AUTOMOTIVE MULTIMEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS

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

December 1, 2013 05:47 rlanctot

The week before the week of Thanksgiving in the U.S., I was on a transcontinental flight to Los Angeles for the L.A. Auto Show in a plane with no in-seat power and no seatback or overhead display. (There was also only a paid snack, no free meal.) What the airline offered, though, was Wi-Fi (paid).

Combined with a recent loosening of the rules governing the use of mobile devices on airplanes in the U.S. it is clear that the era of bring your own device (BYOD) on airplanes has arrived. For airlines, the calculation is clear – removing displays in every seat (along with overhead displays) reduces weight and fuel consumption.

Add in the fact that a significant portion of travelers are willing to pay for the privilege of wirelessly connecting and the switch to BYOD is a no-brainer. Flying is a sit back experience – although I am writing this blog while in flight over the Pacific.  Walk down the aisle of an airplane on a long haul flight and you will find 50% or more of the passengers with their faces bathed in an LCD glow from a mobile device.

The airline I fly most frequently, United, is clearly in the midst of a fleet-wide Wi-Fi upgrade: http://www.united.com/web/en-us/Content/travel/inflight/wifi/default.aspx

In cars, though, it is a different story. While driving seven hours to Thanksgiving dinner and eight hours back from Thanksgiving dinner this past week it was clear that the BYOD era has arrived in cars – at least in my car. Two of my sons played games, texted and talked on their personal devices in the rearseat, connecting with personal unlimited data plans.

But driving back at night revealed at least two dozen neighboring SUVs and minivans on the highway with fold-down, ceiling-mounted displays – including one three-row SUV with two rows of fold-down displays. Display configurations in cars include single split screens, headrest-mounted displays, fold up and fold down systems.

Rearseat entertainment remains, famously, a niche category – suitable mainly for young families and hip-hop artists. But RSE suppliers seeking growth can find it in emerging markets, where both OEM and aftermarket installation of these systems continues to grow.

Where airlines may be removing displays to reduce weight, car makers are adding displays, according to Strategy Analytics forecasts and in response to consumer demand: http://tinyurl.com/o9kn2br - In-Vehicle Displays: Consumer Preferences and Market Forecast.

A unique circumstance is emerging in cars, though, as the means of connecting mobile devices to on-board displays continue to proliferate. From the Wi-Fi Alliance's Miracast to Apple’s Airplay, VNC and HTPC technologies, the future will find cars and airplanes diverging in their display installation strategies.  In cars, consumers will increasingly seek to connect their mobile device to the on-board system - while airplanes will remain a disconnected, personal experience.

Built-in displays may be disappearing from some airplane cabins, while proliferating in cars. But both user environments are seeking to accommodate the brought in mobile devices of drivers and passengers in their own ways. But please, United, bring back in-seat power.


November 27, 2013 17:40 rlanctot

Harman’s Aha shook up the automotive industry this week with a video demonstrating its vision of the future of in-vehicle advertising. The video (available here: http://youtu.be/uU925H7xDgc) highlights the collaboration between Aha and Placecast to deliver a location-enhanced advertising experience in the car.

The video shows ads popping up in the head unit using the same HMI of music or radio station play (album art + thumbs up) with an audio call to action.  Regulators may grumble, but the interaction that is enabled is no more complex or challenging than changing a radio station or CD.

The video shows the results of a test, already implemented and in the field, running through December 20 with what Aha execs describe as a light schedule of stations and impression loads.  All OEM and aftermarket implementations of Aha have the experience enabled including more than 50 models from 14 OEMs including the Ford F-Series, Escape and Fusion; Honda Accord and Odyssey; Subaru Forester and Impreza; Mazda 3; and  Porsche Cayenne and Boxster.

Aha says more than 2 million vehicles on the road are capable of displaying the Aha application.  The big challenge seems not to be getting into cars, something for which Aha has demonstrated an acumen, but rather getting consumers to tune in.

Aha is not alone in seeking to redefine the advertising experience in the car.  Other candidates include Clip Interactive using audio content recognition and Roximity (available via Ford SYNC) which offers some location awareness.  Aha is alone in enabling a center stack display of the offer with interactivity - something previously thought to be anathema.

Airbiquity and others have shown similar concepts.  TeleNav, in particular, is focusing on location-enhanced advertising on mobile devices with plans to bring the experience into the head unit.  But Aha is first to the dash.

Clearly an interactive advertising offer will not attract consumers, so the video is an obvious business-to-business message for car makers and their suppliers.  What Aha has enabled, though is a template for transforming the advertising experience in the car.

The automotive industry has become almost completely unmoored from the radio dial.  In the process, a door has been opened to a new content and media engagement opportunity that can be location-enhanced and listener-focused.

Aha is pointing the way toward a third path – away from Google and Apple – for automakers to create a more intimate engagement with their customers.  With Aha, automakers will be able to enrich the driving experience by giving drivers control of their advertising experience in the car.

Users of Aha will ultimately be able to pay for no advertisements or specify the time, type and frequency of the advertising they receive.  All is now possible along with the further added value, to the car maker, of extracting vehicle data for even closer customer engagement.

The Aha demo does raise questions regarding ad triggers and frequency and the potential for driver distraction.  But these concerns are manageable.  Most of all the demo suggests that there is no turning back now that the industry can see what is possible. 

All that remains for Aha, and its parent Harman, is to surrender the so-far futile branding effort around Aha and embrace a white label market strategy.  Aha can become a default infotainment platform in the car, OEM-branded, and with a customized business model and HMI suitable to each OEM.

Whether Harman will embrace this opportunity and reposition Aha away from its branded-button-on-the-screen positioning to a more all-encompassing in-vehicle interaction platform remains to be seen.  Now that Aha has demonstrated that the Starbucks-discount-offer-as-I’m-driving-by-Starbucks proposition is possible, it is time to consider the broader implications.

Aha will never be Google, Apple or Facebook, but it is the perfect antidote to these pretenders.  Google, Apple and Facebook are all seeking to move into the automotive industry and carjack its customers.  Aha is showing a way for OEMs to stay in the driver’s seat.  That is something we can all give a thumbs up.

