Automotive Electronics

Deep coverage at the system, semiconductor and sensor levels, as well as the broad view of whole value chain. Highly detailed forecasts for automotive electronic system, semiconductor and sensor demand, analyzed by region and vehicle segment.

November 16, 2014 11:24 rlanctot

In the era of de-contenting cars we expect to see side-mounted rearview mirrors and door handles go away along with keyfobs, standard transmissions and internal combustion engines. Okay maybe losing the internal combustion engine will take a little more time, but then so will losing the steering wheel, which is where Google has goofed up again.

There are some things about the automotive industry that Google just doesn’t get and one of those is the fact that some of us, in fact most of us, are perfectly happy driving our cars. Some of us even thrive on the driving experience – love it. For Google? Driving is a distraction – a distraction from Google.

So when Google shifted gears earlier this year and re-stated its autonomous driving objective as a car without gas or brake pedals and no steering wheel, the industry took notice. But almost simultaneously the industry shook its collective head and said: “No, Google, we’re not going there with you. You’ve gone too far.”

The reaction consisted of two parts. The first part is pervasive skepticism that a pedal-less, steering wheel-less car is practical, possible or attractive to anyone or for any application. It is hard to overstate the case here. When Google stated its intention of bringing a steering wheel-less car to the market the irresistible juggernaut of Google’s autonomous car program collapsed like a novelty fart bag – pfffft!

The second part is the fact that the driving experience is in the midst of a major revolution and the steering wheel is very much a part of that. Driving is about to become safer, easier and more exciting thanks to leading automotive innovators.

A growing roster of companies is looking to the steering wheel for a wide range of applications from driver monitoring to human machine interfacing. Companies like Neusoft are adding biometric content to steering wheels to monitor the health of drivers, while Seeing Machines is working with Takata to add its driver monitoring tech to steering wheels for everything from commercial vehicle applications to self-driving cars from companies such as General Motors.

But maybe the most compelling vision is coming from Neonode in Stockholm, Sweden, which is using low-cost, LED-based “multi-sensing” interfaces to HMI-enable steering wheels. Neonode is best known for bringing capacitive-touch-like functionality to non-touch displays such as the Sensus system from Volvo. But the company is working to touch enable a much broader range of surfaces – including surfaces throughout the vehicle cabin and for keyless access to the car – enabling a wider range of gesture recognition applications.

Neonode’s vision is not only changing the concept of keyless entry – in the future to include raising or lowering windows or maybe starting the car with gestures – but also the process of interfacing with all manner of in-vehicle systems. In fact, a Neonode-enhanced steering wheel combined with a head-up display will obviate the need for hardware controllers (bye-bye BMW iDrive and Audi MMI) and greatly mitigate the need to glance away from the road.

In fact, the more you think about it, it just makes senses – which happens to be the company’s marketing slogan. Putting interfaces and touch-enabled displays on steering wheels resolves a multitude of challenges including driver distraction and lefty/right issues. And this is aside from the fact that systems for entering and recognizing kanji - used in the biggest and fastest growing automotive market in the world - are best mounted on the steering wheel not only to resolve the lefty-righty issue but to keep eyes on the road.

So, to recap, implementation of Neonode’s multi-sensing system products throughout a car will allow for the replacement of the capacitive touch display with a touch enabled non-touch display, deletion of the hardware controller, significant alteration (if not deletion) of the door handle, replacement of the keyfob (with a key card?) and enhancement of the steering wheel for a variety of new purposes – all intended to enhance the driver’s focus on the road.

Are we ready for Neonode’s vision of turning displays – or any other surface – into interfaces? It makes a lot more sense than removing the steering wheel. If you are attending the CES show, you’ll want to check out what they have on offer. See you there.


November 8, 2014 12:00 rlanctot

Day after day goes by with no resolution to the current auto recall crisis gripping the U.S. The number of fatalities attributed to GM’s ignition switch recall continues to rise even as the company acknowledges the fact that approximately 1M cars remain on the road with open recalls.

The situation has only grown worse with the emergence of the Takata airbag recall with the daily recounting on evening news broadcasts of a handful of drivers having their throats slashed by splintering airbag components.

With each passing day the auto industry is frittering away hard won customer respect, credibility and good will. Can we, as an industry, afford to allow this to continue?

The opportunity for car makers, dealers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is to find a creative solution to the crisis that will resolve the issue of tracking down recalled cars once and for all. There’s a pretty simple solution and it involves taking the responsibility for managing the customer communication process out of the hands of NHTSA.

If you want to know whether your car is subject to a recall you can visit NHTSA’s safercar.gov Website and enter your vehicle’s vehicle identification number (VIN). Many car makers provide their own VIN lookup resources as well.

