AUTOMOTIVE MULTIMEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS

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

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

May 10, 2010 17:05 rlanctot
OnStar is expected to bring out a mirror-mounted telematics device for the retail automotive aftermarket sometime early in 2011. The move is part of a broader strategy to take OnStar beyond the shelter of parent General Motors to tap into the wider market potential of safety and security and to finally and safely integrate entertainment technology with the telematics solution. General Motors’ OnStar division has yet to officially acknowledge its plans for an aftermarket product introduction in 2011, but the company has come close to affirming their existence with a report on CNNMoney.com that the company will “extend the OnStar business even beyond automotive.” The statement comes in the context of an announcement of a relaunch of OnStar before the end of 2010. As part of that relaunch new OnStar president Chris Preuss has been spreading the word that OnStar is looking to hire 30 or more engineers and developers to drive the revamp of the 14-year-old system. OnStar has declined to comment on any aftermarket plans. Preuss has moved quickly to put his imprint on the brand. Preuss arrived at OnStar with a long pedigree within GM as a senior communications executive both in the U.S. and Europe and has joined the broader effort within the company to project the brand into the world of social networking and closer connections with customers. For at least the past two months, GM has been building a team intended to bring an aftermarket OnStar product to the world of “big box” retail epitomized by Best Buy and others in the U.S. According to industry sources, the original plan was to launch before the end of 2010, but it now looks like a 2011 time frame is more likely. But OnStar’s plans likely do not end there. The reason for the aftermarket launch, and a potential move beyond automotive opportunities, is the potential crisis foretold by declining sales volumes for GM vehicles which are packaged with OnStar as a standard feature. Vehicle sales for GM are in the midst of a three-year swoon (down 21% in 2008, down 32% in 2009, flat in 2010) based on JD Power estimates. Assuming unchanged subscriber renewal and retention rates, the OnStar subscriber base – long reported to be 5.5M – is likely in the midst of a precipitous decline and in sore need of shoring up from other sources of subscribers. OnStar currently offers its services free for one year on most GM models, and then at subscription rates of about $20 to $30 a month, depending on the level of service, or $200 to $300 a year. Those numbers translate to more than $1B in revenue. OnStar’s new president claims a better than 50% retention rate among new car buyers – though the overall renewal rate is likely lower. Even if OnStar is maintaining a 50% retention rate, the diminished vehicle sales volumes are undermining GM’s ability to replace subscribers lost to attrition. Under these circumstances, maintaining the 5.5M subscriber base will be a challenge. OnStar executives privately aver that the division is and continues to be profitable, but a significant decline in subscribers is putting that profitability in jeopardy. Further, OnStar is famous within the industry for claiming to save GM hundreds of millions of dollars in warranty costs from catching vehicle problems early in vehicle life cycles. And Preuss is quoted in the CNNMoney report saying that OnStar is a factor in at least two-thirds of customers' decisions to buy a GM product. The challenge for OnStar goes beyond the decline in vehicle sales volumes. GM is competing against Ford and other OEMs that are emphasizing smartphone connectivity, which provides many of the same features and functions as OnStar. With so many functions shifting to phones customers are less inclined than ever before to add yet another subscription, even if it is for an embedded vehicle safety system. One of OnStar’s greatest assets, though, is its brand, which is why the group is looking beyond GM. Preuss says OnStar may return to offering its system to competing OEMs or may vary its business model to allow for sponsored content or services such as ad-supported turn-by-turn instructions. There are other scenarios for an OnStar move beyond GM including a commercial telematics solution for fleet or asset tracking, offerings for insurance companies to target pay-as-you-drive or teen driver applications, as well as, finally, buy-here-pay-here products for the sub-prime auto lending market. Given the urgency of the subscriber erosion situation, it is likely that OnStar will bring multiple solutions to market including, no doubt, a smartphone application offering with roadside assistance, concierge services and other location aware functions. OnStar has shown such a concept in the past but never pulled the trigger on introducing it to the market. Now, such an application is seen not only as a potential source of revenue but also as a brand builder and, of course, an extension of the OnStar platform. Preuss has sent mixed messages regarding the positioning of OnStar going forward. In the CNNMoney report he says the focus will be squarely on vehicle safety. In an Automotive News article announcing his appointment he stated that “fun” will be a priority for OnStar going forward. There is not doubt, though, that OnStar is being re-architected and repositioned to be competitive in a world characterized by social networking and device connectivity. What is most likely in the short-term, is an aftermarket offering, most likely in the form of an OnStar-equipped mirror. In fact, Gentex, which manufacturers an aftermarket replacement version of the OnStar-equipped mirror, stopped distributing its product through distributor Mito two months ago, at the request of GM. OnStar is likely taking control of the distribution of the product in preparation for mass market sales. An introduction of the OnStar brand into the retail automotive aftermarket is in keeping with growing interest in vehicle connectivity, navigation and tracking in general and telematics in particular. The Federal government has made known its interest in standardizing event data recorders in vehicles as a result of the recent Toyota unintended acceleration recall debacle. And companies as varied as TomTom, Hughes Telematics, Guidepoint, Rosen Entertainment and Pioneer Electronics are enabling roadside assistance capabilities in their devices and systems. Guidepoint is the single largest incumbent supplier of aftermarket telematics solutions. The company distributes primarily through car dealers and maintains its own call centers for roadside assistance and concierge calls. Guidepoint recently partnered with Rosen to bring an aftermarket head unit to the retail market with an on-screen button to access call center services. Hughes Telematics is another company looking to enter the aftermarket. Hughes has had an aftermarket offering ready for more than a year and is believed to be putting the team together to bring the product to retail. Given the fact that OnStar has been hiring executives to staff a regionalized sales force, the indication is strong that the group is target both consumer opportunities through retail and commercial opportunities. And an offering to be sold through expediters to competing OEM dealers is not out of the question. (After all, what can a Ford dealer do when the customer asks for OnStar by name?) The key difference, and main advantage, of OnStar remains the automatic crash notification – a function which may be problematic to offer in an aftermarket device. No one believes an aftermarket solution will be an easy sell at retail. But an OnStar-branded device will likely get serious consideration from consumers. The wild card for OnStar will be the precise nature of its reconfiguration and repositioning. The best news is that OnStar is not sitting back in the face of incursions by Google, Apple and others into the vehicle connectivity and infotainment business. The challenge will be for OnStar to demonstrate its ability to retain its industry leadership position and maintain or grow its subscriber base. The announced hirings at OnStar and relaunch indicate much more than a business model tweak for the group. Further Insight: http://bit.ly/cZOxuG - Global Automotive OE Telematics Market 2008-2016 - Joanne Blight