 


November 25, 2013 13:21 rlanctot

Three car fires affecting Tesla’s Model S in the past month have caused the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (at the invitation of Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk) to announce a safety investigation, the results of which will likely not be available for months. Tesla’s stock price has taken a hit and financial analysts expect sales to suffer, but Musk keeps turning crises into marketing opportunities, while highlighting a significant auto industry blind spot: software updates.

In response to the fires, Tesla announced a software over the air update to raise the speed at which the car automatically lowers itself by an inch for better aerodynamics. For more details, read Musk’s blog: http://www.teslamotors.com/blog/mission-tesla.

(Of course, what Tesla’s Model S really needs is Mercedes Benz’s Magic Body Control, which is capable of dynamically anticipating road undulations and setting vehicle suspension settings on the fly: http://tinyurl.com/n2q3b3g. But you can’t download sensors.)

In his blog, Musk invites NHTSA to investigate the fires while emphasizing the fact (based on National Fire Protection Association data) that a driver is 4.5x more likely to experience a car fire in a car equipped with an internal combustion engine than in a Tesla Model S.  Musk also notes the absence of any injuries or fatalities in Model S fires vs. “400 fatalities and 1,200 serious injuries” from 250,000 car fires occurring since the middle of 2012 in the U.S.

In his blog, Musk also offers an update and an expansion of the existing Model S warranty to compensate owners who may experience future fires and notes plans for a software update to give control of suspension height to the driver.

Software updates remain a sore point for car makers dependent on franchise dealers. Dealers have made clear their concerns regarding software updates and how those updates rob them of a valuable point of customer interaction.

In spite of dealer resistance, car makers such as Chrysler and Toyota have enabled software updates via connected smartphones for basic app updates and installation. And flash drives are still used for map updates and software upgrades by other car companies. In both instances, though, the customer has the option of having the dealer manage the update. (Ford and Fiat, in particular, have made broad use of flash drive updating with mixed results.)

Tesla’s software update philosophy is simple – Tesla will deliver and install the update at a time convenient to the owner at no cost. Following the update, Tesla will provide documentation detailing the extent of the enhancements added to the vehicle.

GM and OnStar have had and have used a similar approach for the past few years, but have played down the capability out of concern for harming dealer relations. Instead of leveraging firmware over the air updates (FOTA) as a competitive advantage – capable of adding value to the car after the sale – GM has only gone so far as to highlight vehicle diagnostic capabilities in its advertising.

Another reason for GM to downplay its FOTA capabilities is the difference between the 3G telecom module from AT&T in the Tesla Model S and the 2.5G telecom module from Verizon currently used by OnStar. Tesla is actively leveraging the wireless connection to enhance the user experience with streaming audio, and access to Google Maps and a Web browser in addition to software updates.

OnStar, in contrast, has been far more conservative with its wireless connection emphasizing low-bandwidth applications such as remote door unlock/lock, remote start, turn-by-turn navigation, stolen vehicle tracking and recovery and diagnostics. That conservatism may change by this time next year as LTE-equipped GM cars begin arriving in the market.

In the meantime, GM will do well to take notes on Tesla’s approach to software updates and the marketing points the company is able to score – unencumbered by franchise dealers trying to protect their service business. The challenge for GM and the industry is to find a win-win solution for dealers, OEMs and car owners to convert software updates to a competitive advantage a la Tesla.


November 16, 2013 07:05 rlanctot

The Obama administration (and its Affordable Care Act) is not the only organization with customer engagement challenges.

BMW, too, is struggling. BMW has sent me a new email offer, but it appears to be some kind of mass mailing. The offer is for the new $187 BMW iPhone 5 Snap In Adapter (“Being Connected is a Snap”) and the email came to my personal Gmail account, but there was no personal salutation, so maybe it’s spam.

I get these messages from BMW pretty routinely, at least 100/year, and many, though not all of them, are pretty impersonal. What amazes me about this one is that BMW clearly wants to sell me something, but can’t seem to be troubled to connect a few crucial dots – particularly the knowledge of which vehicle I own and, of course, addressing me personally.

I have given BMW thousands of reasons, in fact tens of thousands of reasons, to know who I am and what car I own. The tipoff that BMW does not know who I am is the description of the new snap in adapter as being suitable for “vehicles equipped with Option 6NF Smartphone Integration or option 6NR BMW Apps.”

As you may have guessed by now my response to this description is to ask myself whether I have the required equipment or options.  BMW ought to know this.  In fact, BMW shouldn’t be offering me something that might not be applicable to my car.

I had a similar experience with the recent offer of a map update.  The links in the email took me to a Website that interrogated me as to which model year and model car I had and my VIN #.  Why?  Doesn’t BMW know which car I own?

There are three click-through buttons in the original email for the iPhone 5 cradle offer, though one disappears once the images are downloaded.  The remaining options are “Shop BMW Accessories” and “Shop BMW Lifestyle.”  Again, by now you are putting together the fact that this offer is more of a put off than a come on.

What’s wrong with BMW?  Let’s break it down.

#1        BMW should know who I am.  Everything the company does to engage with me should reflect this knowledge.  This is especially true when it comes to asking me to purchase optional BMW items.  The $187 iPhone 5 cradle is only the latest example and follows, by a couple weeks, the offer of a $255 map update, which was similarly impersonal.

#2        To deliver the personalized experience I am describing requires building internal databases tying car configurations to customers.  This seems to be a pretty obvious step, but it is clearly not something that BMW has prioritized.  Companies such as Teradata work with car companies such as Ford, GM, Volvo, Daimler and others to build these databases.  In fact these databases are essential, especially when it comes to recalls or software updates – the car company must be able to identify those customers in possession of cars that need attention.

#3        It is pretty obvious that somewhere within BMW there is an organization that knows who I am and what car I own.  The organization that knows who I am may be the marketing department.  The organization that knows what car I own may be aftersales.  But it seems as if these departments are not putting their information together.  The result of this failure is uncoordinated communications that fail to connect with or engage me, the consumer.  Communications with car owners must be efficient, precise, targeted, personal and as infrequent as possible.  A poorly targeted message might be perceived as or might actually be spam or a phishing attack.

