AUTOMOTIVE MULTIMEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS

Detailed system and semiconductor demand analysis for in-vehicle infotainment, telematics and vehicle-device connectivity features.

March 19, 2015 07:57 rlanctot

Ford Motor Company is changing the car connectivity story with the launch of its Ford Service Delivery Network - in essence the Ford Cloud. The amazing thing about this announcement from Ford, which is working with Microsoft Azure along with a few other partners such as Accenture, is its focus on software updates and the fact that it comes from Ford - the original promoter of smartphone connectivity in cars.

 

To be clear, the focus on software updates for Ford initially will be dependent on thumb drives, smartphone-based updates or visits to dealers, but the message is important in the context of an industry coming to grips with keeping software up to date in cars. The average IT professional understands that where there is software there will be updates. Until recently it seemed that the automotive industry hadn't gotten that particular email message.

(As a side note - any car company introducing the Android OS into a dashboard will DEFINITELY need a software update capability. It is worth noting that Blackberry's QNX has mastered the art of delivering real-time operating system software capable of enduring for a decade or more - something learned from industries well beyond the orbit of consumer electronics.)

After the record-breaking recall rate of 2014 and the corresponding revelations of vehicle hacking vulnerability touching GM and BMW, the message is clear that all cars need the means to receive software updates and they need that capability today. If there were any remaining doubts, there is Tesla Motors to contend with. Tesla continues to run circles around the rest of the world's auto makers with its over-the-air software update capabilities.

More than the technical achievement of updating vehicle software - something GM has been doing with OnStar for many years - Tesla introduced the idea of automotive software updates to the masses. Tesla made the idea of software updates for cars not only socially acceptable but, in fact, an attractive point of differentiation.

The typical car maker has been hesitant to update software for a wide range of reasons including:

  • Actual architectural limitations of vehicles to receive or distribute updates over the vehicle network
  • Inability to guarantee/warranty/confirm the reception and installation of full software update payload
  • Dealer resistance to over-the-air updates that might take away opportunities to engage with customers
  • Security concerns
  • Customer acceptance

At long last, it appears, the downside of having cars on the road with old software has outweighed all of these concerns. In fact, the upside potential of over-the-air software updates only grows including:

  • The need to update security software code/algorithms/credentials
  • The need to update safety system algorithms (airbag deployment systems!)
  • Map updates
  • User interface updates
  • App updates
  • Enhancements or essential modifications to vehicle functions
  • Added vehicle functionality
  • Cost savings from warranty/recall exposure

Software updates are increasingly recognized as the silver bullet for justifying built-in vehicle connectivity. This is yet another reason why Ford's leadership position is so unusual since, aside from Ford's EVs and a few Lincoln's, Ford is still reliant on connected smartphones for its vehicle connectivity.

Ford's approach does reflect, though, ongoing challenges regarding wireless charges associated with software updates. Ford's current update regime sidesteps the high cost of wireless downloads in favor of USB, smartphone or Wi-Fi-based update delivery.

There are other issues to bear in mind. The software configuration from car to car is far more variable than most people realize, which requires significant back-end infrastructure to ensure that the correct update gets to the correct car at the correct time. This reality is also likely to complicate the LTE broadcast capability now being proposed by wireless carriers.
 

Satellites to the rescue?

I  was part of a panel discussion yesterday at Satellite 2015 in Washington, DC, where the prospect of satellite-based software updates for cars was discussed. While SiriusXM attempted three years ago to offer up its satellite infrastructure for software updates, the automotive industry declined the offer due to the limited capacity of the SiriusXM "pipe."

A new contender, Kymeta, has announced plans to deliver software updates to cars in partnership with IntelSat (with other satellite providers expected to participate in the future as well). Kymeta's solution may be a few years away from the market, but it is clear, thanks to Ford, that the automotive industry is now ready.

In time, software updates to cars will become routine. Ford's announcement is a big step in the direction of establishing software updates as a valuable service and a differentiating characteristic of Ford vehicles. And, besides, it just makes good sense.


March 19, 2015 07:39 rlanctot

Ford Motor Company is changing the car connectivity story with the launch of its Ford Service Delivery Network - in essence the Ford Cloud. The amazing thing about this announcement from Ford, which is working with Microsoft Azure along with a few other partners such as Accenture, is its focus on software updates and the fact that it comes from Ford - the original promoter of smartphone connectivity in cars.

 

To be clear, the focus on software updates for Ford initially will be dependent on thumb drives, smartphone-based updates or visits to dealers, but the message is important in the context of an industry coming to grips with keeping software up to date in cars. The average IT professional understands that where there is software there will be updates. Until recently it seemed that the automotive industry hadn't gotten that particular email message.

(As a side note - any car company introducing the Android OS into a dashboard will DEFINITELY need a software update capability. It is worth noting that Blackberry's QNX has mastered the art of delivering real-time operating system software capable of enduring for a decade or more - something learned from industries well beyond the orbit of consumer electronics.)

After the record-breaking recall rate of 2014 and the corresponding revelations of vehicle hacking vulnerability touching GM and BMW, the message is clear that all cars need the means to receive software updates and they need that capability today. If there were any remaining doubts, there is Tesla Motors to contend with. Tesla continues to run circles around the rest of the world's auto makers with its over-the-air software update capabilities.