But the NHTSA Website is creating a logjam rather than a flood. And with 1 of every 5 cars on the road in the U.S. subject to recall, it is time to open up the sluice gates.

In fact, it is not clear to me why NHTSA is seeking to manage or control the VIN lookup process. Imagine the huge boost to consumer interest in aftermarket vehicle data if the VIN lookup database were made available to selected commercial entities – like the Audiovox’s, Zubie’s and Moj.io’s of the world and their OBDII plug in devices.

Actually, my Audiovox CarConnection recently notified me of a potential recall on my car. It was a potential recall that neither BMW nor my dealer had notified me of. It turned out that the recall in question did not apply to my car, but another recall did – again, this recall was not communicated to me by either the dealer or BMW.

The point is twofold: First, the information is more valuable in private hands and Second, the existing information is incomplete. And, even though the NHTSA site offers a useful tool as a clearinghouse for customer complaints it is clear, by now, that NHTSA has a poor record of follow-up on these complaints.

The NHTSA VIN lookup actually has all available recall information going back more than a decade – or at least it is supposed to. I know, because I found an item on the list covering a $300 repair I made on my son’s car. (I am still working on arranging the refund through a local dealer. The dealer has found the recall but he cannot find the detailed information required to fulfill my reimbursement.)

But NHTSA is acting as a gatekeeper. The Website uses security tools to prevent scraping the detailed historical data. But why? Why not license the data to selected and approved third parties? And if the data were in the hands of a third party, that third party will be more likely to aggressively pursue the car makers for more complete information on behalf of consumers.

Third party service providers will have the appropriate incentives to commercialize the information and get it in front of customers. Third parties might even act as go-betweens for consumers seeking reimbursements for repairs they have already paid for but that were, as in my case, subject to an existing recall.

In the absence of such an approach, NHTSA remains part of the problem. CEO Michael Jackson of Autonation complained (in Automotive News: http://tinyurl.com/o927qj3 - “Poorly handled recalls are a 'black eye' for the industry, Jackson says”) that each brand he sells has a different procedure for handling the Takata airbag recall. But he concludes that a stronger NHTSA is necessary.

This is where Mr. Jackson is wrong. NHTSA needs to be deleted from the recall process entirely with recall and safety testing responsibility privatized – put in the hands of professionals with appropriate commercial motivations.

But we can start, at least, by getting the VIN lookup recall database out from behind the firewall. That data belongs to the owners of the effected cars. There should be nothing, including NHTSA, standing between consumers and valuable, life-saving information about their cars.

Open up the VIN database to appropriate partners – ie. NOT direct mail fraudsters – and let consumers take charge of solving the problem. In the absence of free, open access to this data, GM has been reduced to offering $25 gift cards to vehicle owners who have not yet brought their cars in: http://tinyurl.com/ky2fgfl - “GM Offers Gift Cards to Owners of Recalled Cars” – GM Authority.

In fact, why aren’t state-level DMV operations integrating with the VIN recall database? Every new or renewed registration ought to represent an opportunity to identify cars with open recalls. Am I stupid or something? This seems to be a pretty obvious step, especially when the recalls in question represent potentially life-threatening failures.

The recall crisis is indeed an opportunity. It is an opportunity for someone or some organization to step forward or step up with a rational reasonable solution to a legitimate crisis. Every day that the car makers and NHTSA allow the problem to fester is another ounce of lost industry credibility and consumer confidence. It will take millions of dollars in advertising to win back that good will. Can we, as an industry, afford to wait to solve this problem?


November 7, 2014 01:39 rlanctot

The Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate in this week’s mid-term elections throws into doubt the prospect of the Obama administration making any progress on protecting the use of the 5.9GHz band for vehicle-to-vehicle communications, as requested by the ITS community and the Department of Transportation.  Republicans have strongly indicated their opposition to all things Obama, and with control of both houses of Congress in their hands V2V communications can be expected to take a back seat.

In letters to Republican and Democratic congressmen sent shortly before the election, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler, indicated his intention to pursue the required testing of unlicensed use of the 5.9GHz band and diplomatically danced around the issue of enabling both uses – V2V and Wi-Fi – of the spectrum in question – a scenario opposed by the DOT.

“Starting with Chairman Genachowski, the Commission has prioritized the 5GHz rulemaking and focused significant resources on this proceeding in order to make this band available for shared, unlicensed use to the maximum extent possible.  Our March 31, 2014, Order revised our Part 15 rules to permit expanded unlicensed use of the 5GHz band, and we designated the very issues that you raise for further review and consideration.