#4        Marketing communications must be orchestrated and minimized and, wherever possible, linked to a common secure and reassuring client touch point – a portal.  BMW is planning to launch a customer portal within the next 12-15 monthss, but until it does communications such as the one for the iPhone 5 cradle appear awkward and likely to miss the mark.

#5        Finally, the only reasons for ordering the iPhone 5 cradle are to enable access to the iTunes store and iTunes-acquired content (audio or video) via the center stack.  The offer allows Apple to open an iTunes kiosk in the BMW driver’s console.  That’s a great deal for Apple, but it doesn’t do BMW much good and, aside from working well with BMW Apps, it has the potential to steer the customer away from using BMW’s on-board assets.  Maybe it is for this reason that BMW provides little description in the offer as to why this device is attractive or should be purchased.

#6        To further complicate matters, the offer email provides a link to my dealer’s Website.  So it appears that there are three places to buy the cradle including two BMW Websites and my dealer’s Website – though the dealer link is to the dealer’s generic site.

Like the Obama administration, BMW should accelerate its customer portal development activities.  Customer and vehicle identification must be coordinated and managed company-wide and globally.  With this coordination will come more coordinated marketing messages all of which should link back to the customer’s portal.

The customer portal will be equipped with vehicle service history, warranty information, available accessories as well as payment history and payment options.  (There are many more customer engagement elements that can be added including driving performance, geo-fencing, route guidance, trip planning, vehicle diagnostics and other commercial offers.)  More importantly, the customer portal will be secured with a password and other security elements.

With customer identity increasingly a sensitive issue and spam and phishing activities via email so widespread, BMW is leaving the door open with its current impersonal marketing activities.  If BMW wants its customers to part with hundreds of dollars for accessories or map updates, the least the company can do is send a personalized message and one that reflects the fact that the company actually knows what car the customer owns and whether or not the offered accessory is suitable for that car.

BMW is not alone in this failure, and the industry is slowly waking up to the need to orchestrate customer communications and manage vehicle and customer identification.  The implications for aftersales marketing and vehicle security are manifest.  But the most important reason to get this right is to create a delightful ownership experience.

 

P.S.

 

The iPhone 5 cradle is a back-to-the-future moment for BMW - bringing back memories of handset cradles from Peiker and Bury.  Surely a wireless (or wired) connection is sufficient.  The iPhone 4 cradle was a headache to connect and stow in the console both when getting into and when leaving the car.  (I won't get into the overheating problem associated with the iPhone 4 cradle - nightmare.)  Can't I just leave my phone in my pocket?  Is BMW going to create a cradle for my Blackberry Z10?  My Galaxy 4?  Slavish devotion to Apple is not a strategy.


November 9, 2013 16:00 rlanctot

It wasn’t enough that my 2013 BMW couldn’t handle Daylight Savings Time, failing once again in its twice a year duty to set back its clock, it also was incapable of handling a map update. I bit the bullet last week, accepted my fate and paid the $255 vigorish for the new map and the update failed. My experience highlights two important problems with connected cars that the industry must overcome.

Issue #1: Cars must have the latest map data. Cars equipped with navigation systems all over the world normally have maps that are no newer than six months old. Old maps create driver distractions and the potential for accidents. How car makers have allowed this state of affairs to continue is incomprehensible. It is one of the most serious problems facing the industry.

Issue #2: Cars should be more like phones on wheels.  Even cars equipped with embedded modems – just like mobile phones – are far from behaving like mobile phones.  The embedded modem is isolated from most vehicle systems for fear of hacking and also to limit the use of the device.  In other words, instead of using the embedded device as a cost avoidance tool for anticipating and fixing problems with on-board hardware and software, car makers are trying to avoid the cost of using the embedded device.

Status of Issue #1:  My personal experience with map updates has been expensive, annoying, disappointing and frightening.  I have invested approximately $1,500 over the past 10 years in map updates for vehicles I have owned.  My latest experience was perhaps the most disappointing.

During an oil change visit to the dealer I asked if the dealer could update my on-board map – since I had received an email alert that one was available.  The dealer said that they’d first have to get a code and then once they had the code the update process would be at least 1.5 hours – probably longer. 

I decided to order the map update and try to do the installation myself – which is recommended.  I paid the $255 (including tax) for the thumb drive containing 2014 Version 1A of TomTom’s map of North America for my 2013 BMW.  I plugged the thumb drive in and went for a drive while it downloaded.

Once the update was done downloading to the car, the car displayed a message (see attachments):

“USB device data is not the latest version.  Start update anyway?”

I drove to the dealer to get a consult on the situation.  The dealer could not explain why this message was displaying.  Two hours later, I was told that the technician had used the dealer’s own 2014 map to update my navigation system.

The number of failure points is impressive:

1.      Update notification – generic and impersonal – The customer has to enter his or her personal information and VIN # to obtain the map update.  This process should have been handled in a more direct personal way perhaps via a portal and/or with an integrated smartphone element.  (Most customers will NOT have their VIN handy and the car maker ought to be managing this customer and vehicle identification information.)

2.      Map update is way too expensive – At $255, the map update is prohibitively expensive – which explains why only about 5% of car owners update their maps.

3.      There is no concierge experience for the customer that is crazy enough to update his or her maps.  At $255, there should be coffee and donuts, soft cushions, calming music, theater tickets … SOMETHING!

4.      Did the update really happen?  The customer will need to drive to some area with new construction to see if his or her map data was actually updated.  Otherwise, how would someone know?  The supporting documents claim massive amounts of added data, categories, POIs, etc. – but this is not obvious to the user.  (How about a document accessible online that portrays significant regional map updates or enhancements?)

5.      The thumb drive with the BMW map update had storage capacity of 32G of which 21G was used, suggesting an extraordinary amount of content (unless it was poorly compressed) – yet there is nowhere to discover precisely what is included.

What is the industry doing to address the problem of map updates?  Companies such as Ford, Mazda and GM have begun putting map data on thumb drives to hit lower price points and to make map updating easier.  But maps are still old and updates are still expensive.

Ford enables a turn-by-turn navigation experience via the connected smartphone without full map navigation.  TeleNav and deCarta are working on hybrid (on-board/off-board) navigation experiences.  Tesla uses the on-board modem in the Model S to stream Google’s map, which is fine as long as there is a connection.