More than the technical achievement of updating vehicle software - something GM has been doing with OnStar for many years - Tesla introduced the idea of automotive software updates to the masses. Tesla made the idea of software updates for cars not only socially acceptable but, in fact, an attractive point of differentiation.

The typical car maker has been hesitant to update software for a wide range of reasons including:

  • Actual architectural limitations of vehicles to receive or distribute updates over the vehicle network
  • Inability to guarantee/warranty/confirm the reception and installation of full software update payload
  • Dealer resistance to over-the-air updates that might take away opportunities to engage with customers
  • Security concerns
  • Customer acceptance

At long last, it appears, the downside of having cars on the road with old software has outweighed all of these concerns. In fact, the upside potential of over-the-air software updates only grows including:

  • The need to update security software code/algorithms/credentials
  • The need to update safety system algorithms (airbag deployment systems!)
  • Map updates
  • User interface updates
  • App updates
  • Enhancements or essential modifications to vehicle functions
  • Added vehicle functionality
  • Cost savings from warranty/recall exposure

Software updates are increasingly recognized as the silver bullet for justifying built-in vehicle connectivity. This is yet another reason why Ford's leadership position is so unusual since, aside from Ford's EVs and a few Lincoln's, Ford is still reliant on connected smartphones for its vehicle connectivity.

Ford's approach does reflect, though, ongoing challenges regarding wireless charges associated with software updates. Ford's current update regime sidesteps the high cost of wireless downloads in favor of USB, smartphone or Wi-Fi-based update delivery.

There are other issues to bear in mind. The software configuration from car to car is far more variable than most people realize, which requires significant back-end infrastructure to ensure that the correct update gets to the correct car at the correct time. This reality is also likely to complicate the LTE broadcast capability now being proposed by wireless carriers.
 

Satellites to the rescue?

I  was part of a panel discussion yesterday at Satellite 2015 in Washington, DC, where the prospect of satellite-based software updates for cars was discussed. While SiriusXM attempted three years ago to offer up its satellite infrastructure for software updates, the automotive industry declined the offer due to the limited capacity of the SiriusXM "pipe."

A new contender, Kymeta, has announced plans to deliver software updates to cars in partnership with IntelSat (with other satellite providers expected to participate in the future as well). Kymeta's solution may be a few years away from the market, but it is clear, thanks to Ford, that the automotive industry is now ready.

In time, software updates to cars will become routine. Ford's announcement is a big step in the direction of establishing software updates as a valuable service and a differentiating characteristic of Ford vehicles. And, besides, it just makes good sense.


March 19, 2015 07:39 rlanctot

Ford Motor Company is changing the car connectivity story with the launch of its Ford Service Delivery Network - in essence the Ford Cloud. The amazing thing about this announcement from Ford, which is working with Microsoft Azure along with a few other partners such as Accenture, is its focus on software updates and the fact that it comes from Ford - the original promoter of smartphone connectivity in cars.

 

To be clear, the focus on software updates for Ford initially will be dependent on thumb drives, smartphone-based updates or visits to dealers, but the message is important in the context of an industry coming to grips with keeping software up to date in cars. The average IT professional understands that where there is software there will be updates. Until recently it seemed that the automotive industry hadn't gotten that particular email message.

(As a side note - any car company introducing the Android OS into a dashboard will DEFINITELY need a software update capability. It is worth noting that Blackberry's QNX has mastered the art of delivering real-time operating system software capable of enduring for a decade or more - something learned from industries well beyond the orbit of consumer electronics.)

After the record-breaking recall rate of 2014 and the corresponding revelations of vehicle hacking vulnerability touching GM and BMW, the message is clear that all cars need the means to receive software updates and they need that capability today. If there were any remaining doubts, there is Tesla Motors to contend with. Tesla continues to run circles around the rest of the world's auto makers with its over-the-air software update capabilities.

More than the technical achievement of updating vehicle software - something GM has been doing with OnStar for many years - Tesla introduced the idea of automotive software updates to the masses. Tesla made the idea of software updates for cars not only socially acceptable but, in fact, an attractive point of differentiation.

The typical car maker has been hesitant to update software for a wide range of reasons including:

  • Actual architectural limitations of vehicles to receive or distribute updates over the vehicle network
  • Inability to guarantee/warranty/confirm the reception and installation of full software update payload
  • Dealer resistance to over-the-air updates that might take away opportunities to engage with customers
  • Security concerns
  • Customer acceptance

At long last, it appears, the downside of having cars on the road with old software has outweighed all of these concerns. In fact, the upside potential of over-the-air software updates only grows including:

  • The need to update security software code/algorithms/credentials
  • The need to update safety system algorithms (airbag deployment systems!)
  • Map updates
  • User interface updates
  • App updates
  • Enhancements or essential modifications to vehicle functions
  • Added vehicle functionality
  • Cost savings from warranty/recall exposure

Software updates are increasingly recognized as the silver bullet for justifying built-in vehicle connectivity. This is yet another reason why Ford's leadership position is so unusual since, aside from Ford's EVs and a few Lincoln's, Ford is still reliant on connected smartphones for its vehicle connectivity.