“The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) specialized “Tiger Team” is actively reviewing two leading proposals submitted by the Wi-Fi industry to address interference issues within the upper 5GHz band.  Commission staff has encouraged and monitored the group’s progress.  At the same time, the Commission continues to work collaboratively with other federal stakeholders, including the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Department of Transportation, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to encourage the development of viable solutions to protect incumbent users from harmful interference, while maximizing the potential shared use of this spectrum.  We are hopeful that these efforts will lead to testing and analysis that will inform our decision-making process.

“The shared use of the 5GHz band is a highly complex undertaking, as evinced (sic) by the seven Petitions for Reconsideration of our initial Order, which we are also currently considering.  Nevertheless, we intend to continue to move as expeditiously as possible to achieve our goal of further expanding Wi-Fi use and spurring innovation and economic development.”

Ambiguous those these comments may seem, they are less than a ringing endorsement of the DOT’s preference for protected use of the spectrum.  The entire V2V proposition with the implications for infrastructure investments and mandated automotive hardware run counter to the core philosophy of the Republican Party.

To top things off, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) still lacks a permanent director and is fighting its way through heavy criticism and second guessing over the recent Takata and GM recalls.  NHTSA is in no position to pursue a V2V mandate against the headwinds of a lame duck President and a hostile Congress.

The mid-term elections brought unhappy tidings for the Democrats and President Obama.  It is time for the ITS community to take a soul-searching look at these same results and cook up a new approach to vehicle connectivity more suitable to the current political landscape. 


October 24, 2014 23:01 rlanctot

I’ve just come from the site of the 15th Western China International Fair in Chengdu and the booth of the Telematics Industry Application Alliance (TIAA) which featured more than a half dozen demonstrations of every imaginable configuration of eCall. ECall is what Europe has dubbed the automatic crash notification (ACN) function made famous by GM's OnStar.

There were embedded systems on display from Huawei and an aftermarket cigarette lighter plug in (not unlike the Splitsecnd product in the U.S.). There were head units from HSAE for passenger cars and commercial vehicles with ACN and systems with integrated smartphones. There was even an Ivoka OBDII plug-in from Pateo.

In the U.S., eCall, or ACN, is considered old hat. Most executives concerned with saving lives associated with car accidents have shifted their focus from surviving accidents (with airbags and seatbelts) to avoiding them altogether, with sensor-based safety systems. While TIAA in China is weighing the prospect of a recommended standard or mandate for eCall, the U.S. has never seriously considered the idea.

There is good reason for China’s auto industry to be interested in eCall. Accidents on Chinese highways are responsible for upwards of 100,000 fatalities annually – about three times the number killed every year in the U.S. (To put the figures into perspective, 300 people are dying every day on roads in China vs. 100/day in the U.S.)

China and India top the list of countries with the most highway fatalities, followed by Brazil and the U.S. Europe, which sees less than half the highway fatality rate of the U.S., on average, has been attempting to institute a mandatory eCall function for about a decade. In fact, Europe was recently joined by Russia which is pushing its own eCall-like solution.

Having just come from Brazil, where BMW and Volvo are offering ACN functionality, I can honestly say that ACN is seeing something of a revival. A new study from Strategy Analytics (Consumer Interest in Telematics Services - http://tinyurl.com/n8v33z4shows consumer interest in ACN as a telematics service at a low ebb in the U.S. and Europe, but gaining traction in China.

New telematics systems in the U.S., such as those offered by Audi and Tesla, have shown a willingness among car makers to not even bother with ACN. But in China, the largest and fastest growing auto market in the world, a wide range of suppliers from wireless carriers to head unit makers, are working on enhancements such as crash type and severity algorithms of the type developed by BMW and GM more than five years ago.

The only region contemplating an eCall mandate is Europe where highway fatalities are already at the lowest levels in the world. The added twist to the eCall debate is the United Nations’ interest in a global eCall mandate - a topic that will be considered at the upcoming Telematics Update event in Munich (Nov. 10-11 - Hotel Dolce, Munich - http://tinyurl.com/yfkbt9f). With annual global highway fatalities expected to top 2M in just a few years, cars are becoming a leading killer on the scale of a major worldwide health crisis.

Maybe it’s time to set aside all the app development and smartphone integration and get back to the basics of saving and preserving lives while cruising along the world’s highways. We boldly advance the cause of collision avoidance before we have conquered the process of collision survival.

Is it cheaper to make crashes survivable or to avoid them altogether? Of course, we want to do both.

The World Health Organization predicts that road traffic injuries will go from the current ninth position in the cause-of-death rankings to fifth place by 2030, causing 2.4M annual deaths (as well as between 20M and 50M injuries), largely of young people and at great economic cost – as noted in “The Norm Chronicles: Stories and Numbers About Danger and Death.”

