Separated Sound Zone technology gives each car seat a private audio space
Using techniques similar to noise-canceling headphones, Hyundai-Kia Motors' Separated Sound Zone technology is designed to allow four people in a car to each have their own private sound system – without headphones. So the kids can rock out in the back, while you catch a quiet podcast and navigation cues in the front.
Hyundai-Kia's thinking is that once self-driving cars hit the mainstream, transport will immediately become all about entertainment for most passengers. Thus, it's building technology to allow multiple people to enjoy their own audio environment without disturbing others.
The SSZ system uses numerous speakers throughout the cabin, which project sounds to specific seats but are also cleverly programmed to phase-shift and neutralize sound waves coming from all the other speakers in the car – one can only imagine the complexity of the algorithms you'd need to build to achieve this effect.
This noise canceling feature won't affect the ability for people to speak to each other as it's designed to just affect what's coming out of the sound system. Likewise, it adds an extra degree of privacy to Bluetooth phone calls, and makes sure only the driver hears things like navigation cues and alert noises.
It's a fabulously clever idea, and will doubtless be a hugely popular feature – that's if it works as advertised. The terrible promotional video below doesn't do a lot to reassure us, but at the same time Hyundai-Kia says it's been working on this technology since 2014, and expects to start putting it in production cars "within one or two years."