Ford's approach does reflect, though, ongoing challenges regarding wireless charges associated with software updates. Ford's current update regime sidesteps the high cost of wireless downloads in favor of USB, smartphone or Wi-Fi-based update delivery.

There are other issues to bear in mind. The software configuration from car to car is far more variable than most people realize, which requires significant back-end infrastructure to ensure that the correct update gets to the correct car at the correct time. This reality is also likely to complicate the LTE broadcast capability now being proposed by wireless carriers.
 

Satellites to the rescue?

I  was part of a panel discussion yesterday at Satellite 2015 in Washington, DC, where the prospect of satellite-based software updates for cars was discussed. While SiriusXM attempted three years ago to offer up its satellite infrastructure for software updates, the automotive industry declined the offer due to the limited capacity of the SiriusXM "pipe."

A new contender, Kymeta, has announced plans to deliver software updates to cars in partnership with IntelSat (with other satellite providers expected to participate in the future as well). Kymeta's solution may be a few years away from the market, but it is clear, thanks to Ford, that the automotive industry is now ready.

In time, software updates to cars will become routine. Ford's announcement is a big step in the direction of establishing software updates as a valuable service and a differentiating characteristic of Ford vehicles. And, besides, it just makes good sense.


March 19, 2015 07:39 rlanctot

Ford Motor Company is changing the car connectivity story with the launch of its Ford Service Delivery Network - in essence the Ford Cloud. The amazing thing about this announcement from Ford, which is working with Microsoft Azure along with a few other partners such as Accenture, is its focus on software updates and the fact that it comes from Ford - the original promoter of smartphone connectivity in cars.

 

To be clear, the focus on software updates for Ford initially will be dependent on thumb drives, smartphone-based updates or visits to dealers, but the message is important in the context of an industry coming to grips with keeping software up to date in cars. The average IT professional understands that where there is software there will be updates. Until recently it seemed that the automotive industry hadn't gotten that particular email message.

(As a side note - any car company introducing the Android OS into a dashboard will DEFINITELY need a software update capability. It is worth noting that Blackberry's QNX has mastered the art of delivering real-time operating system software capable of enduring for a decade or more - something learned from industries well beyond the orbit of consumer electronics.)

After the record-breaking recall rate of 2014 and the corresponding revelations of vehicle hacking vulnerability touching GM and BMW, the message is clear that all cars need the means to receive software updates and they need that capability today. If there were any remaining doubts, there is Tesla Motors to contend with. Tesla continues to run circles around the rest of the world's auto makers with its over-the-air software update capabilities.

More than the technical achievement of updating vehicle software - something GM has been doing with OnStar for many years - Tesla introduced the idea of automotive software updates to the masses. Tesla made the idea of software updates for cars not only socially acceptable but, in fact, an attractive point of differentiation.

The typical car maker has been hesitant to update software for a wide range of reasons including:

  • Actual architectural limitations of vehicles to receive or distribute updates over the vehicle network
  • Inability to guarantee/warranty/confirm the reception and installation of full software update payload
  • Dealer resistance to over-the-air updates that might take away opportunities to engage with customers
  • Security concerns
  • Customer acceptance

At long last, it appears, the downside of having cars on the road with old software has outweighed all of these concerns. In fact, the upside potential of over-the-air software updates only grows including:

  • The need to update security software code/algorithms/credentials
  • The need to update safety system algorithms (airbag deployment systems!)
  • Map updates
  • User interface updates
  • App updates
  • Enhancements or essential modifications to vehicle functions
  • Added vehicle functionality
  • Cost savings from warranty/recall exposure

Software updates are increasingly recognized as the silver bullet for justifying built-in vehicle connectivity. This is yet another reason why Ford's leadership position is so unusual since, aside from Ford's EVs and a few Lincoln's, Ford is still reliant on connected smartphones for its vehicle connectivity.

Ford's approach does reflect, though, ongoing challenges regarding wireless charges associated with software updates. Ford's current update regime sidesteps the high cost of wireless downloads in favor of USB, smartphone or Wi-Fi-based update delivery.

There are other issues to bear in mind. The software configuration from car to car is far more variable than most people realize, which requires significant back-end infrastructure to ensure that the correct update gets to the correct car at the correct time. This reality is also likely to complicate the LTE broadcast capability now being proposed by wireless carriers.
 

Satellites to the rescue?

I  was part of a panel discussion yesterday at Satellite 2015 in Washington, DC, where the prospect of satellite-based software updates for cars was discussed. While SiriusXM attempted three years ago to offer up its satellite infrastructure for software updates, the automotive industry declined the offer due to the limited capacity of the SiriusXM "pipe."

A new contender, Kymeta, has announced plans to deliver software updates to cars in partnership with IntelSat (with other satellite providers expected to participate in the future as well). Kymeta's solution may be a few years away from the market, but it is clear, thanks to Ford, that the automotive industry is now ready.

In time, software updates to cars will become routine. Ford's announcement is a big step in the direction of establishing software updates as a valuable service and a differentiating characteristic of Ford vehicles. And, besides, it just makes good sense.


