AUTOMOTIVE MULTIMEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS

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

July 15, 2010 15:07 rlanctot
The transition to digital radio has been slow, but no one should have any doubt about its inevitability. One of the greatest challenges in ushering digital radio into the market, aside from differing standards (in Europe) and analog radio shut off issues, is the user interface. Digital radio opens up a new world of location-relevant information including both data and content all of which means opportunity for system designers to compete and differentiate. Digital radio is forcing designers to change the way they think about broadcast content and how consumers will access and “discover” new sources and types of content – from traffic and weather information to podcasts and enhancements such as slideshow functionality and conditional access. While the fundamentals of frequencies (in the U.S.) and station names (Europe) remain unchanged, the ability to search for specific content or location information is transforming the radio experience. Digital radio is ideally suited to the emerging cloud-based content and service delivery world confronting the automotive industry. This convergence of radio and the cloud is manifested most obviously in so-called hybrid radio (promoted by RadioDNS www.radiodns.org) which brings together broadcast signals with online content enhancements such as album art. Of course, hybrid radio is still just an idea today, although broadcasters and content providers are building the necessary databases to support the technology. (Strategy Analytics data shows FM radio technology forecasted to be available on 60% of handsets sold in the U.S. by 2014.) Meanwhile, electronic programming guides – such as RadioTime – have already made search and location relevance a reality. The unspoken facilitating technology is the smartphone. The growing popularity of smartphones and the corresponding rise of automotive smartphone connectivity and application stores have facilitated the introduction of Internet radio and music services into cars. The integration of this access with on-board systems will add yet another layer of added value for the consumer. Even more significant is the emergence of interactivity and conditional access to radio content. The proliferation of music services is turning music consumption into a thumbs-up/thumbs-down proposition allowing consumers to customize their experience..Among the music services enabling this customized experience are Pandora (streaming), Slacker (cached), Mog, Rhapsody and Thumbplay. But unlike digital radio, none of these services are completely free for a commercial-free experience. Digital radio stands alone as a ubiquitous, free-over-the-air offering increasingly built into OEM and aftermarket solutions. Of greatest importance, from a user interface perspective, is the fact that the OEM can control, leverage or drive the digital radio experience, unlike Internet radio, which is connectivity based. The march toward digital radio was manifest at last week’s WorldDMB conference in the form of software defined radios capable of supporting DAB, DAB+, DMB and HD Radio systems. Companies showing such solutions included ST Microelectronics, Maxim and EtherWaves. Frontier Silicon laid claim to market leadership in digital radio implementations in its comments at the event. Frontier made a distinction between higher cost software defined radio solutions that provide for flexibility and upgradability and hardware radios that are lower cost and less flexible, while offering a third path of hybrid radio (not to be confused with the RadioDNS technology) offering an optimal mix of lower cost and flexibility. Panasonic Electronic Devices also showed multiple-format modules at the conference. The overall tenor of the WorldDMB gathering was oriented toward overcoming transition issues for the implementation of digital radio throughout Europe. Of course, the industry can only progress as quickly as the systems can reach the market. Hardware and software companies are still scrambling to bring all of the capabilities of digital radio into being. This is most clear from the progress of iBiquity Digital in the U.S., key sponsor of HD Radio technology. This week the company reported that 18% of aftermarket systems sold in the U.S. this year came with HD Radio. The company also reports steady progress in recruiting OEMs to implement HD Radio, which is increasingly standard. But none of the implementations currently on the market are able to take advantage of the complete range of available digital radio applications. So, the content is available in the form of hundreds of broadcasters and the receivers are in place in line-fit and aftermarket solutions, but complete technology deployment is still in progress at the silicon level. Nevertheless, governmental authorities are aggressively pursuing awareness campaigns and contests intended to drive digital radio adoption. The numbers are still modest, typically in the hundreds of thousands of units, but at least these representatives recognize that digital radio will require active efforts to stimulate consumer interest. At the same time, new capabilities will mean new business models and new user interfaces. One of the essential reasons for the introduction of digital radio is to open up congested airwaves to more broadcasters and more broadcast content. This will stimulate additional advertising and revenue opportunities and confusion. But these are early days for digital radio. The inevitability of digital radio was clear at the WorldDMB conference where country rollout status reports were shared including some hard digital switchover dates, such as the U.K.’s 2015 deadline. (France was notable by its absence at the event - due to logistical issues. But France’s mandate for DMB leaves no room for doubt regarding its transition to digital radio.) Whether or not digital radio replaces analog radio over the long run, the automotive industry is in the forefront of the movement and stands to reap the greatest rewards. It remains to be seen which OEMs or suppliers will lead the way but the race is on to deliver a new level of value to consumers. Further insight: http://bit.ly/8Z8HZh - Automotive Connectivity: Beyond Bluetooth Solutions - Automtive Multimedia Communications - Mark Fitzgerald http://bit.ly/b5W8ZS - Nokia and RIM Push Into Automotive as 'Apps' Competition Mounts - Automotive Multimedia & Communications - Joanne Blight http://bit.ly/blAHUC - Handset Sales by Type: Smartphone, Feature Phone and Basic Phone - Wireless Device Strategies - Alex Spektor http://bit.ly/9jANwu - Global Smartphone Sales Forecast by Country Western Europe and North America - Wireless Smartphone Strategies - Thomas Kang