Daimler and Kia intend to offer European customers a few free map updates as a customer relationship tool with new cars, but the strategy has not been widely adopted by competing car makers.  Navigation software supplier NNG is focusing on the problem with its NavFusion campaign.

NNG’s strategy is to include navigation in all cars but allow the customer to “unlock” the on-board application via a connected smartphone.  Once unlocked in this way, the smartphone app is updated routinely via the app store process, and then the smartphone passively updates the vehicle system when connected.  The brilliance of NNG’s approach is that it gets the customer to connect their phone to the car - a step that too often fails to hapen - and enables a map updating experience via the connected phone - requiring no additional license fee.

NNG is exploring a variety of models for bringing its map updating concept to the market including enabling incremental (country by country or state by state) updates that will be more manageable in size.  The possibility also exists for publicly accessible map Wi-Fi “top-up stations” at dealerships.

The bottom line for the industry is that map updates remain a significant unsolved problem.  And unsolved problems represent opportunity.  Consumers responding in countless surveys have made clear their interest in map updates.  The existing map update rate of 5% suggests a significant upside opportunity.

In fact, even a 10% or 20% improvement in map updating would translate into significant revenue for car makers and their suppliers.  Even more important is the fact that map updates can be converted by dealerships into profitable aftermarket revenue, new car sales and other customer engagement opportunities.

It is also worth noting that companies such as HERE and TomTom claim to be updating their map data on a daily basis.  Google and OpenStreetMaps are also updating on an increasingly frequent basis.  The industry needs to focus on narrowing the gap between map updating and map update delivery.  The immensity of this gap suggests the possibility for disruptive change and new thinking.

Status of Issue #2:  Cars acting more like smartphones on wheels. 

Cars are still pretty stupid.  But cars with activated embedded modems have no excuse for being stupid.  The on-board modem ought to be the core of the car’s brain and, combined with an on-board map, should be capable of rendering a contextually aware experience for the driver.

The fact that my BMW, in fact every BMW, still does not understand Daylight Savings Time is but one fundamental and obvious indication that cars are still pretty stupid, even the ones with modems.  As the industry shifts inexorably toward embedded modems, and LTE modules in particular, the day of the stupid car should be put behind us.  If the simplest electronic products can cope with Daylight Savings Time, a sophisticated $50,000 mobile electronics device should be able to keep up.  Our industry depends on it.


October 31, 2013 12:15 rlanctot

Industry experts are quick to declaim their belief that the days of free over-the-air radio are numbered. This increasingly conventional wisdom declares that the combination of streaming audio services (Pandora, Spotify, etc.) and Internet radio services (TuneIn, Aupeo!, etc.) will steadily crowd out the AM/FM competition and render it irrelevant.  Some have gone so far as to predict the demise of the car radio.

These forecasters ignore the vital role that radio plays in delivering urgent location-relevant information ranging from traffic and weather to news and sports and, yes, even emergency broadcasts and amber alerts. They also ignore the fact that this local content is delivered with locally relevant advertising.

There is some cause for concern.  Radio advertising revenue has fallen about 10% between 2008 and 2012 from $18.3B to $16.48B, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau. But radio remains dominant in reach and frequency of use, according to respected sources such as Nielsen Audio and Edison Research.

The decline in ad spend is a warning sign, though, and it is important to interpret that sign accurately. Unlike television and the Internet, radio remains largely unsearchable and is almost impervious to discovery (without an app). And radio advertising is a one-way proposition.

But technology is emerging to overcome these barriers in the form of audio content recognition (ACR). First introduced by Shazam (for identifying songs playing over the air or anywhere else) and SoundHound, ACR is just beginning to be used to enable an interactive advertising experience – something entirely taken for granted on the Internet and rapidly emerging in television.

In fact the television opportunity has become so compelling that Shazam and SoundHound have completely shifted their focus (and their hundreds of millions of users) to TV, leaving the challenge of enabling interactive advertising on radio and in cars to the likes of Clip Interactive and NextRadio.

Emmis Communications’ NextRadio initiative is based on the introduction of FM chips in mobile phones. Working with Sprint, which has added FM chips to some of its handsets, the service provides local over-the-air reception and adds interactive features, if stations opt to support them, such as buying and rating songs, social media coupons and geo-location services, using the phone’s data channel. Emmis has attracted the participation of 19 radio groups supporting full TagStation content to deliver album art and interactivity, and Ford Motor Company has shown interest in the technology as a solution that can be enabled via a connected smartphone in a car.

Clip Interactive, meanwhile, is using ACR to enable comprehensive interactivity with radio station broadcasts including music and spoken word content as well as advertising. Currently testing in Portland and San Diego with local partners, Clip Interactive is scanning the local broadcast content in order to create an interactive opportunity for broadcasters and their listeners.

Clip executives believe that the Internet and IP-delivered services such as Pandora have raised customer expectations for a personalized and interactive experience. At the same time advertisers want targeting, tracking and direct connectivity to the listener on a one to one basis.

There is no better venue for this kind of personalized and targeted engagement than a car, where the listener is belted in and, very often, on the way to making a purchase or conducting some other kind of transaction. Clip execs believe that broadcast radio needs to step up to interactivity to realize the potential of vehicle-based advertising.

In Portland and San Diego Clip has set up listening posts cataloguing all of the content from the top 30 stations in the market. ACR technology is used as a form of fingerprinting to make all of the broadcast content accessible for interactivity.  Local broadcasters participating in Clip's program create the interactive offers and content to go with the over-the-air offering.

With ACR-interpreted content scanned and stored by Clip, all that is required is for listeners is to run the Clip app in the background on their mobile phone as they drive and, with the click of a button or with a verbal cue they can tag music, advertisements or other over-the-air content with which they can engage when they reach their destination.

“Music is a commodity that others like Pandora will slice, dice and recommend,” says Bill Freund, executive vice president of Clip. “but localized broadcasts will never be commoditized or programmatic. Local broadcasters need to leverage this advantage in the vehicle.”

Clip’s offering is still in a trial phase, but the early results are promising (see example below).  Both Clip and NextRadio enable broadcasters to reach out and engage with their listeners in real time.  In the future, ACR might enable enhanced searching of broadcast content – including spoken word sources. But for now, both services leverage existing technology to transform a medium in need of transformation.