February 28, 2015 14:06 rlanctot

Thanks to the Telegraph we now know that Apple’s Tim Cook gets up at 3:45 in the morning. That may explain why Cook thinks the Apple Smartwatch will replace car keys.

In the quiet of the early morning hours there is a clarity of mind that comes. All problems suddenly seem less complex and the mind is open to “aha” bursts of inspiration.

It is easy to see Cook considering the clunky keyfobs and jangling bundles of keys as ridiculous holdovers from bygone times – modern-day buggy whips. Why are we still carrying around keys and fobs? Why can’t we simply use our smartphones or, better yet, our smartwatches to operate our cars?

This is both the beauty and the challenge for a Silicon Valley company entering the car market. That first interaction with the industry inevitably leads to smirks and gasps of disbelief from the Silicon Valley crowd: “Is this how you guys actually conduct your business? It takes you three years to bring a car to the market and it is instantly out of date?”

It all makes for great mirth from Milpitas to Menlo Park. Tim Cook’s tossed off comment to the Telegraph that the Apple Smartwatch will replace cars keys was a classic case of this kind of hubris. But it’s not really hubris. It’s just garden variety naivete.

Does Tim Cook really think that it has NEVER occurred to an automotive executive that there might be an alternative to car keys? There is no question General Motors would love to do away with car keys entirely after its ignition switch recall disaster of 2014. Of course, automotive engineers have been hard at this issue for decades.

The surprising thing is that Cook’s naivete persists a year after Apple brought CarPlay onto the international stage at the 2014 Geneva Auto Show – and we’re STILL waiting for it to get to market – on the eve of the 2015 Geneva Auto Show. In fact, Apple doubled down with a follow-up performance at the New York Auto Show last year with senior executives on the automotive team doing demos on OEM stands throughout the Manhattan event.

But we’re still waiting.

So much for showing the auto industry how to launch a mobile application platform…

But this failure to recognize the scope of the challenge and the time required to overcome it reflects Apple’s true colors – the shallowness of its commitment to and interest in the automotive industry. Many bloggers have posited their image of Steve Jobs as either obsessed with or fascinated by the automotive industry and cars.

Reality check: In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs there is a single important and relevant reference to cars:

“…I recounted what (Bill) Gates had said after he described his last visit with Jobs, which was that Apple had shown that the integrated approach could work, but only ‘when Steve is at the helm.’ Jobs thought that was silly. ‘Anyone could make better products that way, not just me,’ he said. So I asked him to name another company that made great products by insisting on end-to-end integration. He thought for a while, trying to come up with an example. ‘The car companies,’ he finally said, but then he added, ‘Or at least they used to.’”

Jobs was no car guy. He respected cars for their industrial design qualities.

But his comment reflects a deep understanding of the history of the automotive industry. The car companies of old, which made and controlled the manufacturing process of the vehicle from beginning to end – these companies once embodied the vary paradigm of what Apple had become. Jobs seems to be suggesting that car makers are no longer equal to the challenge of making great product – or not, at least, until they retake control of the entire design and manufacturing process.

Jobs’ father WAS a car guy, or at least more of one than son Steve. In fact, Isaacson says Paul Jobs put his son through college on the basis of the money he made, off the books, from buying, fixing and reselling old cars. He often brought Steve along on trips to junkyards to acquire parts, giving his son an early lesson in recognizing value and haggling along with an exposure to automotive electronics.

But for Steve Jobs, cars represented transportation and the power of design. It’s amusing to note that Jobs preferred to drive around Silicon Valley without a license plate in a futile attempt to preserve anonymity.

As for Apple making cars, Cooks’ comment about replacing keys with smartwatches reveals his and Apple’s ignorance of the challenges and, by extension, a lack of respect for the magnitude of the task at hand and, most likely, a clear indication that a car is not in the company’s future.

According to multiple industry contacts, but with a special contribution from Voyomotive, here is a summary of the requirements for a smartwatch/carkey replacement:

  • Connecting to cars will be different than controlling a car. Apple will need an OEM’s cooperation to control this functionality and most likely the car will need to be using CarPlay.
  • Apple will need to add hardware to the car and the vehicle will have to be designed around this hardware. Lead times are a consideration to implementation and market penetration.
  • Requirements include: Bluetooth communication with the vehicle “off;” however, it has to be very low power. System must be able to wake up the vehicle, support encryption and security. All of these are doable but are considerations to implement the system.
  • In the case of multiple users, Apple will need to differentiate permissions between different levels of users and Apple has traditionally NOT supported this type of functionality. For example, having different types of permissions for people who can enter the car vs people who can drive the car. (Once you are on an IPad – you have total access to everything.)
  • To reach the aftermarket and/or non-CarPlay vehicles, the Apple Watch will require additional hardware be added to a non-supported car to authenticate access and engine start. One model requires a custom install as used by ZipCar and other car sharing companies or a modular, plug and play system like Voyo.

So, it’s fun to toss quote bombs to reporters for the purpose of gaining a lot of attention and spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). But FUD only works if you actually have something in the works. Apple appears to have nothing more to offer than fear, uncertainty and doubt – and the auto industry already has a surplus of those commodities.