It’s time to think again before crossing ACN off the list of telematics services when designing connected systems. The next life saved by an eCall may be your own.


October 14, 2014 01:28 rlanctot

Google is quietly calling the tune in automotive technology development. I see it every day.

Two companies have found success recently in bringing advanced vehicle technologies to the market on two very different trajectories. One, Quanergy, recently made public its relationship with Daimler as part of a plan to bring advanced safety technology to the market. The other, Making Virtual Solid (MVS), has acknowledged its relationship with Toyota for an advanced head-up display.

Quanergy has gone from concept to OEM deal within a year of obtaining its first funding. MVS has been banging away at its solution for nearly a decade laboring in the shadows while courting Tier 1s and OEMs seemingly to no avail.

The difference between the path to market for these two companies is Google. Google cares about advanced driver assist technologies. It does not appear to care about head-up displays.

I still remember meeting MVS company president, at the time, Myra Schulman, at an industry event many years ago and being perplexed and intrigued by the company’s name. I have since gotten to know Juliana Clegg who has been carrying the flag for the past five years or so.

The fact that Quanergy found a more rapid path to the market reflects the growing influence of Google. Quanergy’s Lidar-based system is intended to replace the $70,000 Velodyne unit made famous by the rig on top of the Google self-driving car.

Quanergy is driving down the size and cost of that system to about the size of a hockey puck and the cost of an iPad. In contrast, MVS has been slogging away at the significantly less sexy head-up display category but with a no less radical technological leap in packaging, cost and performance.

The MVS solution creates what is called a volumetric, 3D head-up display that will enable safer communication of navigational cues and safety alerts in the context of the visual field ahead of the vehicle. The cost and packaging of the MVS system could help bring the technology to vehicles outside of the upper reaches of the luxury segment to which they have been until-now confined.

 

But without any interest from Google in head-up displays, car makers regard the category with something less than enthusiasm, though companies such as Continental have continued to steadily advance HUD technology with multiple OEM partners. The fact that Toyota is the first to adopt the MVS solution is a head turner and should open some eyes.

Multiple use cases are illustrated in a Car and Driver report (http://tinyurl.com/ofo2um5 - Toyota Developing Radical Head-up Display for Production) including the description of how the display will alert drivers to hazardous driving circumstances. In fact, the Toyota adoption of the MVS technology may in itself change the perception of the technology and restore interest in non-Google initiatives.

Still, you can sense the venture capitalists weighing the merits of investing in emerging automotive technology suppliers against Google’s commitment to or interest in their technology. It is close to amazing that MVS has made it to market at all. When the car companies and their suppliers keep you waiting, it is tempting to lose heart even as you are losing money.  (MVS executives are quick to point out the fact that their efforts have been funded by multiple OEMs throughout the development cycle.)  It looks as if MVS’s patience has finally been rewarded. Maybe Google will take note.


August 20, 2014 12:24 rlanctot

The U.S. Department of Transportation is seeking to mandate the installation of a device in cars for vehicle-to-vehicle communications. For some reason the agency fails to perceive that there is already a life-saving device in the car. That device is called a wireless phone.

The wireless phone is typically acquired voluntarily by the driver. It is capable of communicating with other drivers as well as with law enforcement and emergency responders. It is also capable of receiving emergency alerts.

Depending on how the phone is configured it can be set to automatically make emergency calls. And in some cars – notably from Chrysler and Ford in the U.S. – the phone can make approved automatic crash notification calls to summon assistance in the event of a collision.

The wireless phone is normally equipped with the latest wireless network technology and is therefore never at risk of being outmoded by a transition to new technology or by the shutoff of a particular network or piece of wireless spectrum. The device is also possessed of extraordinary processing power and a variety of sensors for positioning and location. It is also equipped for voice, data, video, and text communications.

The device itself is usually replaced on a regular basis to take advantage of advances in technology. Software updates for the device are free of charge and accomplished safely whether the device is in use or not.

Applications exist to enable the wireless phone to communicate with infrastructure and with other vehicles. And some apps (Global Mobile Alert) will alert drivers (who may be distracted by wireless phone calls) to dangerous driving circumstances such as the proximity of intersections or railroad crossings.

Wireless phones using applications such as Driveway can evaluate driving behavior and provide suggestions for safer driving behavior. Multiple applications are available for tracking location via the mobile phone for worried family members or friends as well as to alert them based on geo-fencing.