Cast Study halloween.pptx (4.27 mb)


October 20, 2013 22:20 rlanctot

At a time when Apple, Google and Microsoft are all intensifying their flirtation with auto makers in an attempt to capture the fourth (fifth?) screen, an Amazon acquisition of Blackberry suddenly makes a lot of sense.  Amazon has the assets, the content, the delivery platform and the global reach to fulfill much of the cloud connectivity vision increasingly sought by car makers.  All that’s missing are the car company and Tier 1 connections to stitch it all together – which is where QNX comes in.

The digital world is coalescing around a multi-screen vision focused on content delivery, application penetration and e-commerce reaching consumers at every touch point of their connected lives.  Amazon has mastered selling things to people wherever they may be on their computer, watching television or on their mobile device – or even via their Kindle e-reader.  The last frontier for Amazon is the car.

While Apple, Google and Microsoft have overtly pushed their search engines, device connections, cloud resources and operating systems, Amazon has quietly muscled its way to market leadership in online commerce and back-end service support.  Amazon has also shoved its way to the top of the e-reader heap, putting itself into the mobile device business for the first time with the Kindle.

Along the way Amazon has embraced and modified Android for its own purposes and acquired two automotive-facing assets – Audible (an application and Website for delivering electronic books) and Ivona (a natural sounding text-to-speech solution) both already positioned for automotive deployment.  (Audible is actually available as part of BMW’s BMW Apps offering.  And Amazon's Cloud Player has been deployed by Ford.)  Amazon’s servers are already supporting mobile apps being used in cars and its content delivery and e-commerce system is perfect for the range of LTE-equipped cars and emerging in-car commerce solutions soon to be rolling out of auto factories around the world.

An acquisition of Blackberry will give Amazon instant credibility in the automotive industry with the QNX real-time operating system, already used in the majority of high-end and mid-range automotive infotainment systems.  Amazon will also gain access to Blackberry’s highly reliable and secure messaging platform suitable for both automotive and mobile device applications.  And car makers determined to enable an app store experience in the car will find one ready-made from Amazon.

QNX OEM partners: BMW, PSA, Audi, Hyundai, Chrysler, GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Daewoo, Land Rover, and Porsche

QNX Tier 1 partners: Johnson Controls, Panasonic, Mitsubishi Electric, Garmin, Harman, Denso, Visteon

Even more valuable to Amazon than the automotive play, though, is the mobile play.  A Blackberry acquisition allows Amazon to dive directly into the deep end of the mobile handset business and leverage its differentiating content delivery assets for a one-of-kind mobile experience that extends the company’s existing mobile device footprint.

A combination messaging device and e-reader with cutting edge audio and video delivery capabilities and seamless e-commerce elements is a powerful counterpoint to the Apple-Google duopoly and effectively counters Microsoft’s nascent Windows Phone 8 efforts.  For Blackberry, Amazon is everything that Blackberry isn’t.  Summed up in one hyphenated word Amazon is: consumer-friendly.

Blackberry lost its way following the onset of the iPhone and the rise of Android.  The company was unable to define an attractive third path and is struggling to rebuild its unique selling proposition.  Amazon has precisely the assets and brand cachet that Blackberry needs to reposition itself in the market.

Less obvious is the fact that an Amazon acquisition restores confidence among consumers and corporate customers alike.  The acquisition will also reinforce the Android-centric message – even though Blackberry is using QNX – Blackberry phones  already support Android, which makes it perfectly compatible with Amazon.

Finally, Amazon can slide directly into all of Blackberry’s existing carrier and retail relationships as it nears the launch of its own wireless device, widely rumored to arrive in time for the holidays.

For Blackberry a tie-up with Amazon restores OEM confidence in the longevity of Blackberry as a company and its QNX division as a supplier of real-time operating system software.  Such an acquisition marries solid automotive credentials and a secure mobile messaging platform with cloud service resources and the world’s largest e-commerce platform.

Such a move also allows car companies to steer clear of Google and Apple with their competing agendas (Google: to sell search-based advertising; Apple: to sell mobile devices).  The only issue that remains to be resolved is whether car makers will welcome Amazon into the aftermarket.

Amazon already offers online access to a wide range of auto parts, supplies and accessories.  A direct engagement with the auto industry could transform this existing retail activity and might, eventually, lead to direct sales of used and new cars – or even car insurance, collision aftercare or vehicle service.  Amazon could facilitate the process of car companies or their dealers opening stores on Amazon.

More than Google, Apple and Microsoft, Amazon understands the power and value of e-commerce.  An acquisition of Blackberry opens wide the door to two large industries, wireless and automotive.  The time is right if Amazon is ready to disrupt both of these markets – and if the auto industry is ready to accept this large yet scrappy newcomer.


August 7, 2013 17:53 rlanctot

The back-up camera mandate should be implemented.  A simplified do-not-touch-your-phone law should be promoted.  And DSRC modules should be mandated on commercial and emergency vehicles.  Those are the results of a survey of attendees at the recent Telematics Update V2V conference in Novi, Mich., regarding US Department of Transportation priorities.

Respondents were asked to vote on 10 To-Do items previously recommended for incoming U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and detailed in a Strategy Analytics blog (tinyurl.com/meud4m7).  Perhaps it is not surprising that these respondents nearly universally agreed that commercial vehicles and emergency vehicles ought to be prioritized for deployment of modules enabling dedicated short range communication (DSRC) messaging.  But DSRC-based V2V technology was not the only thing on their minds.

Respondents strongly agreed that anti-texting laws and hands-free phone initiatives were probably doing more to confuse drivers than they were to mitigate distracted driving.  For those reasons, 61.5% said they agreed that a do-not-touch-your-phone law to simplify the rules and the enforcement of anti-distraction laws was a worthy task for the incoming Secretary.

But the biggest headline-grabbing support of 84.6% and 92.3%, respectively, was voiced for the deployment of DSRC for commercial and emergency vehicles.  The complete results appear following the verbatim comments (below) where respondents offered their own priorities for the new DOT Secretary.

“Congestion mitigation (congestion pricing, traffic information, V2I, etc.) … high levels of congestion as we see in San Francisco and other cities is getting worse and will have a greater negative economic impact.

“Collision mitigation technologies for heavy trucks  (as in #5).

“ITS (information hotspots) similar to the ITS hotspots in Japan – in-vehicle signage and traffic information.

“#7 (above) is a key element of research – can DSRC and LTE play together well (as in) spectrum sharing etc.  We are (encouraging) the wireless community to come to the Novi CVTB V2I Test bed and try LTE and DSRC first as a simcast of messages on both channels.”

“Reorganize US DOT to improve efficiency.  As an example, there are a minimum of three organizations with DOT that have commercial vehicle oversight and rule-making authority.  There should only be one.

“Reassign all policy and governance for the Connected Vehicle program from the JPO to the FHWA office of policy.  JPO has had this in their hands for the past 5+ years and have not moved the ball.  The technical people are making decisions that will require a lot of work to modify if the policy people don’t follow the same path.  They should be working together and with the industry.”

“The total benefit for back-up camera systems as a visual-only warning mechanism have not been sufficiently compared to back-up object detection systems that incorporate automatic brake control.  Whichever of those two approaches shows the greatest likelihood of saving lives should be what is legislated.

“DSRC systems have not yet been sufficiently studied as an approach to improve existing active safety mechanisms.  This study should be performed, and if the results prove positive, it should be considered whether to mandate those integrated active safety mechanisms whenever DSRC may be mandated.

“As a subset to #4 (above), I would urge DOT to encourage/facilitate an industry discussion about legal liability in accidents involving autonomous systems.  Start the discussion now before a headline-grabbing accident or class action lawsuit has everyone declaring ‘Not our fault!’ and expending all their energies on protecting themselves.”

“Provide the metropolitan area with a means (public transport, emergency, taxi, …) to upgrade roadside units with DSRC.

“Mandate DSRC for cabs in major cities.

“Provide new infrastructure plan with networking capability.

“Generate green and SDC lane on highway.”

“Release Safety Pilot results/data ASAP (the lack of information is causing everyone to adopt a wait-and-see approach).

“Ensure that all new highway developments/upgrades have DSRC fitted (the cost is miniscule compared to the cost of the road).

“Ensure that all new traffic light deplyments have DSRC fitted (the price of RSEs woud tumble in the face of such opportunities).”

“Research programs, initiatives, incentive programs focusing on driver distraction countermeasures via technological solutions (e.g. voice interfaces, improved HMIs, lockouts).

“Focus on improvements to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure (roads and bridges).

“Focus on driver fatigue/drowsiness as a safety area (like LaHood did with driver distraction).

“Much greater focus on commercial vehicle safety research; greater funding allocations to FMCSA and FTA research programs.”

And the complete results:

#1 – Mandate: Do Not Touch Your Phone While Driving

Yes: 61.5%      No: 23.1%       Don’t Know: 15.4%

#2 – Endorse California legislation AB 397 for the creation of a VIN-based Next of Kin Notification database.

Yes: 46.1%      No: 15.4%       Don’t Know: 38.5%

#3 - Implement the back-up camera mandate.

Yes: 69.2%      No: 15.4%       Don’t Know: 15.4%

#4 – Provide a legislative framework and guidelines for states to register and license self-driving cars with the sole requirement that drivers must be in the driver seat and responsible for control of the vehicle.

Yes: 53.8%      No: 38.5%       Don’t Know: 7.7%

#5 – Initiate a process for mandating the installation of DSRC modules on commercial vehicles in FMCSA Classes 6, 7, 8.

Yes: 84.6%      No: 0               Don’t Know: 15.4%

#6 – Require the installation of DSRC modules on all emergency and service vehicles.

Yes: 92.3%      No: 0               Don’t Know: 7.7%

#7 – Add LTE and LTE Advanced modules to all current DSRC tests.

Yes: 38.5%      No: 38.5%       Don’t Know: 23.1%

#8 – Highlight elements of Next Gen 911 research focused on the acquisition of crash scene information including text, video, data and voice via smartphones.

Yes: 61.5%      No: 7.7%         Don’t Know: 30.7%

#9 – Highlight app development intended to improve the functioning of all transit including public transportation, traffic information, schedules, traffic, car and ride sharing.

Yes: 84.6%      No: 7.7%         Don’t Know: 7.7%

#10 – Roadside Bluetooth installations should be required to add DSRC.

Yes: 53.8%      No: 15.4%       Don’t Know: 30.7%


July 7, 2013 15:46 rlanctot

Congratulations came from far and wide last week for the new U.S. Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx, former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina. Given the brief 4.5-year tenure of his predecessor, Ray LaHood, it is important that Secretary Foxx get right down to business and we have a few recommendations.

In the interest of brevity, we have kept the list to 10 items and we apologize in advance for focusing exclusively on the automotive industry but it is worthwhile noting the industry’s impact on the U.S. economy* (which is equivalent to its impact globally):

  • 8 million jobs
  • $500B in compensation
  • $70B in tax revenues
  • 4.5% of all jobs supported by auto industry
  • 3-3.5% of gross domestic product

Ten To-Do’s for the New U.S. Secretary of Transportation

#1 – Mandate: Do Not Touch Your Phone While Driving

The current state-by-state patchwork of anti-texting and driving laws and hands-free phone laws have created confusion and inhibited compliance and enforcement of driver distraction mitigation measures. A single, simple nationwide guideline with pre-approved legislative language and a deadline for adoption will crystalize consumer understanding while simplifying the planning of car and app developers and the wireless industry.

#2 – Endorse California legislation AB 397 for the creation of a VIN-based Next of Kin Notification database.

Formally support California's introduction of a legislative mandate (AB 397) creating a voluntary national motor vehicle emergency contact (aka next-of-kin) database accessible to authorized law enforcement agencies nationwide:

Earlier this year the California legislature introduced legislation that will ensure law enforcement personnel can notify next-of-kin quickly in the event of a traffic incident in which victims are incapacitated. Often, it can take days for family members to learn their loved one was killed or seriously injured in a crash. The California Motor Vehicle Emergency Contact Locator Act of 2013 will solve this problem.