Which brings me to Toyota. Yes, Toyota.

Toyota is the only car company that has publicly defied both Google and its Android Auto smartphone integration and Apple’s CarPlay. This does not mean that Toyota is not communicating with both of these companies. It is impossible to ignore Google and Apple, after all. But Toyota is wise to watch and wait.

Toyota’s decision to hold back reminds us of the following:

  • Infotainment (and smartphone integration) is still a low priority element of the car buying decision making process;
  • Any solution from Google or Apple added to a car will NOT be differentiating and will only serve the purposes of Google and Apple;
  • Google and Apple are NOT adjusting their business models to fit the auto industry, they are forcing the auto industry to bend to their will;
  • Google and Apple have zero respect for the automotive industry’s priorities and business requirements – i.e. liability exposure.

Car companies want to work with Google and Apple. Google and Apple want to work with car companies. Until there is a level of mutual respect established between these organizations any outcome is destined to fail. As for an Apple Car or an Apple smartwatch/key replacement? Neither of these things will happen, no matter how many headlines or blogposts they inspire.


February 10, 2015 06:47 rlanctot

General Motors’ OnStar vehicle connectivity solution was once shared under license with Audi, Acura, Isuzu, Subaru, Lexus and Volkswagen – an offer which was later terminated. OnStar made a second (public) attempt at licensing its technology to competing auto makers in 2009, but subsequently pulled that offer back as well.

In view of the vehicle security and privacy crisis facing the auto industry, it may be time for OnStar to reconsider the licensing option - that is, if OnStar can firmly establish its security credentials. Outside of OnStar, the auto industry collectively stands like a deer in the headlights as reports of vehicle vulnerabilities multiply without a clear solution in sight.

But OnStar - itself - ended up in the headlights of the television program '60 Minutes' when a thinly disguised GM vehicle was used to demonstrate the ease with which vehicles may be hacked.

In retrospect, there are those that view OnStar's reversal of its licensing decision as a major mistake, a lost opportunity to dominate the connected car industry globally. Licensing will pose fundamental challenges to competing car companies and the architectural choices that they have made governing their connectivity systems along with the partnerships they have forged.

Driving a licensing strategy, though, is the global industry demand for an immediate solution to ongoing and embarrassing revelations regarding vehicle hacking. And security shortcomings will short circuit plans for self-driving cars.  So much is at stake.

In the wake of ADAC’s hack of BMW vehicles in Germany, it is clear that the challenge of vehicle security must be solved first before governments can comfortably welcome fleets of autonomous vehicles on public roadways. But yesterday’s release of U.S. Senator Edward Markey’s report on vehicle security and privacy concerns and Sunday’s ‘60 Minutes’ episode on “DARPA Dan” Kaufman reveals the U.S. government stepping into a leadership role on both fronts.

http://tinyurl.com/ncfelr6 - Markey Report Reveals Automobile Security and Privacy Vulnerabilities
http://tinyurl.com/p8429cq - 60 Minutes Episode on ‘DARPA Dan’ Kaufman

Markey’s report highlights the lack of coherent and consistent privacy policies in the automotive industry – in the context of an industry that is culling massive amounts of data from its vehicles and enabling unfettered access to increasing volumes of that data to third parties. But of greater concern is the porous state of vehicle security, where the industry has either chosen to hide its head in the sand or, worse, confidently claimed to have a handle on the problem without actually recognizing its scope – Exhibit A: BMW and, now, GM.

Most interesting is that in the ‘60 Minutes’ episode focused on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s efforts to combat hackers attacking government and private agencies, CBS chose to highlight what some might regard as the lowest priority target – the automobile. Nevertheless, the hacked car has clearly become the most popular point of vulnerability to use when trying to rouse the concern of the general public.

Both the Markey report and the ‘60 Minutes’ episode point to the following conclusion:

  1. We must resolve the issue of vehicle security before tackling autonomous driving
  2. There is a role for the government, but that role likely lies in DARPA – or maybe NASA – NOT NHTSA (U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
  3. Vehicle connectivity is the solution, not the problem

Vehicle security virtually mandates vehicle connectivity. Wireless vehicle connections are necessary to properly secure vehicles and enable vehicles to preserve that security with the ability to receive updates of prophylactic code. Wireless connections are also necessary for vehicles to be able to communicate when intrusions have occurred.

The Markey report and the ‘60 Minutes’ episode also highlight how far ahead of the entire industry OnStar remains – 18 years after its launch. Only OnStar (and Porsche) have the ability to enable the remote slowdown and immobilization of one of its cars in the event of a theft. This feature now stands out in the context of the security vulnerability as a default safety response.

OnStar, in addition to Tesla, also stands out for its perfection of software updates – a pre-requisite for ensuring up-to-date on-board software code. In effect, OnStar’s fundamental architecture anticipated and provided for secure connectivity across the entire GM line up.

This is not to say that OnStar hasn’t doubled down on its existing security solution.  Indications from the Renaissance Center, GM's headquarters, is the the company is hard at work hardening its platform in anticipation of the launch of its next generation.  The next step for OnStar and, in fact, the entire industry, is to enable the telematics control unit to act as or be connected to a central vehicle hub or “brain” to monitor all systems on the vehicle network for intrusions.