July 5, 2010 15:07 rlanctot
The cardiac kids at Sirius XM are at it again. After surviving years of multi-million dollar losses, a high-wire, company-saving merger with XM, and the downturn in auto sales, the company reported a strong first quarter in May. With auto sales recovering at the beginning of the year, Sirius was able to report revenue and subscriber increases and later revised its estimate of subscriber additions for the year to approximately 750,000. But now the ultimate test, the switch to XM, is on. The subscriber increase, which pushed the total close to 19M, reflected a net gain of 171,441 vs. a decline of 404,422 in the year-ago period. The numbers looked good, but they obscured the challenges arising from an increasingly competitive radio-listening landscape, the increasing inclination of car makers to make satellite radio an option rather than standard equipment and the impending termination of the Sirius half of the combined Sirius XM satellite network. All of these negatives were either swept from the table by the positive earnings report or were not mentioned at all on the earnings conference call. (In the interest of full disclosure allow me to acknowledge that I am a subscriber to both XM and Sirius services and enjoy the content, as do the members of my family. Each member of my family has his or her favorite stations and it is nice to know that those stations are available anywhere in the U.S.) Strategy Analytics consumer surveys in the U.S. show satellite radio lagging well behind traditional AM/FM as a must have in the car. While AM/FM is described as a must have by 88% of respondents, satellite radio is regarded as a must have by only 14%. Internet radio lags even further behind at 5% - but that is changing. Interestingly, U.K. survey respondents show a higher level of interest in digital radio (DAB or DMB), with 22% describing it as a must have in the car. The lack of enthusiasm for satellite radio reflected in the survey results is just one of several negative indicators. Another such indicator is the fact that the aftermarket for satellite radio products is almost non-existent. Just as car makers have been inclined to make satellite radio optional, makers of aftermarket head units have also tended to introduce systems that are “satellite ready” vs. offering one or the other system built in. And the market for portable devices enabled for satellite radio has been limited thus far. Sirius XM is line extending into the iPhone app marketplace, but here, again, the company will run up against music services and Internet radio. The music services leverage more liberal licensing models for storing and managing music and Internet radio will benefit from the increasing proliferation of programming guides such as Stitcher or RadioTime to access interesting and relevant local content including podcasts. Of course, these services also benefit greatly from having a two-way link. Millions of consumers are turning to music services and Internet radio. Car and handset makers are developing ways to integrate these music services (ie. Slacker, Pandora) and Internet radio (ie. IHeartRadio) into their platforms – while carriers are scrambling to introduce tiered data programs to shield themselves from the burgeoning traffic. While satellite radio is increasingly optional either from the factory or in the aftermarket, HD Radio is increasingly standard equipment on cars. But the real killer for Sirius is unfolding in recent meetings with OEMs. Sirius has told its clients, which include BMW, Mercedes, Chrysler, Ford, Kia, Land Rover, Jaguar and many others, that they must switch to XM by 2016. For the car makers that helped make Sirius XM what it is today, there are no special subsidies, no silver bullet hardware fix or retrofit. There is simply a notification that they must switch from Sirius to XM by 2016. The bottom line, of course, is that the two satellite systems – one based on a satellite in geosynchronous orbit and one on satellites in geostationary orbits and using similar frequencies – require different receivers and antennas. In spite of a legal requirement in the merger agreement that the companies find a solution for interoperability, nothing beyond a combination of the two incompatible receivers and antennas was ever introduced in the market. The quiet announcement of the switch to XM, though long anticipated, is surprising for a number of reasons: 1. The companies must have known this day would come when they originally merged, yet it was never acknowledged until recently that one of the satellite networks would have to be sacrificed. 2. Given the fact that subscriber growth has reached a plateau it is clear that Sirius XM can ill afford to lose half its subscribers. And winning new subscribers in the current competitive environment will be a challenge especially as auto sales – the source of the majority of new subscribers – continue to move sideways, failing to provide the engine satellite radio so desperately needs. 3. Car makers – including several premium marks - are incensed that Sirius is making this unilateral change with little or nothing in the way of guidelines or even a public information campaign strategy. Sirius has made no public statement yet and company representatives have failed to respond to repeated requests for comment. 4. There is also some irony in the fact that Sirius spent many years denegrating XM's solution but in the end has chosen to consolidate on the XM platform. Long term, the good news is that the company selected to preserve XM, the more robust of the two solutions. XM was first to market with data solutions for weather (XM Weather in August 2003), traffic (XM NavTraffic on 2005 Acura RL and XM NavWeather on the Acura TL. Sirius made up some ground with the launch of Travel Link by Ford, but XM’s platform, including its terrestrial repeater network, is better suited to providing a wider range of content and services to drivers. If Sirius can keep car makers on board with a vision of low-cost, nationwide content delivery – and the higher ARPU implied therein – it may emerge profitably and competitively vis-à-vis smartphone and digital radio-based solutions. But the company is changing gears just as these new solutions are gaining momentum and at a time when car makers have little patience for another high-wire act. Further Insight: CES 2010: The Arrival of Converged Automotive Multimedia Products - John Canali -  http://bit.ly/9gq4yo Automotive Bluetooth: Profile Strategy Key to Infotainment Success - Mark Fitzgerald - http://bit.ly/9qEXbU Internet Radio: Ready for Prime Time - Mark Fitzgerald - http://bit.ly/ZBXzd Internet Radio to Vie with Music Services for Automotive Dominance - Lanctot - blog - http://bit.ly/9xm6qR WorldDMB Car Manufacturers Workshop - Munich - July 7 - Arrange meeting with Strategy Analytics - http://bit.ly/aUcqgm