But the very best aspect of the wireless phone is that it is brought into the car voluntarily at no added cost to the car maker or customer. Deployment of the technology is immediate as are the benefits. Best of all it is demand-driven – no coercion is required.

Even better, no prototyping, testing, or assessment of user interfaces is needed. And there is no requirement for dedicated, protected spectrum or protracted comment periods for car makers, consumers or suppliers. No new standards, consortia, testbeds or congressional hearings.

Bottom line: The U.S. Department of Transportation needs to take a closer look at wireless phones as a means for achieving communications between vehicles or between vehicles and their drivers and infrastructure. Mandating a module is a dead end deal.


August 18, 2014 10:02 rlanctot

In the eyes of the car industry the only thing worse than telling car makers what kind of cars to build is telling dealers what kind of cars to sell. Both propositions smack of restraint of trade or even, dare I say it, socialism.

So it was no surprise when a National Automobile Dealers Association economist spoke at the Traverse City Management Briefing Seminar two weeks ago about how the Federal targets for higher fuel efficiency will curb the industry’s ability to sell more cars “after the end of this decade,” according to the report in Automotive News (http://tinyurl.com/olkt6pd - “Fuel regs will stymie industry after 2018, NADA economist says”)

The NADA has long opposed the Federal Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFÉ) fuel efficiency target of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Automotive News quotes Steven Szakaly, chief economist for NADA as saying: “Unless gasoline prices rise significantly, or we see consumers becoming irrational and everyone buying an electric car, it’s tough to think of consumers willing to pay $3,000 to $7,000 more for the exact same car, just because someone in Washington, D.C., or California says they need to buy it.”

There are a few things wrong with Szakaly’s statement.

1) Who’s to say the cost differential will be in the range he claims by 2025?

2) What will the price of gas be at that time?

3) What will the range of fueling alternatives look like at that time?

4) How will cars themselves differ by that time?

5) Is 54.5 MPG really so much to ask?

But the biggest question of all? Who, better than a car dealer, knows how to sell a payment? As the prices of cars have risen the length of financing terms have grown to 60 months and longer along with a rise in leasing. And, by the way, it’s no secret that cars are lasting longer, upwards of 11 years.

But let’s unpack the ecologically unfriendly viewpoint of the NADA and take a closer look at reality and the changing regulatory landscape. Not only are higher fuel efficiency standards coming, they are arriving as a zero-emissions vehicle requirement is taking hold in 10 states.

The 54.5 MPG target for conventional internal combustion engines derives from the Federal government’s effort to harmonize fuel efficiency standards across the country. While politicians may debate the reality of global warming, regulators have accepted that greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change and must be reduced – particularly CO2 emissions from cars.

The shift to CAFÉ was an assertion that only the Federal government could set fuel efficiency standards. The California Air Resources Board’s greenhouse gas emission reduction standards were introduced and challenged in 2004 for being a backdoor means of setting fuel efficiency standards.

California proceeded thereafter to introduce its Zero Emission Vehicles requirements, which were adopted by 10 states including Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York New Jersey, Oregon and Maryland. Eight of those states (ie. excluding Maine and New Jersey) signed a memorandum of understanding in 2013 for an Action Plan released in May of 2014 (http://tinyurl.com/n9c5qo7 - Maryland’s MultiState ZEV Action Plan brochure). The eight Action Plan states will meet next month to determine next steps.

The combined total of vehicle sales in the Action Plan states represents approximately 30% of total vehicle sales in the U.S. California’s influence, alone, has historically been persuasive enough to influence global vehicle emissions policy, but with the support of nine additional states, the ZEV program is emerging as a model for other countries (and U.S. states) wrestling with the desire to bring more zero emission vehicles into use.

The objective of the ZEV program is to “enhance energy security, diversity and reliability by reducing our dependence on petroleum products for transportation fuel,” in the words of the Action Plan. The member states seek to have 3.3M ZEVs on the road by 2025.

Selling cars in the U.S. will mean current market participants and new players will have to contend with the ZEV requirement. This explains why there are 28 car models currently on the road that fulfill the EV or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) requirements, plus two fuel cell vehicles, the 2014 Honda FCX Clarity and 2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell.

The Action Plan brochure notes the existence of 17,945 publicly accessible charging stations distributed across 9,330 sites nationally.

NADA’s skeptical stance toward alternative fuels ignores multiple market realities including the rising cost of fuel, a shift in vehicle ownership behavior, the growing longevity of vehicles, an increased emphasis on total cost of ownership, and the importance of ecological responsibility. One of the action plan items is dealer outreach to prepare and educate dealers to take on the selling and marketing of ZEVs.