Here it is worth noting that the IOactive vision of segregated vehicle systems as recommended by that company in 2014 to enhance security, runs counter to the current industry shift toward integration.

It remains to be seen whether OnStar, like Tesla, will choose to share or license its security secrets with the industry.  In fact, there is a wide open opportunity for any of a dozen entities to bring a solution to market.  But OnStar maintains a technological edge after 18 years and has shown previous interest in licensing its technology.

It’s worth noting that, in the end, the core value proposition that ultimately distinguishes OnStar might not be Wi-Fi or apps. It may yet be the safety and security that have always been hallmarks of the OnStar brand.

*This blog was revised @ noon EST Feb. 10 to reflect more accurate information regarding the current state of OnStar vulnerability.


February 5, 2015 13:05 rlanctot

It would be funny if it weren't so serious, shocking if it weren't so completely unsurprising. The German automobile club, ADAC, discovered a simple vulnerability in BMW's ConnectedDrive system that exposed vehicle data and controls. BMW and ADAC cooperatively announced last week that the problem had been corrected.

BMW had failed to implement even the most basic security measure - HTTPS encryption - thereby enabling ADAC to access BMW vehicles with embedded SIMs associated with ConnectedDrive. The access to the SIM was anabled by creating a fake wireless network to which the cars attempted to connect. The fix was made in BMW's back-end system thereby avoiding any need for an update of any software code in its vehicles.

You could call what ADAC did a "hack" or a stunt. It's an approach used by law enforcement and criminals around the world and sufficiently common to be alarming.

(There are those who suggest that the ADAC hack was more complex and that the BMW security shortcomings were more severe - some of which may yet to be resolved. Details here: http://tinyurl.com/o4z3nzs)

ADAC detailed the affected vehicles and recommended broader testing of all cars and proper certification for all car makers. No such required testing or certification exists.

"ADAC demands state-of-the-art protection of in-car computer technology against manipulation and illegal access," noted an ADAC representative. "Such protection must be based on standards long since operative in other industries
(e.g. IT industry).

"Moreover, said protection needs to be confirmed by an impartial body, e.g. via Common Criteria certification through the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) in Bonn, Germany – or related organizations in other countries (refer to www.commoncriteriaportal.org)."

Why ADAC?

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the entire affair is that ADAC was probing BMW's for diagnostic data identifying scheduled or unscheduled service or repair opportunities. "ADAC commissioned an external expert to analyse the information which vehicles transmit to the manufacturer via BMW Connected Drive when an inspection or repair is due. The objective was to determine whether independent workshops might be at a disadvantage and whether ADAC should step in to protect consumer interests."

So, ADAC discovered the vulnerability in the process of trying to preserve the right to repair privileges of independent repair shops. ConnectedDrive and other such embedded connectivity systems from car makers are perceived as giving OEM dealers an unfair advantage in servicing their cars.

Says ADAC: "Although this was never intended, the investigations revealed security loopholes, prompting the publication of the findings."

BMW was fairly blase about the matter. My contacts at BMW brushed it off as a well-known problem that amounted to nothing more than an oversight. The greatest risk posed by the vulnerability was that it made the cars easier to steal.

There are a few key takeaways to this incident:

  1. How did BMW miss this vulnerability?
  2. How come BMW's suppliers failed to uncover this vulnerability?
  3. How and when will governments take on the responsibility for certifying vehicle security?
  4. Shouldn't we resolve the certification of vehicle security before we allow autonomous vehicles onto public roadways?
  5. What are the implications for the broader universe of connected things?
  6. Are cars a special case requiring a level of certification that is not relevant to other devices?
  7. Is ADAC (and by extension all auto clubs in markets around the world) getting into the vehicle security certification business? Is ADAC a whistle-blower? Or is ADAC intending to extend its testing to all connected cars?

The ADAC hack definitely has a your-fly-is-open quality to it. But the implications are serious.

Car makers have repeatedly demonstrated their inability to comprehend the nature and scope of the vehicle security issue. Companies such as Red Bend, Blackberry and OpenSynergy have solutions and those solutions are seeing wider application.

But the scope of the problem is pervasive touching multiple systems and points of access on cars requiring multiple layers of protection. In and of itself this suggests that certifying security will be no easy process. Nevertheless, BMW's open-fly problem reveals a massive industry blindspot that must be corrected.

OnStar Hacking Update:

I have to correct an impression I left in a previous blog that GM's OnStar had never been hacked. OnStar was hacked about five years ago and has since corrected its vulnerability. Details:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/10/business/10hack.html?_r=1&

http://www.autosec.org/pubs/cars-usenixsec2011.pdf

http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Security/GMs-OnStar-Ford-Sync-MP3-Bluetooth-Possible-Attack-Vectors-for-Cars-420601


January 26, 2015 07:37 rlanctot

Over the years I have been frequently asked at automotive events why car makers don’t all agree on a single user interface for the car stereo and be done with it. It’s a good question, especially now that it is sometimes almost impossible to FIND the car stereo in some cars.

But the question has changed over the years and the more up-to-date version of the question is: Why don’t car makers give me a place to dock my tablet computer (or other mobile device) in the car and be done with it? This is also a good and logical question.