June 16, 2010 08:06 rlanctot
While major media and cable companies talk about four screen strategies the telematics industry is abuzz over the emergence of a three screen world. This was never more clear than at last week’s Telematics Update event in Novi, Mich. From OEMs to tier ones, software and service providers, the focus is on leveraging handsets, head units and the Internet to create closer and more profitable customer relationships. Companies on hand preaching the three-screen gospel included Nokia, Continental, Airbiquity, WirelessCar, RealVNC, QNX, Google, ATX, Tweddle Group Technologies and Parrot. The solutions demonstrated and debated point the way to a more connected experience in the car where the customer can access vehicle related information from outside the vehicle or on a phone or online when away from the vehicle. Even meta data provider Rovi and HMI supplier TAT offered their contributions to the three-screen vision. Nokia described and defended its terminal mode technology, a European-oriented campaign built around what some term a “screen scrape” transfer of a smartphone’s display along with a shift of device control to the vehicle HMI. Nokia intends to equip all of its smartphones with terminal mode technology by early 2011 and is working through the CE4A coalition to coordinate tier one head unit implementation of the technology throughout Europe, where Nokia’s market share is strongest. Using similar technology, RealVNC showed development tools for extending terminal mode technology into a wider range of devices and markets. While Nokia claimed to have two competing handset makers interested in the terminal mode solution, RealVNC’s more agnostic approach offers a suitable alternative. Airbiquity promoted its in-band modem technology by extending the platform to include a customized user interface, tied to the user’s mobile phone, along with app store functionality and location and user-relevant advertising messages. Airbiquity is increasingly taking on the role of a content aggregator, tying together content and applications in a single user interface. Airbiquity's Bluetooth-based approach was presented as a powerful and low-cost data-over-voice/packet alternative to packet-only solutions which require a payment for dial-up networking or SPP monthly service fees. Airbiquity estimates that OEMs deploying packet-only solutions will limit themselves to 20% of the penetratable market of which only 3-5% will have extra carrier service plan for BT DUN/SPP packet connectivity. On top of the data-over-voice solution, Airbiquity is layering its Choreo cloud service for both consumer and commercial markets. Airbiquity says Choreo allows OEMs to convert the car to an IT platform, creating a global infrastructure for content and service delivery. WirelessCar has also stepped into the content aggregator role, showing a clever vehicle-to-smartphone integration providing some basic vehicle control functionality and information access. The WirelessCar solution suggested the long-anticipated realization of a vehicle portal also accessible via smartphone for sharing vital vehicle data with the owner. OnStar has found this approach, with key vehicle status information, to be a valuable tool for driving customer traffic and service revenue via the dealer channel. To drive home its message, WirelessCar led a panel discussion with Ericsson and Cybercom, representing the wireless carrier and software integration perspectives on the implementation of a three-screen world.  Actually, WirelessCar has been pushing and demonstrating this concept for at least three years. Tweddle Group Technologies – the combination of Tweddle Group with UIEvolution’s former automotive division – is also looking to fill the content aggregator role. The company brings to the table its long history in the owner’s manual business – which itself is transitioning to electronic delivery – along with a relationship with Pandora. The Tweddle solution, which allows for the delivery of text and video content - via head unit or handset - related to vehicle systems has intriguing possibilities if integrated with CAN inputs such as alerts or other status messages. Tweddle has yet to marry these two sources of data, but the concept is certainly a powerful one. QNX has also envisioned sharing vehicle status information with the driver via on-board displays. The QNX LTE Car demo includes a “Virtual Mechanic” for providing the driver with images of vehicle systems and their status. Given Toyota’s recent disastrous recalls, the opportunity for these types of systems to catch on is strong. For its part ATX was demonstrating its new application for integration with Mercedes Benz’s TeleAid telematics service. The app provides for some basic vehicle control along with the ability to remotely send a destination to the vehicle’s navigation system. Continental’s AutolinQ concept may be a little ahead of its time in promising an on-board app store experience in an Android operating system environment. While car makers and suppliers have broadly embraced a variety of Linux distributions, Android is still running up against some industry prejudice over the issue of vulnerability to hacking and other perceived weaknesses. Industry buzz suggests that Android is being accepted and even specified in some RFQs, which is certainly a promising development for Continental. The growing Android momentum in the automotive, mobile and even consumer electronics markets suggests that Continental is on the right track. In support of its campaign, Continental announced an eco-system of solution providers contributing to the platform including Ygomi, Inrix, Navteq, Navigon and Deutsche Telekom. Continental will no doubt be flexible regarding these relationships if it means sacrificing a partner to obtain a new contract. But at least now the Continental vision has been clarified as a fully evolved proposition. Delphi executives attended the event, but did not demonstrate their own connectivity platform: D-Connect. Delphi has been vocal in its support of connectivity to Android devices, but resistance to building Android into the head unit. Since D-Connect has not been publicly announced it is hard to predict how Delphi’s final implementation will arrive in the market. Tier two Parrot showed chipsets optimized for mobile device connectivity including the latest Bluetooth protocols and Wi-Fi. Android also figures prominently in Parrot’s plans including some active programs, according to the company. Google announced additional “Send to” partners at the event – OnStar and Ford. For Google, the message for the industry is that it is a cloud-based world. Applications are no longer launched for desktop computers, they are launched on and for the Internet. Google’s recommendation is clearly that car makers facilitate cloud connections either on board or via mobile devices. OnStar, with the most powerful brand in the telematics industry, faces perhaps the greatest challenge in developing a cloud-oriented strategy. Not only must the company integrate its infotainment and telematics teams – long at odds over key applications such as Bluetooth connectivity and navigation – it must also reposition a brand identified almost entirely in relation to safety and security, not entertainment. The path is far from clear, but the promise of additional revenue from dealer service work to content consumption and, overall, a tighter relationship with the customer has car makers and their suppliers working overtime. All agree, at last, that the future lies in three screens. Leading the way are OnStar and Ford, each of which has defined its own three-screen strategy. BMW and Daimler are the next logical candidates to implement the handset-head unit-Internet approach. All of which points to common elements in future telematics solutions including: app stores (accessible via all three screens), vehicle control (across and between platforms), access to vehicle status information (all screens), content aggregation partner and back-end system provider, cloud-based content and services, and provision for multiple-handset compatibility. The emergence of these common threads are helping to clarify the future deployment of telematics systems speeding the delivery of in-vehicle connectivity. *Editor's note: Airbiquity executives suggested amending the strategy to FOUR screens. This week, Microsoft's embedded software division touted a FIVE screen strategy at the Fachkongress Elektronik in Ludwigsburg. Further insight: http://bit.ly/cMw4f1 - Solid Q4 for PNDs, but ‘Free’ Navigation is Shaking Up Monetisation - John Canali – Automotive Multimedia and Communication Service http://bit.ly/bMeg36 - Global Mobile Handset Navigation Forecast 2004-2014 - Nitesh Patel – Navigation and Location Opportunities http://bit.ly/8Yo4U6 - Nokia & Google Shake Up $3.8 B Handset Navigation Market - Nitesh Patel – Navigation and Location Opportunities http://bit.ly/6FC6W7 - Smartphone Market Developments Shaking Up Automotive Strategies - Lanctot - Automotive Multimedia and Communications

May 30, 2010 09:05 rlanctot

Where some see nothing but travail, others see opportunity. TomTom is among those in the latter group. As both TomTom and chief rival Garmin, in their recent earnings reports, admitted to flattening sales of standalone PNDs, the two have set out on divergent strategies.

 

For Garmin, the strategy is diversification emphasizing marine, aviation and outdoor recreation. TomTom, on the other hand, like an embattled ship captain at sea, is turning towards enemy fire – narrowing its focus on providing the best navigation/routing/traffic solution with connectivity as a wild card. In spite of the brilliance of its European strategy, though, the U.S. remains an Achilles heel for TomTom.

 

This week TomTom clarified its plans to implement a new open platform and push its connected device strategy. TomTom’s approach is not without risk, but no one can fault the company for being bold. When Google is breathing down your neck it is certainly time to be bold.

 

The cornerstone of the company’s new strategy is a reduction in the monthly fee for TomTom’s HD Traffic subscriptions from 9.95 Euro/month to 5 Euro/month. But there is much more to the campaign than a simple price cut.

 

First of all, TomTom is able to adjust its pricing because of a new deal with Vodafone. Where Vodafone had a revenue share in the past, it now receives a flat fee from TomTom. While the revenue share may have been satisfactory – as TomTom recruited 700,000 Live Service subscribers – the thinking is that the flat fee will make more sense for both parties as TomTom engages in a broad PND/navi connectivity campaign.

 

As part of the new campaign, purchasers of TomTom connected PNDs – beginning early in June (in Europe) -  will get a full year of free access to HD Traffic data. After that first free year, customers can subscribe at 5 Euro/month or annually for 49.99, a 10 Euro savings on the monthly subscription.

 

TomTom’s objective in launching this program is to increase the purchasing percentage of connected devices from 40% in 2010 to 60% in 2011 and 80% in 2012. Given the fact that the average PND/navi – by TomTom estimates – lasts 3-4 years before replacement, the company expects that 90% of its customers could be connected by 2014.

 

By TomTom’s estimates, that means a user population of more than 25M units reporting GPS probe data for traffic analysis on top of the existing Vodafone cellular hand-off data. TomTom and Strategy Analytics are certainly in agreement on a few things, chief among which is that traffic data is the single most important data element to navigation device users.

 

This analyst believes that TomTom’s HD Traffic is the industry standard for accurate traffic data. TomTom, not surprisingly, also believes this to be true and is expanding the scope of HD Traffic data to 16 European countries from 7, although the timeframe is unclear. Live Services will also be offered to a wider base of 14 European countries.

TomTom is a little unclear on which countries will get HD Traffic or Live Services and when. The company actually has a total of 30 countries set for Live Services launch within the next 12 months, 17 of which are expected to get HD Traffic.