April 23, 2010 12:04 rlanctot
Reflecting Airbiquity’s rising star in the automotive telematics market, the company and partner Hitachi Automotive Systems, Ltd. have announced a partnership to provide telematics services for electric vehicles (EVs) globally. The announcement clearly positions Airbiquity – given its existing relationships with Toyota, Ford and OnStar – as the dominant telematics service provider of the future. The announcement emphasizes the global nature of the network and relationship between Hitachi Automotive and Airbiquity. The magnitude of this relationship is substantial, therefore, encompassing as it likely does, not only potentially the launch of the Leaf EV in North America but also perhaps lining up Airbiquity as a candidate to serve as the technology and infrastructure behind Renault-Nissan’s wider EV agenda including Europe, South America and Asia-Pacific. (Airbiquity had no comment on any potential relationship with Nissan or any other OEMs.) While Airbiquity is known for its so-called data over voice solution, the Leaf relationship is related to Airbiquity's Viaaq technology. Viaaq is serving as the back-end infrastructure for some Smart-grid implementations, paving the way for a next-generation role for Airbiquity in the telematics eco-system. The Airbiquity platform is well-suited to the task of supporting the needs of an electric vehicle to communicate vehicle location and battery charge. This relatively low bandwidth, data over voice, solution provides more than enough capacity both for battery-related information communication as well as safety and security and even eCall support. But the tie up with Hitachi is targeted at a broader IT infrastructure play. The only competing solution provider with an equivalent global footprint in telematics is WirelessCar, which already boasts relationships with Volvo Trucks, Volvo and BMW. In many ways, the WirelessCar solution represents a next generation answer to telematics service provision, emphasizing Internet protocol communications and voice-over-data technology. Where the global ambitions of Hitachi and Airbiquity may fall short is in extending the vehicle pipeline they currently offer to smart-grid applications and a deeper relationship with Nissan. The current point of leverge with Nissan derives from Hitachi Automotive's IT work in Japan in support of Nissan's telematics offerings in that country. The prospect of moving beyond "pipes to cars" and into the back-end systems represents a major leap for Airbiquity and puts the company in contention with IBM and other back-end integrators including Microsoft (Hohm) and Google. Unfortunately for Airbiquity, Ford has already announced its partnership with Microsoft for Smart-grid integration. OnStar has announced its intention to provide similar Smart-grid capabilities, but has not announced an IT partner. Hitachi and Airbiquity say their platform forms a central hub in the smart-grid network. They say the partnership paves the way for creating gateway infrastructures that can be linked with smart-grid systems. This will increase the footprint of both companies in the field of global connected vehicle services, and help automotive manufacturers worldwide quickly implement EV solutions, creating efficiencies and optimizing the costs of their service operations. Airbiquity has already made great progress in bringing the platform to a wider audience. The relationship with Hitachi also has implications for Ford Motor Company, for whom Hitachi/Clarion is a major manufacturing partner. Ford has implemented the Airbiquity platform as have OnStar and Toyota. All four OEMs have global ambitions for electric vehicles and telematics. Ford, for example, is expected to bring Sync to Europe soon. While several of these relationships are relatively new, it is fair to say that Airbiquity is poised to become the telematics service industry leader in the coming years. It is worth noting, however, how fleeting such leadership can be. It has been just three years since Continental acquired Motorola’s telematics business which at the time included contract manufacturing of the Ford Sync and OnStar modules. Within two years the OnStar business had shifted to LG Electronics and the Sync manufacturing relationship had shifted to Flextronics. But given its relationships with four of the largest car makers in the world, Airbiquity may have finally found  recipe for a more enduring position at the top of the industry. Further Insight: http://bit.ly/aIm4vK - Global Automotive OE Telematics Market 2008-2016 - Joanne Blight