Many times, a family’s only indication that something bad happened is the fact that the loved one did not arrive at home when they were expected. AB 397 will establish a low-cost, efficient, and immediate way for law enforcement personnel to find and inform families about their loved ones.

AB 397 does not propose any changes in the manufacturing of vehicles, but utilizes a law enforcement database. For example, a crash occurs, and John Smith is critically injured and unable to communicate. Law enforcement cannot locate the victim's emergency contact information and/or family; but law enforcement can tap into the database established under this bill and obtain contact information within seconds necessary to notify designated emergency contact(s).

#3 - Implement the back-up camera mandate.

Unlike other rule-making or standards-setting activities, the back-up camera mandate was the result of legislation - followed by millions of tax payers' dollars in research.  With the legislative branch having already weighed in, it is important to move forward on this item to restore confidence in the ability of the U.S. government to make progress even in the face of strong industry lobbying.

Car companies have already made the preparations for this requirement which is reflected in television advertisements from Honda, Nissan and Buick among many others. While there is an anti-competitive element to requiring all car makers to implement this solution, the wider impact of stimulating the adoption of safety systems as standard equipment will be immediate and significant.

Make no mistake, the U.S. is a leader in killing people on the highway – 100 people die every day on U.S. roadways. If it weren’t for Brazil jumping into third place on the global list of annual highway fatalities, the U.S. would be right there “behind” China and India.

The automotive industry’s assertion that the cost per life saved is onerous is not an argument that the industry can sustain. At least 200 lives are likely be saved annually once all cars are rear-camera-equipped – but the stimulus to the adoption of lane keeping, blind spot detection and collision avoidance systems resulting from the mandate will save many more. Furthermore, the integration of in-vehicle displays for the purpose of achieving safer driving will also be transformative and set the stage for vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity systems.

#4 – Provide a legislative framework and guidelines for states to register and license self-driving cars with the sole requirement that drivers must be in the driver seat and responsible for control of the vehicle.

A recent survey by the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers revealed that about a third of the U.S. driving public thinks self-driving cars are a good idea. Those results are a clear sign that Google (and DARPA) are on to something. The DOT should be more supportive of the efforts of Google, Audi, Continental and others to bring self-driving cars to U.S. highways. Promoting and supporting this technology is a stimulus package that will be widely welcomed by the automotive, wireless, and semiconductor industries.

#5 – Initiate a process for mandating the installation of DSRC modules on commercial vehicles in FMCSA Classes 6, 7, 8.

In 1999, spectrum was allocated without an auction or fees by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the U.S. in the 5.9GHz band for dedicated short range communication (DSRC) applications. For 14 years, the industry has been testing and hypothesizing about those potential applications, but the country has precious little to show for the effort.

DSRC is intended to save lives by ultimately enabling safer driving by creating a driving environment where cars communicate with each other and with infrastructure. The inability of the DOT to drive adoption of the technology in the large-volume passenger vehicle market segment has meant 14 years wasted while preserving usage of the 5.9GHz band for the auto and fleet industries.

By now it is clear that the FCC has lost patience with the DOT and is threatening to open up that spectrum to unlicensed use – something the ITS community is strenuously fighting to prevent. Nothing would be more effective than to foster immediate adoption of DSRC for commercial fleet applications.

The good news is that companies such as Kapsch TrafficCom have already begun moving in this direction. Earlier this year Kapsch announced the first deployment of DSRC technology for a parking availability application for fleets - in cooperation with the Michigan DOT.

A mandated adoption of DSRC in FMCSA Classes 6, 7, and 8 will create an immediate market for DSRC applications and stimulate adoption of DSRC technology in passenger cars as well. The rationale and use cases are too numerous to describe here, but the efficacy of such a strategy is manifest.

#6 – Require the installation of DSRC modules on all emergency and service vehicles.

Knowing the location and movements of emergency vehicles is of critical importance to both drivers of passenger cars and transportation authorities. In addition, responding emergency vehicles have a need to know the presence of other vehicles potentially responding to an event. The rationale and use case here is clear. The live-saving prospects will be immediate.

Service vehicles parked along highways are a routine hazard faced by drivers every day. No amount of cones, signs or lights can replace the power of a wireless beacon embedded in such vehicles warning off heedless drivers of passenger vehicles – night and day.

#7 – Add LTE and LTE Advanced modules to all current DSRC tests.

We’ve all heard the arguments that the latency of LTE signals is too great and the current network too unreliable to be appropriate for safety applications. Yet we also hear of tests of LTE that show promise for safety applications. It is time the DOT put this debate to rest or at least settled the matter once and for all by insisting that LTE be tested alongside DSRC in all cases – including the Safety Pilot currently underway in Michigan. It is clear that these two technologies will be used cooperatively, so it is best to get the testing out of the way.

#8 – Highlight elements of Next Gen 911 research focused on the acquisition of crash scene information including text, video, data and voice via smartphones.

While the European Union continues to pursue its ill-conceived eCall mandate, the U.S. is leading the charge to enhance the acquisition of information associated with vehicle crashes. While the EU mandated the means of data transmission – data over voice – the U.S. has, instead, focused on enhancing the capabilities of the 911 responder community to capture all forms of inputs from crash scenes.

Hence, the EU is struggling with forcing both car makers and public service access point (PSAP) responders to adopt the mandated technology. The EU has also gone so far as to discourage the use of mobile phones for reporting crash information. And, lastly, even European wireless carriers have balked at the eCall flag and related requirements.

A far different picture emerges in the U.S. where emergency response leadership is seeking ways to leverage smartphone connections at crash scenes to enhance response protocols. Given the potential value of a connected and operating smartphone at a crash scene there is an opportunity for the US DOT to recommend the adoption of specific safety-related protocols when connecting smartphones in cars in anticipation of the data acquisition opportunity in the event of a crash. More attention paid here will pay significant life-saving dividends.

#9 – Highlight app development intended to improve the functioning of all transit including public transportation, traffic information, schedules, traffic, car and ride sharing.

The DOT can do more to foster the sharing and dissemination of public transit information for the purpose of stimulating app development and, as a result, increase awareness and expand usage. Apps have the power to make transit more user friendly and the DOT should support these development efforts – more DOT hack-a-thons perhaps?

In addition, there is a crisis brewing between Taxi & Limousine commissions and ride-sharing services. Some benchmarking and identification of best practices from other countries ought to be conducted to create basic guidelines for implementation of these services in a manner that guarantees driver and passenger safety and preserves existing commercial rights.

Finally, there is a need for more complete disclosure regarding the usage of tolling and traffic and enforcement camera images and information. Drivers benefit from the use of data derived from roadside infrastructure for the purposes of better managing traffic, but confusion exists regarding the use and availability of this information for other forensic purposes. The ownership and handling of this data must be more clearly defined for the driving public to preserve confidence in the transportation system.

#10 – Roadside Bluetooth installations should be required to add DSRC.

Roadside Bluetooth scanners from TrafficCast, Traffax, Post Oak, Siemens and other suppliers should be required to include DSRC technology. The vast majority of these installations are the result of local or national DOT contracts, so insisting on this enhancement ought to fall squarely within the purview of the DOT. Such guidance will go a long way toward dissipating lingering concerns regarding the cost of roadside DSRC devices – and Wi-Fi-based technologies, such as DSRC, are increasingly being enabled by combination chipsets.

Good luck and God speed, Secretary Foxx.  Now get to work!

*Center for Automotive Research, “Contribution of the Automobile Industry to All 50 States and the United States.”

 


July 6, 2013 00:20 rlanctot

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in the U.S. launched an iOS smartphone app two weeks ago to share information with the public regarding the location of more than 200,000 highway-rail grade crossings.  The safety implications of sharing this information are clear, but the accuracy of the underlying information is already in question in spite of a crowd-sourcing element built into the app.

And a recent disastrous collision of a train and truck outside Baltimore suggests that the FRA app fails to go far enough to mitigate collisions at highway-rail grade crossings.  Clearly knowing where crossings are located is not enough.

The app allows users to retrieve information such as the physical characteristics of railroad crossings in a particular area and the type of traffic control devices used at that crossing. The app also allows users to report information about grade crossings to the FRA to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date information is available. The app is free through Apple’s App Store and can be used on any iPhone or iPad.

While it is a positive gesture for the FRA to offer this kind of outreach, the process seems completely ill-conceived especially in the context of clashing with private commercial products and services. An existing app called Global Mobile Alert already exists to alert drivers when using their phone to the presence of railroad crossings, school zones and intersections, for the purposes of mitigating distracted driving.

Global Mobile Alert uses data from the Here division within Nokia as its source with programming of the application by deCarta. Here has its own procedures for receiving map and POI information corrections. What is unclear is precisely who will receive railroad crossing information corrections at the FRA and how and when they will be processed and distributed to users of the app. Of course Here's information is used as part of fleet navigation solutions as well, meaning FRA's app is setting up a redundant data set.

Amazingly enough, the truck driver whose trash truck was hit by a CSX locomotive outside Baltimore just a few weeks before the FRA app was launched was using his phone via a Bluetooth connection at the time of the crash. The Global Mobile Alert app might have removed this distraction, though the driver claimed he looked up and down the track in spite of being on the phone.

Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood hailed the new FRA app as a means to improve neighborhood safety and assist consumers in making better travel choices. It seems pretty clear that the likelihood of this new app achieving success will require that any information generated be integrated into existing navigation and traffic information services.

Moreover, it fundamentally makes no sense for the government to be getting into the app development business – especially when the implications for sharing the railroad crossing information extend to the commercial fleet sector. The intersection of fleet and rail transport protocols and priorities highlights the urgency of capturing and distributing up to date crossing information including the timing of the passage of actual trains.

But judging from the first public comment on the app, it is already failing at its limited objective of locating the actual crossings:

“just downloaded this app. 

“Without looking too far, I see a number of errors. Some include missing crossings - including one on Route 138 at the KIN station, which is above grade and has been in place for 70+ years! Other errors include at grade crossings on the NEC in RI. All at grade crossings in RI on the NEC have either been eliminated (the road severed into 2 dead end roads) or have been grade separated. This happened over 10 years ago.”

Prior to the launch of the app, the DOT claims a 34% reduction in incidents at highway-rail crossing with a corresponding reduction of 30% in related fatalities. In 2012, 20% of all reportable rail accidents occurred at highway-rail crossings, according to the agency.

The really strange thing about the app, though, is that it is focused solely on the location and setup of the highway-rail crossings. As the commenter appropriately notes, highway-rail crossings are fixed and are not subject to frequent changes either in location or in their configuration.

The FRA ought to have definitive information regarding the location of these crossings and their condition. It may well be that there is a crowd-sourcing opportunity in reporting burned out lights, or traffic-stopping control arms that are failing to deploy or alarm bells that are failing to sound properly – but it is not clear what elements are reportable, who will validate these reports and who will see to it that updates are pushed to the users of the apps.

This is even more surprising given the critical nature of the information for the fleet industry. The train-truck collision outside Baltimore occurred just four weeks prior to the launch of the FRA app. The collision resulted in a derailment and a violent explosion – though no fatalities.

The driver of the truck claimed he slowed and looked as he approached the tracks but never saw or heard the CSX locomotive bearing down on him, according to an account in the Baltimore Sun. “John Alban Jr. told a Baltimore County police investigator that he was talking via Bluetooth on his cell phone on his way to a recycling facility on May 28, when he made the turn north from his business toward Lake Drive.”

The Baltimore Sun report continues: “He did not hear the train warning horn,’ said the police report dated June 24. ‘As he made the turn [he] looked to the right and did not see anything. As he was crossing the tracks, he heard the train horn and looked up at the same time as the train hit him.’

Clearly, knowledge of the location of the crossing was not an issue, but knowledge of the timing of the passage of trains was less well known and might have made a difference. Similarly, an app that was capable of discouraging use of the phone at such a crossing – such as Global Mobile Alert – might have prevented the collision, derailment and explosion.

If the FRA really wants to make a difference it should find a private partner to create an app – perhaps based on the existing app – tapping into existing databases from organizations such as Here and enabling crowd sourcing or a wider variety of information. But, even more importantly, what is clearly missing is an app capable of sharing critical information regarding the scheduled openings and closings of those crossings for passing trains or construction – in the interest of avoiding collisions and saving lives.