 

Clearly, HD Traffic has become a key to TomTom’s strategy. It is a critical differentiator. But TomTom recognizes that competitors are working aggressively to integrate both their own cellular hand-off data inputs and GPS probe data. The new TomTom strategy appears to be targeted at cementing the company’s existing traffic leadership position ahead of the arrival of competitors.

 

TomTom’s Vodafone relationship is unique “force multiplier” for TomTom. The hand-off data not only gives TomTom an industry-leading traffic solution, it also opens doors to logistics business opportunities such as billboard, cell tower and store location and municipal and regional traffic management.

 

But TomTom’s ability to extend this advantage to the U.S. has run into intransigent U.S. carriers and existing players – AirSage and IntelliOne – that have already negotiated their own access to cellular hand-off data. This impasse is evidenced in the TomTom product plan which includes devices with “local” and “Euro-wide” data, but only a handful of models that merit a mention of U.S. data.

 

TomTom says its new campaign will eschew “ultra-low margin” products and price points and focus on mid-high segment products targeted at replacement buyers. The strategy appears to be an acknowledgement of two key issues:

 

#1 – PND/navi buyers are a unique breed and prone to replacement purchases. TomTom claims a high customer loyalty rate (80%) and clearly wants to win over Garmin customers.

#2 – Most of the growth in navigation is coming from mobile/smartphone and embedded navigation customers.

 

Which brings us to the final “fly-in-the-ointment” for TomTom. TomTom’s own market survey’s show traffic as the single most popular application for navigation customers, a finding corroborated by Strategy Analytics studies. TomTom also acknowledges in its own research that Google Search is the second most popular application.

 

While TomTom has opened up its platform – via its implementation of the Webkit OS – and plans to open an application store, the company will eventually have to reckon with Google. TomTom has no answer to the bottomless pit of POI data resident within Google.

 

TomTom’s community-based approach to map updates and POI data is a powerful answer to the strategies of OpenStreetMaps and Waze. But unless TomTom can find a POI or search partner to counter Google its bold new marketing campaign may come to naught.

 

Additional insights:

http://bit.ly/bMeg36 - Global Mobile Handset Navigation Forecast 2004-2014 – Nitesh Patel - Navigation and Location Opportunities http://bit.ly/aoQdpd - North America Mobile Handset Navigation Forecast 2004-2014 – Nitesh Patel – Wireless Media Strategies http://bit.ly/aHhWeV - Nokia & Google Shake Up $3.8 B Handset Navigation Market - Nitesh Patel - Wireless Media Strategies http://bit.ly/cc6O9K - PND Owners Unlikely to Discontinue Using Their Device - Chris Schreiner - Automotive Consumer Insights http://bit.ly/c5f65I - Automotive and Portable Navigation Market Forecast 2008-2016 - Joanne Blight - Automotive Multimedia and Communications Systems http://bit.ly/b5W8ZS - Nokia and RIM Push Into Automotive as ‘Apps’ Competition Mounts - Joanne Blight - Automotive Multimedia and Communications Systems http://bit.ly/9NoM13 - From Probes to Crowd to Community to Ads – Traffic Data Evolving Rapidly - Roger Lanctot - blog - Global Automotive Practice

May 27, 2010 13:05 rlanctot
Among the many untold stories in the telematics industry, the tale of Volvo OnCall and Orbcomm stands out, especially in the context of this week’s SISTER workshop on satellite communications and intelligent transport technologies, which took place in Brussels. What might, for Volvo, have become a visionary hybrid implementation of satellite and cellular technology for a telematics system for the U.S. market was undone by Orbcomm’s bankruptcy filing in 2000.   In retrospect, it is both understandable and deeply disappointing that no other automotive telematics planner chose to follow the Volvo path. Maybe decision makers saw the Volvo experience as a cautionary tale instead of as the inspiration that it actually represented.   Maybe if the European Union had taken a closer look at what Volvo was dreaming up they might have included satellite technology in their eCall plans. Alas, the EU did not include satellite technology in eCall which may be why the SISTER initiative was founded as the first association with the mandate to evaluate the possibility of integrating satellite technology to enhance the complete range of ITS technologies including eCall, road user charging, map updating, dangerous goods monitoring and enhanced Galileo services. SISTER concludes its research activities and will publish its recommendations next month.   Back in the mid-1990’s, Volvo was considering the inclusion of Orbcomm’s low-earth orbit satellites as a backup communication channel to cellular TDMA and Amps technologies. The company was willing to include satellite in spite of the obtrusiveness of the required antenna technology of the time.   Today, Volvo offers cellular-only telematics throughout Europe with short-term plans for a U.S. launch of a similar system. Orbcomm, meanwhile, has recovered and is a supplier of telematics technology to Volvo Trucks under the Dynafleet brand. Orbcomm is in fact a leader in the modest but growing hybrid – satellite-cellular - connectivity business.   The absence of satellite technology from existing automotive telematics solutions, especially for emergency applications, is extraordinary given the purpose of such systems. The EU regularly makes inflated claims of the life-saving ability of eCall systems to summon assistance from emergency responders. Chief critics of eCall are quick to point out that passing motorists frequently make the first reports of accidents rendering eCall messages redundant.   Where eCall could have an impact, though, is in the event of accidents occurring in rural areas, where cellular coverage is wanting. In fact, some say that the most severe accidents and injuries often occur in these circumstances. This is obviously where satellite technology could make a difference.   The good news is that the EU is finally looking at the integration of satellite technology at least as an idea, if not as part of the existing eCall specification. Even better news lies in the fact that this consideration is taking place after the demise of Worldspace and following the allocation of spectrum for DVB-SH satellite technology. The SISTER program is also taking place at the very onset of the European Galileo system which has direct application for all location-related ITS applications. In fact, satellite navigation is the most widespread of current satellite applications and is expected to lead the way in satellite integration into a wider range of services. The arrival of Galileo promises to deliver better than 10cm location accuracy potentially suitable for road pricing and lane keeping applications and possibly for map updating. SISTER workshop representatives foresee $43B in cumulative financial benefits - combined revenue and savings - from the integration of enhanced satellite navigation technology. Potential sources of these gains include: fuel consumption reduction, travel time reduction, air pollution reduction, CO2 emission reduction, cost savings due to congestion reduction and cost savings from decreased injuries. Current satellite technologies available in Europe, and elsewhere around the world, offer both superior location information delivery but also the ability to deliver audio and video content. Outside of Volvo, the only other company to foresee the arrival of this value proposition was Hughes Telematics.   Hughes proposed a hybrid satellite-cellular telematics system nearly five years ago that not-coincidentally included a DVB-SH component originally to be provided by Ico Global Communications. These plans were interrupted, at least in part, by Ico’s filing for bankruptcy. (Sound familiar?)   Nevertheless, the Hughes vision called for a consumer-targeted telematics system integrating emergency response, roadside assistance and concierge services along with entertainment content delivery. In fact, Ico was making its own plans to introduce aftermarket and portable devices for audio and video content. Ico has two DVB-SH competitors in the U.S., TerreStar and SkyTerra, both of whom will eventually be in position to offer the same telematics and infotainment solutions envisioned by Ico. Like Ico, TerreStar has a satellite deployed and in its final phase of testing. The large TerreStar satellite - which allows for smaller footprint device antennas - is capable of spot-beam coverage of the U.S. for two-way voice and data. The TerreStar satellite is suitable to eCall and commercial applications or for rural areas that lose terrestrial cellular networks during natural disasters. Sirius XM's satellite network has also been put to use for telematics applications including traffic and weather. Sirius XM also recently acquired the assets of Worldspace, meaning the European satellite radio provider could some day participate in telematics opportunities. Worldspace competitor Ondas has deals in place with several European OEMs, but no satellites. It’s been a long road, but the reality has finally caught up with the vision. The so-called S-band DVB-SH spectrum allocation for Europe was awarded to Eutelsat and a joint venture partner SES Astra. (Ico was one of the other bidders and is still mounting a legal challenge to the award.)   DVB-SH offers the ability for bi-directional communications for low-bandwidth ITS applications – available by the end of 2010 – along with some limited two-way communications to be launched in 2011. But DVB-SH expects to realize the prospect of entertainment content delivery for embedded, aftermarket and portable devices. This capability is important given that several SISTER participants expect that telematics services will have to be bundled with entertainment content to be attractive to consumers.   The recommendation of at least one presenter at the SISTER workshop was that all vehicles operated by public authorities should be connected via satellite, that all commercial fleet vehicles should be similarly connected and that, ultimately, all consumer vehicles should be linked via satellite. Some combination of public and private funding will surely be necessary, but the anticipated benefits to road safety and traffic management have already been proven by SISTER’s experiments.

May 22, 2010 15:05 rlanctot
A grand experiment is unfolding in the traffic reporting industry around the simultaneous confrontation between and combination of GPS probe and handset signaling data for traffic flow analysis. Both technologies offer the promise of transforming traffic data from an annoying and often disappointing proposition to a more precise and satisfactory experience. But push is about to come to shove in North America – with three pending OEM RFQs in play. The results of these OEM evaluations will likely have a global impact on the traffic data processing industry. To recap, current traffic data consists of: 1. GPS-based fleet data – derived mainly but not exclusively from commercial vehicles 2. Public data – loop sensors and other traffic tracking systems installed and managed mainly by public authorities 3. “Journalistic” data – incident inputs from emergency responders and private sources GPS probe and cellular hand-off data is, in essence, a fourth layer that is of increasing importance to traffic reporting and interpreting systems. The other key element, of course, is the secret sauce added by the aggregators and processors of this data. The aggregators and processors are of several types including those that aggregate a single type of data, such as AirSage or IntelliOne that process cellular handoff data, or that combine several different types of data, such as Inrix or ITIS Holdings, or that provide a system or a tool for processing or for publishing multiple data feeds, such as MILE (MobileInfo.Life Europe) Traffic and Travel, Gewi or PTV. Inrix is a fourth type of provider in offering a platform for both service and content aggregation – including traffic. Inrix has also been a pioneer, along with Navteq’s Traffic.com, in combining multiple real-time and historical traffic data into a predictive traffic model. This strategy has been adopted by others, most notably TomTom. MILE Traffic and Travel is unique for its model of licensing its data processing technology. TomTom is also best known for its pioneering work in integrating both cellular hand-off data (from Vodafone) and GPS probe data (from its Live Service subscribers). TomTom’s success in turning cellular hand-off data into a compelling solution in mobile devices has been an inspiration for both the emerging GPS probe market players (TCS, RIM, Google, Nokia Navteq, etc.) and the cellular hand-off companies. (ITIS claims to be the first to achieve this integration in a commercial solution.) The impending integration of both GPS probe data and cellular handoff data is a test for the industry to see if it can finally get the traffic data solution right. At stake are the hearts, minds and wallets of hundreds of millions of drivers using mobile devices and embedded navigation systems to seek out the most efficient means of getting from point A to point B. GPS probe data is renowned for its accuracy and increasing pervasiveness, as public authorities in multiple geographies have begun requiring GPS technology on handsets for emergency response purposes. The problem with GPS, though, is its impact of device power consumption. Because of this, many users choose to turn their GPS signals off when not in use. In contrast, cellular hand-off data is truly pervasive. While more difficult to interpret and notorious for the incidence of false positives, cellular hand-off data is unmatched for the sheer volume of data generated. For this reason, companies playing the cellular hand-off game, such as TomTom, MILE Traffic and Travel and AirSage, have an edge in the next wave of traffic data solutions. The only implemented solutions thus far have been TomTom’s industry-leading HD Traffic offering in Europe and Westwood One’s more limited use of AirSage data as an enhancement to its own traffic reporting products. AirSage is unique in its recent successful efforts to bring together data from multiple carriers. The company recently added Verizon to its existing Sprint relationship and is poised to deliver the first multi-carrier solution for North America. AirSage and other North American players have long been delayed in their efforts to deliver a cellular hand-off solution in North America due to the more heterogeneous carrier networks. The good news for these companies, though, is there is a significant business in logistics to be derived from the location data (for shipping, traffic management, store and cell tower locatin selection) and location-based advertising solutions are also beginning to emerge. The turning point for the industry likely lies in pending North American RFQs at BMW, Toyota and OnStar. From luxury vehicles to mass market movers, drivers have let car makers know that the current crop of traffic solutions are not cutting it. The information on the display does not correspond with the events unfolding in front of the windshield. The outcome of these OEM evaluations will likely determine the direction of traffic data processing for years to come. Additional Insights: http://bit.ly/bMeg36 - Global Mobile Handset Navigation Forecast 2004-2014 – Nitesh Patel - Navigation and Location Opportunities http://bit.ly/aoQdpd - North America Mobile Handset Navigation Forecast 2004-2014 – Nitesh Patel – Wireless Media Strategies http://bit.ly/aHhWeV - Nokia & Google Shake Up $3.8 B Handset Navigation Market - Nitesh Patel - Wireless Media Strategies http://bit.ly/cc6O9K - PND Owners Unlikely to Discontinue Using Their Device - Chris Schreiner - Automotive Consumer Insights http://bit.ly/c5f65I - Automotive and Portable Navigation Market Forecast 2008-2016 - Joanne Blight - Automotive Multimedia and Communications Systems http://bit.ly/b5W8ZS - Nokia and RIM Push Into Automotive as ‘Apps’ Competition Mounts - Joanne Blight - Automotive Multimedia and Communications Systems http://bit.ly/9NoM13 - From Probes to Crowd to Community to Ads – Traffic Data Evolving Rapidly - Roger Lanctot - blog - Global Automotive Practice

May 18, 2010 16:05 rlanctot
The business of capturing and reporting real-time traffic data is on the verge of a deluge of data from millions of GPS probes. From Google to RIM to TCS, TeleNav, Nokia/Navteq and others, the integration of handset GPS data feeds will transform the industry and alter consumer acceptance of traffic data. The importance of this development is the fact that consumers surveyed by Strategy Analytics, time and again, indicate that traffic data is the single most important application on their portable device followed closely by navigation. This is no surprise to marketers who are keen to target customers potentially on the move from one place of business to another and seeking to get there in the most efficient manner possible - which is to say, the supplier that delivers the highest quality real-time traffic data will have a privileged marketing platform for delivering advertising messages. But the onset of traffic data enhancements, though happening swiftly, will unfold as part of an evolution of traffic data that will progress from the combination of public and fleet data of today, to the aggregation of GPS data and crowd-sourced inputs, to the traffic “communities” of the near future. This transition will test the current market leaders and could shuffle the leadership ranks, but it will also reveal new opportunities for information and content sharing. Among the industry leaders watched most closely is Nokia Navteq. With the largest number of mobile devices deployed, Nokia is in the most powerful position to leverage GPS probe data. (Editor's note: updated info from Nokia Navteq follows) Navteq is using GPS probe data to enable accelerated expansion of its Navteq Traffic coverage including primary and secondary roads. The company says probe data is an integral part of its global probe data strategy. Navteq is currently collecting and integrating Nokia probe data records for Navteq Traffic in Belgium, Brazil, France, Finland, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada with plans to expand. The company expects to benefit from the growing variety of connected devices also using Navteq data and services. Navteq says that nearly 23M processed probe records are integrated into Navteq Traffic monthly in the U.S. in major metropolitan areas including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, San Francisco and Seattle. Worldwide, Navteq is collecting 3B probe records including Nokia data and anticipate a doubling of that figure by the end of 2010. Most executives in the industry now agree that TomTom’s HD Traffic solution, built around cellular signaling data and TomTom’s Live Service subscriber probe data, is the state of the art for real-time traffic data. The service is available in six European countries including Germany, where this analyst has used it side-by-side with RDS-TMC data. Nothing this analyst has seen has come close to the apparent completeness and accuracy of the real-time traffic data reporting on a connected TomTom. Long accustomed to incorrect traffic information delivered on a variety of embedded and mobile devices, I found the HD Traffic solution to be a revelation. In several days of driving on autobahns throughout Northern Germany it never once told me I was in a “stau” when I wasn’t or vice versa. Traffic information that contradicts reality continues to be the industry bugaboo. Just as important, the TomTom solution doesn’t rely solely on color-coded roads. The key interface is the barometer on the right hand side of the screen which shows the distance to the next point of traffic congestion and the anticipated delay. At this point in the evolution of traffic information delivery, color codes don’t cut it. They are nothing more than a distraction. With the arrival of mobile phone navigation applications the industry is poised to take a leap forward and sideways at the same time. The leap forward is the potential to replicate the HD Traffic experience on more navigation platforms. The sideways move is that this leap is taking place in connection with a device offering a much smaller screen for delivering up-to-date traffic information to drivers. In addition, with so many new players integrating new data sets for the first time there is bound to be confusion and user interface missteps. After all, if it were easy to convert mobile phone data into real-time traffic feeds this problem would have been solved a long time ago. To remove any doubts about the rising influence of mobile phone navigation, one need look no further than the recent financial reports of TeleCommunications Systems (TCS) – which acquired Networks in Motion – and TeleNav – which completed its initial public offering last week. In its earnings call, TCS said it expects $55-$65 million in mobile phone navigation subscription/sales revenue in 2010 and ongoing revenue growth of 30 percent/year going forward. TeleNav reported that it had 14.5M navigation subscribers/customers (up from 11M at the end of September 2009) and revenue of $122M for the nine month period ended March 30th, a growth rate of 59 percent. While TCS says it has 5-6 percent penetration of its addressable carrier customer base and anticipates increasing that to 30-50 percent, TeleNav claims a 20-25 percent rate of penetration. TeleNav, TCS and TomTom are all seeking to build their subscription bases as swiftly as they can which has led to discounting and bundling, thereby impacting average revenue per user (ARPU). All three companies have indicated a disinclination to share their ARPU figures. TCS has been coy about disclosing the size of its subscriber base. It remains to be seen if TeleNav and TomTom will continue to be forthcoming about their subscriber numbers. All of these numbers are vital to discerning consumer preferences for different business models and could serve as a competitive advantage for these early movers. The integration of anonymous handset signaling data currently used by TomTom, is likely to be supplanted by handset GPS data feeds. And the availability of GPS data feeds has greatly lowered the barriers to entry to the traffic business. Any company from industry titans such as Inrix and rising heavyweight Google to scrappy start-ups like Skobbler (which recently became the first navigation supplier to use OpenStreetMaps) can introduce a mobile phone application that will immediately start reporting GPS data for integration in a real-time traffic platform. Industry executives agree that the GPS data is more accurate an easier to process than hand-off data. That does not mean that signaling data will go away, especially since TomTom continues to use it, but it does represent a change that could ultimately manifest in changing user preferences if the “quality” or accuracy of one type of data is found to be or perceived to be superior to the other. Miles Traffic and Travel – a consortium of ITIS Holdings (U.K.), Infoblu (Italy) and MediaMobil (France) – is also making use of cellular hand-off data and has been chosen by BMW as its traffic data provider for Europe. MT&T is positioning itself as the first challenger to TomTom’s HD Traffic solution. All industry participants agree that the aggregation and integration of hand-off data is a non-trivial exercise. Case in point, AirSage and IntelliOne have been trying to deliver anonymous hand-off data in a commercial solution for years with no success to date. But even the arrival of handset data will not represent the “end of the road” in the evolution of real-time traffic data. The next step is already apparent in the quiet emergence of aha mobile, Telmap, Waze, TrafficTalk and other potential players seeking to build communities around the delivery of traffic and routing information. Aha mobile’s content and services aggregation platform serves as a front end for the full range of Internet-accessible content, including traffic and navigation information. Aha mobile’s traffic solution, though, allows drivers to share geo-coded traffic observation inputs with one another – in other words, an aha mobile user could literally share with fellow travelers what he or she is seeing out the car window. The aha mobile solution represents the same kind of ultra-local location data that Telmap is  trying to provide with the location aware services that are part of its navigation application. Waze also creates a community around traffic, navigation and the creation of the navigation map. For its part, TrafficTalk is seeking to build user communities around specific commuting corridors where drivers can share voice inputs regarding traffic conditions in their immediate vicinity. Today, the industry is poised for the next round of the shoot out at the OK Traffic Corral. All the major players have new ammunition in the form of handset GPS data and the emergence of this new source of data is creating new competitors and new opportunities. But this enhancement to traffic information is just another bend in the road which will lead to traffic information communities sharing on-the-ground information which will transform the industry yet again and set the stage for the next advance. Additional Insights: http://bit.ly/bMeg36 - Global Mobile Handset Navigation Forecast 2004-2014 – Nitesh Patel - Navigation and Location Opportunities http://bit.ly/aoQdpd - North America Mobile Handset Navigation Forecast 2004-2014 – Nitesh Patel – Wireless Media Strategies http://bit.ly/aHhWeV - Nokia & Google Shake Up $3.8 B Handset Navigation Market - Nitesh Patel - Wireless Media Strategies http://bit.ly/cc6O9K - PND Owners Unlikely to Discontinue Using Their Device - Chris Schreiner - Automotive Consumer Insights http://bit.ly/c5f65I - Automotive and Portable Navigation Market Forecast 2008-2016 - Joanne Blight - Automotive Multimedia and Communications Systems http://bit.ly/b5W8ZS - Nokia and RIM Push Into Automotive as 'Apps' Competition Mounts - Joanne Blight - Automotive Multimedia and Communications Systems

May 17, 2010 15:41 Kevin Mak

At the 2010 Auto China (Beijing) show, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) launched the InkaNet 3G Intelligent Network Travel System – an infotainment platform designed in association with the mobile telecommunications operator, China Unicom, and the mapping vendor, AutoNavi.  Similar infotainment systems in operation elsewhere include FIAT Blue&Me, Ford Sync and Kia Uvo, whereby the car interacts with a Bluetooth-enabled mobile handset, which in turns connects with the Internet (with 3G and possibly WiFi connectivity) to provide a wide range of services for the driver.  These services include:

  • Email and SMS messaging.
  • Flight, hotel and train bookings.
  • Hands-free telephone calls.
  • HMI customization.
  • Internet radio, e.g. Pandora.
  • Mobile music streamed playback.
  • Navigation directions.
  • News headlines.
  • Photo sharing, e.g. Flickr.
  • Social networking, e.g. Facebook, Twitter; 51.com, QZone, Renren in China
  • Touch screen control.
  • Tourist information.
  • Traffic information.
  • Voice control.
  • Weather updates.

InkaNet will be first deployed as an optional extra on the newly-launched Roewe 350 compact sedan.    This development is significant for a number of reasons:  This is the first deployment of the Android open source software platform in an automobile.  *Adoption of the Continental AutoLinQ system has not yet been announced publicly.  Open source software platforms offer:

  • Flexibility, thus could be in a better position to satisfy customization requirements from OEMs that wish to bring about brand differentiation from their competitors.
  • Could enable inputs from third parties, thus raising the potential for faster development, as this could have been the case in InkaNet.
  • Growing mobile handset adoption of the Android platform may encourage consumer uptake of this infotainment system.

Competing software platforms include QNX, which began to release its source codes in 2007.  This company has recently been sold to RIM, a handset manufacturer.  This is one of the earliest deployments of this type of infotainment system in China.  *Ford China has also launched its Chinese-language Sync system on its models.  In 2009, China became the world’s largest car market by unit volume sold.  According to Strategy Analytics Wireless Practice, China is also experiencing growth in 3G and smartphone handsets, as the majority of web browsing is done through mobile handsets.    Therefore, the growth potential for such infotainment systems looks promising, if offered at a reasonable price.  This could also be the case for related services and systems feeding from InkaNet, such as connectivity systems, Chinese language software and voice control systems.  The use of the handset will also lower the barrier towards the adoption of certain related systems, such as navigation, that were previously the exclusive domain of the luxury car segment.  If proven successful, future prospects for the traditional, embedded infotainment system look bleak and that automotive vendors may need to seek further developments with mobile handset connectivity.  It may also put pressure on PND players to move into mobile telephony.  This system was wholly developed by Chinese players.  While there are many global vendors already operating in this market sector – Continental (AutoLinQ), Delphi, Denso (BlueHarmony), Google (navigation on the new Audi A8), Microsoft and Visteon – it shows that even domestic players have the technical know-how to develop such an advanced system.  This means that global vendors will have to work even harder to win new business from an already increasing level of competition, such as from new players based in the emerging markets.  However, InkaNet was developed from a consortium of key domestic players (in automotive systems, mobile telephony and navigation) – highlighting the importance of collaborations in the industry.   Strategy Analytics has published an Insight report on increasing quality by Chinese domestic OEMs and the potential increase in automotive electronics demand in the Chinese market:http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=ReportAbstractViewer&a0=5501.  


May 15, 2010 16:05 rlanctot
Change is coming to the automotive industry via U.S. government entities that suddenly have the cash, the power and the public mandate to significantly influence the direction of vehicle design and surface transportation. With multi-billion dollar investments in two of the one-time Big Three automakers, the Federal government suddenly has unprecedented leverage over the industry along with a clearly defined agenda for enhancing safety and reducing vehicle emissions. Just a few years ago industry participants were inclined to eye roll and shake their heads at the plans of connected vehicle (VII, V2X) and HEV/EV advocates, preferring to stick with the prevailing traditional disconnected ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle mentality. In the words of an old American advertising slogan: When something works you stick with it. What a difference a few years, an economic downturn and a massive embarrassing recall can make! Consumers are shifting to 4- and 6- cylinder vehicles. And even without incentives, consumers are turning to HEVs most notably Toyota’s Prius. What were once seen as pie in the sky visions of connected electric vehicles have rapidly become remarkably realistic opportunities – even if substantial EV sales volumes are still somewhat out on the horizon (SA EV/HEV forecast - http://bit.ly/9s3lid). Hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested by federal and local governments – as well as overseas governments – to incent EV development and sales. (Strategy Analytics has a spreadsheet of more than 300 EV/HEV legislative initiatives worldwide -  http://bit.ly/aRdhK8.) At the same time, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has stirred to life stimulated by both a distracted driving crisis (from growing fatalities due to talking and texting drivers) and the Toyota unintended acceleration debacle. NHTSA, which was quite recently focused on fusion safety system technology in cars – making use of multiple sensor inputs to assist drivers in maintaining lanes, monitoring blind spots and avoiding crashes – has firmly shifted to an emphasis primarily on avoiding and surviving crashes. The agency is also seeking data recorder mandates among other initiatives. The crash avoidance portion of NHTSA’s campaign has V2X written all over it. While monitoring blind spots and maintaining a lane are important vehicle applications, true crash avoidance technology can only be achieved with vehicle connectivity to other vehicles nearby and not so nearby as well as to infrastructure using DSRC technology. In fact, at the latest ITS meeting the organization made clear that it is compiling a database of 5.9MHz DSRC providers who will be able to meet the antipated demand for line fit and aftermarket modules. DSRC was heavily touted and endorsed at the latest ITS meeting in Houston. The ITS is on the verge of releasing its roadmaps for V2X implementation. It is worth noting that the organization is expending significant energy on providing for the use of mobile devices and aftermarket boxes to enable connectivity. (Coincidentally, the European Union has announced its endorsement of similar connected vehicle objectives and implementation plans – http://bit.ly/bFaIUm.) The time lines may still be conservative and technical issues remain (see ITS conference concluding presentation http://bit.ly/bYio4k), but the mandate and the mission is increasingly clear on both the emissions reduction and the safety fronts: In the future, connectivity will be king. Still, despite the increased interest in safety among legislators, consumers and the Federal government, safety remains a tough sell with consumers. (SA – Consumers Interested in Safety, but not at Current Prices - http://bit.ly/a56WTM) This is why the increased influence of the government is so important. It will require government mandates to change vehicle designs and force consumer acceptance. Now, more than ever, the Feds have the influence and industry participation they require to bring significant change to pass. This type of mandate applies to EVs as well. The U.S. is unique in the world in its governmental inability to force through the kind of fuel taxes that could change behavior. Lacking this lever, Federal and local governments have turned to incentives to encourage consumers – and car makers – to bring electric vehicles to market. (This and the CAFÉ standards regime - http://bit.ly/cBwp2r - U.S. #CAFE Standards Give Impetus to Wide Range of #Green Technologies.) Here, again, the influence of the government along with growing consumer interest in both HEVs and EVs are approaching a transformative critical mass. Industry observers have questioned the wisdom of fostering EV technology when the current state of technology is as limited as it is. But it is only with this kind of government support that the obstacles of charging infrastructure, battery capacity and price can be overcome. Ray Lood, the director of NHTSA, removed any doubt about the government’s passion for change in the automotive industry when he described his own anti-distracted driving efforts at the recent ITS event in Houston as “a rampage” (http://tinyurl.com/24vzrka). A rampage indeed! Change is coming, probably faster than previously conceived possible. It is coming with government impetus and supervision and it is coming whether the industry likes it or not. Additional Insight: http://bit.ly/bbhqGj - Voice HMI: Connected Car Opportunities and UX Best Practices - Chris Schreiner http://bit.ly/ajzQay - Future Promise of V2X Wireless Comms – Chris Webber http://bit.ly/9qf1Mh - EV/HEV Technologies Supply and Fitment Database – Kevin Mak http://bit.ly/9esI9W - Advanced Driver Assistance Systems: Supply and Fitment Database – Kevin Mak

May 13, 2010 16:05 rlanctot
A heated debate over driver distraction animated an otherwise placid confab of the Networked Vehicle Association (NVA) in Palo Alto recently. The distracted driving discussion was led by an attorney and a representative of the National Safety Council (NSC). The significance of the exchange was rooted in the debate over safe use of mobile phones in a moving vehicle. But, of course, with the participation of the NSC the very issue of using any mobile device in a moving vehicle was called into question. The NSC is in favor of an outright ban on all mobile phone use in automobiles. On the legal front, a representative of the Gowlings law firm described how laws were introduced to prohibit radios in cars when car radios were first introduced in the 1920’s. These proposals were defeated, but they laid the groundwork for the current debate. Interestingly, the argument that won the day for preserving the right of the radio to be built into the car was safety. Radios were perceived as preventing accidents by keeping drivers awake. Vehicle and entertainment technologies have changed but the grounds for allowing mobile phone use in the car remain the same – safety. Mobile phones used by motorists are responsible for many more emergency calls than embedded telematics systems. For this reason alone, it makes sense for legislators and the industry to find ways to preserve the right of a driver to use a mobile phone. But the debate over using devices in a moving vehicle has changed with the passing of 80 years since the introduction of car radios. Thanks to 30 academic studies of driver distraction and mobile phone use, a variety of organizations, including the NSC, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the National Research Council, have all concluded that talking on a phone held to the ear is cognitively equivalent to using a hands-free device. The NSC executive at the NVA event further described the types of studies – including brain scans etc. – and the outcomes – including the concept of tunnel vision experienced by distracted drivers. The significance of the findings of these studies, according to the attorney, is that they serve as the precursor to legal action which is the first step on the path to legislation. The findings of the various studies, as detailed by the attorney, included: NHTSA: Lower number of fatalities in states with primary legislation banning cellphone usage while driving; AAA: Degree of driver distraction no greater than tuning a car radio; Carnegie Mellon: MRI scans and simulation demonstrate impaired sensory and motor function equivalent to DWI; Highway Loss Data Institute: No change in loss data due to legislation vs. states without cellphone bans, but study concedes loss data may be inaccurate due to corresponding unmeasured rise in hands-free usage. The findings that have been used to oppose any mobile phone use in a moving vehicle, in turn, are countered by at least three industry studies that conclude that hands-free use of mobile phones is a safe and effective measure to counter distraction. But even the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found no reduction in distraction-related accidents from mobile phone bans. (The standard response from the anti-mobile phone community is that no states in the U.S. have introduced a complete ban on mobile phones that includes a ban on hands-free operation. Hence, existing laws banning phone use but allowing hands-free operation are not true bans and therefore the data cannot be used as an argument against bans.) The NSC representative at the NVA event remained adamant throughout that any and all mobile phone use in the car ought to be forbidden. The attorney concluded that the status of case law was fairly fluid and was influenced not only by the emotional element of fatalities resulting from distracted driving incidents, but also by research. The likelihood of an outright phone ban, though slim, cannot be completely ruled out. But a ban is likely to be unworkable and a step in the wrong direction, especially when considering that existing embedded telematics systems with their on-board phones would be rendered illegal. In an ideal world, the technology problem of managing mobile phone use in a car ought to be resolved with a technological solution, particularly considering that if a mobile phone ban were instituted drivers would find workarounds. The good news is that smartphone applications - such as Zoomsafer and tXtblocker - have been introduced to mitigate distractions from mobile phone use in cars (see Additional Insight below) and auto makers and suppliers - such as Mercedes Benz, Denso and Volvo - have introduced applications that monitor driver behavior to identify and counter driver distraction and drowsiness. In fact, one solution that is available, though not yet built into any systems that have reached the market, combines driver monitoring with a conversational avatar. The concept takes the Mercedes Benz driver drowsiness alert feature to another level by integrating and alerting the call center when a drowsy driver is detected such that, following escalating warnings, the call center can contact the driver to prevent an accident. Alternatively, the system, created by Great Changes – which owns the transportation license for Cognitive Code’s Silvia avatar, can engage the driver in an artificial intelligence-assisted conversation. The irony is that the NSC executive pointed out in his presentation that multiple studies show that it is safer to drive with a passenger. Interaction with a passenger helps keep the driver focused and alert. The Great Changes solution fulfills that requirement and the proactive call center alert aspect is a unique realization of the kind of safety enhancements promised by telematics technology. In conclusion, the attorney at the NVA event suggested that all industry participants monitor distracted driving developments closely, take into account human ingenuity and resolve in creating workarounds for technological safeguards, standardize and continuously evolve standards for telematics, and develop new “low driver impact” user-machine interfaces. Indeed, telematics should be seen as a potential remedy for driver distraction issues and as a safety enhancement to vehicle design. Under the NSC regime even embedded phones – as in OnStar, mBrace or BMW Assist – will be banned. Additional Insight: http://bit.ly/d3FQbQ - CTIA 2010: Distraction Mitigating Apps on Display – Chris Schreiner http://bit.ly/bbhqGj - Voice HMI: Connected Car Opportunities and UX Best Practices - Chris Schreiner