April 2, 2010 16:04 rlanctot

Amid the hybrid hype and horsepower hoopla at the New York Auto Show this week Ford Motor company presented a unique vision of the future of efficient driving in its partnership with Microsoft’s Hohm power management initiative. Launched in June of last year, Hohm is an energy management application developed in cooperation with U.S. energy suppliers and intended to manage and conserve home energy consumption.

Ford president and CEO Alan Mulally acknowledged what few car makers have addressed, which is the potential doubling of home energy consumption for home owners who choose electric vehicles. Ford is working with Microsoft to help mitigate that added cost of ownership. Hohm is an Internet-based application that will help owners of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles determine when and how to most efficiently and affordably recharge their batteries.

Microsoft says Hohm is available for free to all U.S. residential energy consumers and has multiple partnerships with utilities and other relevant partners. Ford is the first auto maker partner in the program. Ford also announced its plan to offer a smartphone-based application to remotely assess vehicle charge status and find charging locations, not unlike the application shown earlier this year by OnStar in connection with its Volt EV launch.

Ford’s electric vehicle and hybrid plans announced at the New York show include five vehicles in North America and Europe by 2013. For North America, Ford has planned the launch of the Transit Connect Electric later this year, the Focus Electric in 2011, a plug-in hybrid and two next-generation hybrids in 2012, joining four Ford and Mercury hybrids already on the road and a new Lincoln MKZ Hybrid coming this fall.

Other major EV and HEV announcements at the New York Auto Show included:

Kia said it will offer a 2.4L hybrid version of the Optima late in 2011.

Lincoln introduced its first hybrid – the 2011 MKZ Hybrid premium midsize car. The car is expected to deliver 41mpg in city driving when it arrives in the fall.

Think announced plans to begin selling the Think City EV in New York and other select cities later this year.

Hyundai showed its first hybrid, the new Sonata Hybrid based on lithium polymer technology offering what it claimed as more horsepower (169hp), more torque (156 lb. ft.) and better gas mileage (52mpg) than competing hybrids and using Hyundai’s Hybrid Blue Drive architecture with its 2.4L Theta II engine.

Volkswagen showed its first hybrid at the show – a Touareg with a nickel-metal hydride battery due later this year. The hybrid drive is paired with a 3L supercharged, direct injection V6 and VW claims a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions and 25/21mpg in highway/city driving.

Porsche showed its first production hybrid, the 2011 Cayenne S Hybrid due this fall, which will sell for $4,000 more than the $63,700 Cayenne S with a 400hp V8.

 

For further insights into global EV/HEV programs:

http://bit.ly/bv3Q0B - Hybrid and Electric Vehicles: OEM Strategies Reviewed – Kevin Mak