What lies behind these questions is the fact that user interfaces in cars, for car stereos or whatever is happening in the console/centerstack area, are entering a new phase influenced by regional preferences, new display technologies, government mandates and mobile devices. The bottom line: Touch screens are coming to cars. It just so happens that a large chunk of the German automotive industry is out of touch with this trend.

For years, about 13 to be exact, the German auto industry has operated under the HMI (human machine interface) thrall of BMW’s i-Drive hardware controller. The i-Drive controller – a rotating knob located in the front seat center console – allows the driver to do everything from changing radio stations to entering destinations one character at a time.

Introduced on the BMW 7 Series in 2001, the i-Drive is universally loathed and loved. Most auto enthusiasts despise the i-Drive, while those less than religiously devoted to the art of driving find it amusing and convenient.

BMW is entitled to kudos for cleverness, but it’s time to retire this relic once and for all. The i-Drive and its equivalents have become anachronisms in a post-iPhone world.

Daimler and Audi (and Acura, Infiniti and Lexus) all followed BMW’s i-Drive lead. All of these companies are now faced with a major HMI rethink as hardware controllers are increasingly seen as contributing to eyes-off-road-time rather than mitigating driver distraction.

Touch screens have emerged as the preferred alternative throughout the world, particularly in Asian markets, motivated by the widespread adoption and use of mobile devices with touch screens. Hardware controllers in cars suddenly look about as novel and clever as Atari joysticks.

Now, don’t get me wrong, these devices are awfully clever – and I do mean awfully. Having sat through multiple presentations regarding the efficacy of hardware controllers (and touchpads) I can confirm that it is quite possible for two groups of similarly trained engineers to draw completely different conclusions from the same research. Or it is equally possible for those two groups to conduct their research in such a manner as to produce a predetermined outcome. It happens.

German auto makers have managed to avoid touch screens based on the perception that drivers would need to change their focal length to look at and touch the display. More than one automotive engineer told me that they did not want their customers to smudge the screen with fingerprints.

They certainly could not argue for the lower cost of the touch screen because the hardware controller added both hardware AND software cost to the development of the system. With car makers seeking to rapidly ramp up in-vehicle app integration platforms, hardware controllers are introducing excess cost and complexity.

But the commitment of these German car makers to non-touchable screens dictated that the screens literally be placed beyond the reach of the driver. So these car makers must now yank out the hardware controllers, reconfigure their software and move their displays within reach of the driver. (It may also mean the demise of pop-up or peekaboo displays that appear on vehicle ignition. Yes, that means you Audi et. al.)

So today, in a world increasingly dominated by touch screens, speech and gesture recognition, eye tracking and steering wheel controls, the hardware controller has got to go. It has outlived its usefulness.

Quaint and clever though they may be, hardware controllers are out and touch screens are in. More or less immune from this rethink are North American auto makers which mostly ignored the hardware controller bandwagon. U.S. car makers are hereby rewarded for their slow pace of technology adoption.

Sometimes it’s good to follow slowly – maybe the driver in front of you doesn’t know where he or she is going. Speaking of following slowly, Volkswagen was slow to adopt hardware controllers with the rest of its German industry brethren thereby enabling a more rapid shift to touch displays. The company was the first to break ranks with the joystick crowd. It will be interesting to observe how and when and at what cost the rest of the German auto making community gets in touch with this trend.


January 14, 2015 07:00 rlanctot

The auto industry is abuzz over Google’s plans to bring Android to automobile dashboards as a native operating system with all that that might imply or enable. This is not to be confused with Android Auto, the smartphone connection proposition shown by several car makers and suppliers at CES in Las Vegas last week. The next phase, for Google, is having its OS act as the native operating environment in the car.

Unlike Google, Blackberry has been playing the automotive OS game for a couple decades with its QNX real-time operating system. Suddenly the nifty black magic that QNX has been able to pull off – delivering an operating system capable of seamlessly keeping pace with consumer electronics trends and updates without requiring hardware changes – is beginning to get some appreciation – from Ford among a host of other car makers.

That old Blackberry black magic is highlighted in the Panasonic suite at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week. Not only is Panasonic showing early versions of Ford’s upcoming SYNC 3 head units using Blackberry’s OS, the company is also privately showing its car company customers and prospective customers an upgradable dashboard concept – along with a few other clever solutions and systems for hands-free app and smartphone integration including Aupeo!

Consumers readily understand software updates, which impact everything from smartphones to TVs to PCs. Hardware updates are usually only associated with desktop or notebook computers.

Many owners of Apple iPhones, though, were forced by the latest iOS update to delete some of their apps to make room for the update. This is precisely the challenge facing car makers interested in implementing Android as the native automotive OS. Only in the case of Android, the issue is more severe.

Keeping pace with Android updates and upgrades usually or eventually means getting an entirely new device, because the old device is incapable of supporting the processing or storage demands of the new Android version.

Android knows no bounds.

The significance of the upgradable Panasonic system is that it will allow customers to upgrade and replace the more fungible elements of the car stereo system in a single dock-able module with a proprietary hardware interface. This is precisely what adopting Android in cars will require.

Panasonic, though, is not spinning the modular update as an Android in the dashboard story. Panasonic’s official statement:

“Today’s consumers are expecting constant upgradability – something they’ve been taught based on upgrading their consumer electronics. Their expectation is that this functionality is available across all their electronics, including their vehicles. This is a growing challenge for auto manufacturers due to the different lifecycles of consumer products, specifically smartphones and vehicles. Panasonic has realized this problem, and has created a future-proofing solution that offers more.

“Panasonic Automotive is not yet releasing details on its modular embedded concept. However, this consumer-driven technology is being developed as a removable, upgradable system so consumers can update to the very latest software and hardware. This not only expands the user experience through software, but, with upgradable hardware, it becomes easy to support any future technologies and devices brought into the vehicle – a differentiator for the Panasonic system.”

Panasonic is not disclosing details regarding the modular concept, but its content could include the Bluetooth, USB and Wi-Fi elements involved in connecting to the driver’s smartphone along with the storage, processor, media support and maybe even the embedded OnStar-like wireless connection. The Panasonic demonstration in Detroit follows public and private announcements from nVidia and Qualcomm at CES regarding their plans to encourage and enable upgradability in their automotive offerings.

Automotive announcements at CES were full of new firmware over-the-air update propositions – a recognition of the explosive proliferation of automotive software for everything from safety systems to infotainment. But hardware updating is something new, different and challenging.

Software updates provide a means to preserve or enhance vehicle value after the sale of the car and can include everything from new apps or map updates to modifications for safety system and airbag algorithms. Software updates can be brought to the car by the dealer, a customer’s smartphone, an in-dash USB port, Wi-Fi or via a high-speed data port connection.

Software updates are normally free and are provided as either a customer service or as a necessary means to preserve the functionality of on-board systems. Hardware updates, meanwhile, are generally not available due to the logistical challenge and cost. If the customer needs or wants a hardware upgrade, it’s normally either time to get a new car or find an independent installer to replace the existing system.

Panasonic is suggesting the creation of an aftermarket for hardware updates intended to keep automotive hardware fresh and up-to-date throughout the 11-year+ life of the vehicle. But car makers never had to seriously contemplate this prospect while using Blackberry’s QNX OS or even Linux. But the arrival of Android has introduced the need.

Hardware updates will be necessary to support new versions of Android. It is no coincidence that CloudCar, an Android advocate within the supplier community, has itself shown a GPU upgrade solution. CloudCar has yet to find any takers for its nVidia-based vision for auto system upgrades.

Another supplier, Cybercom, has proposed its “Infotainment-on-a-stick” concept modeled after Google’s Chromecast HDMI plug-in device. So far, the Cybercom initiative remains only a concept.

Does this mean we will bring our cars in to dealers in the future for freshening up of the hardware? Or does it mean that we will be able to upgrade a car with low-end infotainment performance to turbo-tainment a year or two after the original purchase? Does it mean that the entire infotainment package can and will be sold separately? Is hardware upgradability a precursor to Android’s entry into dashboard systems? The answers to these questions reside in the minds of car makers visiting Panasonic this week.

Cybercom Infotainment-on-a-Stick


January 7, 2015 13:12 rlanctot

President Obama’s appointment of Mark Rosekind to lead the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was a wake-up call to the transportation industry...and Congress. Following closely on the heels of Congress deciding to suspend year-old rules for truck drivers requiring two nights of sleep before a work week, the appointment of Rosekind – an expert in pilot fatigue – was an incisive way for Obama to demonstrate, yet again, that he is anything but a lame, lame duck.

The decision by Congress ignored requests from Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to preserve the limits on drivers. With the lapsing of the year-old rules, thanks to Congress, drivers will be allowed to work as many as 82 hours over an eight-day period.

NHTSA estimates that drowsy driving for all kinds of drivers and vehicles in the U.S. causes more than 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths. The fatality rate is half the estimate for the number of distracted driving fatalities, but NHTSA says drowsy driving is underreported.

Nearly 4,000 people are killed annually in accidents involving large trucks, according to NHTSA. While the overall number and rate of fatalities declined in 2013 including the figures for incidents at intersections and involving alcohol-impaired drivers, the number of fatalities involving large vehicle collisions increased 0.5%.

NHTSA has conducted a massive amount of research on driver fatigue and it is clear that this research has immediate application in the large vehicle market. (NHTSA’s drowsy driver research can be found here - http://tinyurl.com/nsoj66x.) With Rosekind’s leadership perhaps NHTSA can not only advance the understanding and mitigation of drowsy driving in the large vehicle market but also generate insights with application in the wider consumer market.

Companies like Seeing Machines that are working mainly in the commercial market today, stand to benefit from the introduction of fatigue detection and mitigation systems for consumers. Seeing Machines is already working with GM and Takata on just such a system. This is also likely to be a rich target environment for app and device-based companies such as Anti Sleep Pilot.

In the end, Rosekind's appointment likely points the way to the wider deployment of cameras and sensors inside vehicles for identifying drivers, recognizing gestures and assessing driver attentiveness. The Rosekind appointment could well point the way toward new life-saving research and product development guidance from NHTSA.