipped with a near field communication reader, a welcome message for the phone's ostensible owner showed up on the car's screen, followed by information each would find useful. For example, the car would access a set of destinations or playlists depending on who the phone identified was driving the car.

This system was tied in with Harman subsidiary Aha, using app integration to make podcasts, Yelp reviewed restaurants, and other audio information available. The Aha integration would be unique to each person's phone, as it is based on an app.

Another element of the Harman demonstration, not directly tied into the phone-based car personalization, was a new kind of gesture controller. Merely by moving his hand over a sensor, the demonstrator caused menu items to scroll across a screen. The items were typical car electronics functions such as navigation, climate control, and audio.

The sensor is made up of an infrared projector and two receivers. Using doppler calculations, the sensor can tell which way a hand is moved across it, or if a hand is moved directly down toward it, allowing for a variety of different control reactions.

Harman pointed out that the components for the sensor are very cheap, similar to home electronics remote controls, and could easily be deployed in inexpensive cars.

The car's LCD showed locations where different types of packs were kept, and which ones were currently available. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

The platform for Harman's electronics demonstration, the Rinspeed Dock+Go, shows off the concept of having a variety of wheeled packs for a car that could extend its capabilities in a number of different directions. Using the electric Smart car as its cabin, packs that can be added include an extra battery for more range or a simple carrier for increased cargo capacity. Harman used its audio expertise to come up with its own idea for a pack, a mobile DJ setup.

Harman's phone-based personalization also worked with the Dock+Go concept. The car's LCD showed the locations of docking rental stations where the phone owner had a membership, and which types of docks were available. As a particular dock was added to the car, its capabilities were reflected in the cabin electronics.

Not many phones have near field communication technology yet, making deployment of Harman's concept a future endeavor. But as phone's gain prominence as our personal assistants, the idea certainly has merit.