But NADA has yet to come to grips with selling ZEVs, the organization is more concerned about the 54.5 MPG Federal target for 2025. While 54.5 MPG sounds stiff, the reality is that the 54.5 target translates, in real-world use, to something more in the 36-38 MPG range. The 54.5 figure is the sticker target before adjusting for air conditioning and real use.

The goal of CAFE is a fleet-wide, national standard for fuel efficiency with corresponding emission reductions. The bigger issue for the Federal government is how to fund highway repairs and improvements in the face of declining gas tax revenues – a gap that will only grow with improvements in fuel efficiency. States such as Oregon and California are either pondering or testing odometer-style per-mile road use taxation.

It seems clear that the time has arrived for dealers to embrace the sales and marketing of fuel efficient cars. Szakaly’s quibble that more fuel efficient cars will cost $3,000-$7,000 more 2-3 years from now is not borne out by the facts. The EPA estimates that the added cost for greater fuel efficiency will be $3,000 at the high end.

There are bigger changes impacting the auto industry than just fuel efficiency improvements – pushed by government regulation. The rapid adoption of collision avoidance technologies and inter-vehicle communication will ultimately alter vehicle design, though perhaps not appreciably by 2025. But, longer term, in a world where cars don’t collide weight can be greatly reduced and fuel efficiency greatly enhanced.

I find it hard to believe that car dealers are going to have a tough time selling a product that lasts longer and longer and costs less and less to own and operate. Might these vehicles have higher sticker prices? Sure. But if anyone knows how to sell a payment it’s a dealer. This is no time to be complaining about progress.

Qualifying ZEV Vehicles Currently on U.S. Roads:

2014 Smart fortwo EV Convertible and Coupe

2014 Fiat 500e

2013 Scion iQ EV

2014 Chevy Spark EV

2014 Ford Focus EV

2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

2014 Nissan Leaf EV

2014 Tesla Model S EV

2014 Honda Fit EV

2014 Toyota RAV4 EV

2013/14 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid

2014 BMW i3 REX

2013/14 Ford C-Max Energi Plug-in Hybrid

2013/14/15 Ford Fusion Energi Plug-in Hybrid

2011/12/13/14 Chevy Volt EREV

2014/15 Cadillac ELR EREV

2014/15 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid

2015 Porsch 918 Spyder Plug-in Hybrid

2012 Fisker Karma

2014 Honda FCX Clarity

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell


August 10, 2014 16:31 rlanctot

J.D. Power waded into the swamp of automotive voice recognition technology last week at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminar in Traverse City.  JDP’s executive director of driver interaction, Kristin Kolodge, presented slides and videos to show JDP’s assessment of the abysmal state of VR today.

 

Kristin said JDP’s annual Initial Quality Study of vehicles sold in the U.S. revealed VR tech as the most common type of “malfunction.”  VR was to blame for one-third of infotainment system failures – which is significant since infotainment systems have emerged in the past few years as the single biggest source of failures in new cars.

 

Kristin’s prescription, according to the report on her talk in Automotive News, was to get back to basics – that automakers should give up trying to add new features.  This recommendation alarmed me because the industry is actually on the verge of a major industrywide upgrade to natural language speech recognition and this is no time to turn back.

 

Recognizing that it had a problem on its hands with VR technology, most car makers have been turning in the direction of the skid.  Car makers see that they need to do better and that doing better means bringing automotive grade speech recognition systems to cars that adapt to humans rather than forcing humans to adapt to them.

 

There are several problems with VR today and they include:

 

Overly specific menus and poorly conceived architectures

 

Attempts to use voice recognition where it is an inappropriate interface

 

Multiple on-board speech recognition systems

 

Voice interfaces that work with some apps and not others

 

Confusing cues

 

Speaking to an inanimate object is an unnatural act, so there is no surprise that getting consumers to change their behavior is a big step.  Ford took the biggest step by making speech recognition the focal point of the original SYNC system.  But Ford changed its VR architecture and expanded the vocabulary with SYNC Gen 2 with disastrous results.

 

The problem is that once consumers have had a bad experience, it is tough to win them back.  And winning consumers back to automotive VR is important because VR is a powerful tool for combatting driver distraction.

 

Unfortunately, VR systems on the road today - most of which were designed or created three yeras ago - actually create distraction.  So let’s quickly review where we are headed with speech recognition:

 

NLU is the future of VR in the car

 

Whether you look to AT&T’s Watson or Nuance’s Dragon Drive or to VoiceBox’s conversational recognizer, VR tech is rapidly becoming a more natural experience in the car thanks to natural language understanding (NLU).  It is true that Apple’s Siri and Google Voice work impressively on mobile devices held close to the mouth, but in the car, automotive grade systems optimized for the automotive environment and automotive use cases are best.