March 26, 2010 19:03 rlanctot
BMW’s wholistic EfficientDynamics campaign is the latest and clearest manifestation of an industry movement that is propelling telematics technology adoption. In a recent presentation to the International Motor Press Association (IMPA), BMW executives clearly defined an integral role within the EfficientDynamics agenda for navigation, embedded vehicle connectivity and even smartphone integration. The company has already made impressive gains in fuel efficiency and CO2 reductions while preserving or enhancing performance via mechanical means, such as optimizing transmissions and adopting brake energy regeneration and auto start-stop functions. Now, BMW foresees even greater gains coming from the integration of on-board sensor inputs. BMW seeks to extend efficiency gains from the fusion of data inputs from navigation systems, adaptive cruise control and parking distance control systems, cameras and light/rain sensors, DME and DSC systems and V2X communication. The output of this data fusion will lead to the prediction of upcoming driving situations and optimized vehicle conditioning (ie. charging or discharging of the battery). These system enhancements will help optimize operating strategy and determine optimal driving distance for available consumption. The integration of navigation and safety system inputs means that in the future both the navigation set-up and the portfolio of safety systems will increasingly be standard equipment. They will be integral to the efficient operation of the vehicle. And connectivity will be necessary so that the very latest information on road conditions (including traffic) is available. While a growing proportion of cars will have embedded connectivity, smartphones will still play a vital role in the drive for more fuel efficienct cars. The company has already learned from its Mini E field trial that smartphone applications have a key role to play. Drivers will use smartphone applications to remotely check the state of vehicle charge as well as to signal the car to begin heating or cooling batteries while still connected to the grid. OnStar has foreseen this as well, showing just such an application at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. It is true that range anxiety is a very real customer concern with electric vehicles. In fact, it is yet another reason for such vehicles to be equipped with standard navigation systems. But BMW executives told the IMPA delegates that customers in the Mini E trial found that “charging (was) not a big issue even without (an) extensive network of public charging stations.” According to the results of the trial, the range of the Mini E was sufficient for most trips. This finding corroborates GM’s finding that 78% of people drive 40 miles or fewer per day. In the end, therefore, the role of the on-board map and navigation will likely have more to do with maximizing vehicle range as opposed to easing driver anxiety. And road elevation data will no doubt play a greater role as well in route planning. The drive for fuel efficiency and electrification will combine to bring cars to market that are not only more efficient and emitting less carbon dioxide, but that are also safer with the additional sensor content and map data. Further insights are available: http://bit.ly/bv3Q0B - Hybrid and Electric Vehicles: OEM Strategies Reviewed – Kevin Mak http://bit.ly/alm4vK - Global Automotive OE Telematics Market 2008-2016 – Joanne Blight

March 25, 2010 16:03 rlanctot
The state of Maryland’s approval of a cellphone ban yesterday – by a slim 24-23 margin – perfectly encapsulated all that is both right and wrong with the current mobile phone ban hysteria. Will people be safer driving cars without mobile phones? Probably. Is it reasonable to ask people to use hands-free technology in the car? Definitely. Is the law enforceable? Maybe. Can all drivers be expected to completely give up mobile phone use in the car? No. The bigger issue, though, is that the objections to mobile phones in cars masks a movement opposed to an even wider array of emerging and existing automotive technologies and in-cabin interfaces. If the industry does not step forward to defend these technologies, consumers will lose and safety will suffer. This is a topic of legitimate concern given the federal interest in in-vehicle interfaces in both the U.S. and the European Union, among other geographies. Twenty states and the District of Columbia currently ban text messaging while driving and six states plus the District require hands-free devices. (Stricter laws are already in place in many European countries.) Advocates for the bill dragged out multiple statistical justifications for the legislation calling to mind the apocryphal phrase attributed to Samuel Clemens, among others: There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics. The Washington Post reported that the push to require hands-free devices is seen as a step toward an outright ban on cellphone use by drivers, a prohibition endorsed by the National Safety Council, which blames 1.4M crashes annually on drivers talking on their phones, according to the paper. The Post continues: “Two-thirds of drivers interviewed by AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety said they thought hands-free cellphone use was less risky. But "scientific research shows that's simply not the case," said Fairley W. Mahlum of the foundation.” The article further cites a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that “found no declinen in collision rates” once states went hands-free. This leads to the argument surrounding the cognitive equivalence of talking on a mobile phone held to the ear or speaking over a hands-free system. Many experts argue that the two are equivalent, although a similar number disagree. Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute has weighed in on the cognitive equivalence side finding no added safety in hands-free operation. The Post quotes Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association: “There's no indication that hands-free is risk-free. You're still on the phone, you're still focused on the conversation, and you're still a distracted driver." The bill approved Wednesday by the Maryland Senate bans handheld use of cellphones except to begin or end a conversation. First-time offenders can be fined $40. Emergency calls would be exempt. Opponents took some of the teeth out of the legislation with a secondary enforcement requirement that prohibits a police officer from stopping a driver solely for using a mobile phone. The officer must have another reason for finding the driver at fault before enforcing the ban. The push to completely ban mobile phones in cars is real and is embodied in Oprah Winfrey’s NoPhoneZone campaign. Is the motivation legitimate? Sure it is. Lives are at stake. But I’d strongly argue against throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The supporters of an outright ban on mobile phones in cars have a larger agenda. They are not just opposed to Ford’s social media integration in cars. They also argue that the OnStar service, with its embedded phone, is too distracting. OnStar!? A recent statement from AAA of New York reflects this anti-technology philosophy: “Technology improvements and applications present a real double-edged sword for motorists. On one hand, improved driver interfaces for essential vehicle controls hold the potential to make driving safer. Voice-activated climate control systems, for example, can help keep motorists’ eyes on the road and hands on the steering wheel. “Applied irresponsibly, however, these technologies might actually make driver distraction worse by giving drivers access to even more non-driving activities (voice-driven e-mail and text messaging, for example) that draw their attention away from safe driving.  Safety concerns must be paramount when technology advances might encourage motorists to spend more time engaged in risky, non-essential tasks like talking on the phone or sending e-mails via voice recognition software. