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Car Tech

Bose NEAR makes your car sound safe

Bose levers its audio staging technology to presents a new safety concept called NEAR at CES 2016, placing audio prompts in your car to where they make the most sense.

Bose's headrest-mounted speakers make it easier to localize specific sounds in a car's cabin, enabling the NEAR concept.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET

With digital signal processing and smart speaker placement, automotive audio system makes can "place" sounds from a music track in specific areas of a car's cabin. At CES 2016, Bose showed a concept leveraging that staging expertise to "place" navigation prompts, phone calls and alerts to where they make the most sense.

Bose calls the concept NEAR, an acronym for "Non-Entertainment Audio Rendering," and it could decrease cognitive dissonance for drivers, increasing safety.

As navigation and Bluetooth hands-free phone systems have become available in almost every car on the market, automakers merely piped all their associated audio right into sound systems, so phone call audio and navigation prompts play from the same speakers as the stereo. Typically, the music volume will lower for a call or prompt, and some automakers send navigation prompts only to driver-side speakers.

In a demonstration of NEAR at CES, Bose showed how it could place navigation prompts where they made the most sense, and keep phone calls focused on the driver.

A screen in front of the demonstration car showed a drive through Las Vegas, while music played over the stereo. As a graphic indication for a right turn showed up on the screen, the navigation voice prompt, saying "Turn right now," sounded off from the right side of the dashboard. Likewise, left turn prompts came from the left side of the dashboard. The effect is to call the driver's attention to the direction they need to turn.

Using its headrest-mounted speakers, Bose isolated the sound from an incoming phone call to the area near the driver's head. This programming could make a call seem a little more private, or at least not disturbing to other passengers.

For now, NEAR is just a concept. To make it work, a car's head unit would need to digitally tag the audio it sends to the car's amplifier, naming audio inputs as a phone call, navigation prompt or an alert, so the audio system would know where to place it.

Check out the rest of CNET's CES 2016 coverage here.