 

Learning and Personalization

 

VR suppliers are increasingly integrating abilities into the NLU systems that introduce learning capabilities.  A standout in this area is MeMeMe Mobile which personalizes speech recognition to the speaker for use within and beyond the car.

 

Application Focus

 

Drivers want a reliable VR solution for hands-free access to telephony, navigation (destination entry!) and audio.  All other functions in the car – such as HVAC – are best handled with other types of controls.  But appropriate integration of VR technology is key.  You may use voice to look up an audio track, but a manual control to increase the volume.

 

Reducing Distraction

 

Luxury cars are already reading text messages and emails and allowing drivers to respond in a hands-free or, preferred, an automated manner.  The influential California legislature has considered banning this type of functionality, but, if implemented properly and without legislative interference, such a capability could be a useful distraction mitigation tool.

 

JDP’s IQS study is an important bellwether for the automotive industry.  But let’s not forget that the perennially grumpy users responding to JDP’s study are using three-year-old technology.  Advances in automotive VR are closer than they may appear to be when looking at today’s new cars.


August 9, 2014 14:15 rlanctot

The Annual Traverse City Management Briefing Seminar quietly concluded this week without shedding any newsworthy light on the future of alternative powertrains, the realistic prospects for autonomous vehicles or the ongoing impact of China on vehicle design and production.  Also missing was a presentation explaining how the auto industry was going to overcome the worst year on record for vehicle recalls.  And no one mentioned the ongoing carnage on U.S. highways – nearly 100 daily fatalities.

 

If it weren’t for a stirring, from the heart and straight from the shoulder, speech from Fiat’s Sergio Marchione (who was coincidentally briefing financial analysts away from the event), I am sure the attendees will have spent much of their time sleeping off their cocktails or working on their golf strokes.

 

Full Automotive News coverage can be found here: http://www.autonews.com/section/tcity

 

I got to thinking about Traverse City because I am preparing to moderate a panel at an overseas event and the sponsor and operator of the event wants to put its customers on the panel I am moderating.  My thought was that it will be more interesting to put the customers’ customers on the panel – they are more likely to speak freely.

 

Free speech was in short supply at Traverse City, at least until Marchione stepped to the lectern.  Marchione spoke freely about wanting to claw back the profits his suppliers are bragging about every quarter in their financial reports.  This perspective was in conflict with the more palliative comments of those same suppliers, many of whom spoke at the event of a new age in the automotive industry when auto makers will no longer hammer their suppliers chipping away at those profit margins.

 

These auto industry suppliers – nVidia and Delphi notably among them - were surfacing an issue which has crept to the forefront of the automotive industry and which the industry itself is still struggling to manage.  The average car now has more than 100M lines of code on board. The software content is gradually coming to eclipse the hardware content in the car. 

 

Sourcing software is a far more complex exercise than sourcing hardware.  What are you buying as a car maker?  Bits and bytes?  Software code? Do you own that code or do you rent it?  Does your supplier own that code or is it open source?  How do you maintain and/or replace that code? And where does liability reside?

 

 

 

For years the automotive industry has been pursuing a strategy of segregating hardware from software, while suppliers have been fighting to keep hardware and software firmly stitched together in competitive bids. 

 

By selling hardware and software as a package, Tier 1 suppliers may feel they have more pricing flexibility.  Now, even Harman has acknowledged the ascendance of software.  Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal recently told Bloomberg in an interview that his intention is to reduce the companies hardware manufacturing activities and shift its focus to software, which already represents 75% of Harman's revenue. ttp://tinyurl.com/oa5hbv8 - Harman Stakes Future in Software as Autos Become Smarter)

 

 

 

Unfortunately, car makers are increasingly determined to segregate these two pieces.  The net result is that contract manufacturers have emerged to compete with and sometimes partner with Tier 1s while software only integrators have proliferated.  Tier 1s that might have played fast and loose in their bids – offering “integration” for “free” may have painted themselves into a corner. 

 

All suppliers are putting a price tag on integration these days.  In fact, integration has become a “thing.”

 

Tier 1 suppliers from Bosch and Continental to Delphi, Magna and Denso are caught up in this battle to either preserve their hardware/software packages or create separate software teams to pursue RFQs with segregated hardware and software requirements.  But it is more complex than that, as auto makers have sought to take ownership of the software code and related intellectual property.

 

Missing from the Traverse City event was a voice from the software side of the industry.  Stuffy old Traverse City

(50 years running) missed the email once again – nary a word was heard of open source software, Google/Android or Linux.  The most likely source of such a perspective was John Ellis of Ford, who participated on the “Designing for Technology and the Customer” panel.

 

John is a truth talker, but I’m not sure the Traverse City crowd was ready for two double shots of espresso in one week.  Marchione surely left a few headaches and upset stomachs in his wake.

 

Just as Google was not represented at the Traverse City event there was also no speaker from a wireless carrier, a Chinese car maker, Tesla Motors, a leading dealer organization (with the possible exception of Joe Carlier, senior vice president of Penske Logistics) or a single car owner – or even a victim of a car crash resulting from a vehicle defect.

 

The rising influence of software is transforming the automotive industry.  To preserve its relevance, the Traverse City Management Briefing Seminars needs to integrate a powerful voice for the role of software in vehicle design and operation.  How about a panel on the role of GenIVI, AUTOSAR and model-based software?  How about a panel on the challenge in finding enough programmers to fulfill the industry's requirements.  Even powertrains come with engine controls, after all.

 

It would also be helpful to include a voice from the wireless industry – since vehicle connectivity and software updates are rapidly becoming de rigueur.  Tesla anyone?

 

We’ll see if the Center for Automotive Research can reverse this Traverse City travesty.  If it continues on its current trajectory, your time on the Upper Peninsula, if you go next year, will be better spent on the golf course.


August 7, 2014 16:22 rlanctot

I thought the Mercedes S Class was the most advanced car on the road, thanks in large part to its safety system portfolio and multiple expert reviews. Dan Carney has a different opinion on this subject.

Consumers are definitely getting mixed messages from the insurance industry and the Intelligent Transportation Systems community (ITS). The ITS folks are telling us that human beings are responsible for 90% of accidents. The insurance industry – judging from Nationwide’s latest auto insurance TV ads in the U.S. – is telling us that “the safest feature in the car is you.” (http://tinyurl.com/mbevlw7 - Nationwide Insurance ad.)

The ITS community wants to automate the driving task – as much as possible – with intelligent highways that will force the driver to relinquish control of the car. But until that day arrives, we are all going to have to do a whole lot of our own driving – so the Nationwide message, though contradictory, is a powerful one.

The Nationwide message is made even more powerful in the context of the limitations of current semi-automated driving systems such as automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. This was brought home to me today as I sat in a local Starbucks with autowriter (and Euroswift racer) Dan Carney who took umbrage with my suggestion that he should look at the Mercedes S Class as the safest car on the road.

Dan’s own experience with the S Class highlighted for him the enduring role played by the driver. In his experience driving the S Class he identified at least three scenarios where driver intervention will deliver a superior and safer driving experience:

Scenario 1 – Moving smoothly in traffic, Dan says he could see an approaching wave of stop lights in the cars up ahead. Unfortunately, the S Class is not equipped to see that same wave and, as a result, the automatic emergency brake did not kick in until the system perceived a stopped vehicle immediate in front of the car.

Instead of a smooth, gliding stop managed by a driver anticipating the slowdown, each incident produced a more urgent, near-tire-screeching braking experience. The automated system was unable to apprehend the braking of the cars up ahead. (This could conceivably be remedied by vehicle-to-vehicle communication – at some future date.)

Scenario 2 – Using adaptive cruise control to maintain a steady following distance worked well for Dan, until he passed highway entrance ramps. The car showed no awareness of these ramps and definitely did not seek any means to accommodate merging vehicles. Dan was left to gesture wordlessly to the angry but unsuccessful mergers: “It’s not me. It’s my car.” That’s right, at that point your car has turned you into an @#$hole. NOTE: Dan said he intervened to allow the mergers in.

Scenario 3 – Dan was stopped in a line of cars, but could see cars ahead beginning to move and shift out of the stopped lane. The adaptive cruise control, however, was not able to anticipate this activity until the car immediately in front finally moved. This meant that the car wanted to charge forward at the very same moment that opportunists to the right and left wanted to surge into the now-open space – a recipe for an accident. (Again, vehicle-to-vehicle communications will help in the future.)

Thanks for sharing, Dan.

So, it looks like Nationwide is right. For now, you, the driver, are still the safest thing in the car. Automated systems are helpful, but even the most advanced systems have not yet found a way to replace the advantages of the old-fashioned analog on-board visual system – the human being.

The Mercedes requires the driver’s hands to be on the wheel for the automated systems to function. If the driver has his or her hands on the wheel, this might prevent the very scenarios as described from unfolding without driver intervention. But, on a lighter note, a Jalopnik report notes a means to defeat this element of the automated safety package: http://tinyurl.com/obglrqd - This Simple Hack Lets Your Mercedes Become Semi-Autonomous. This is definitely in the category of an off-label use of the safety systems.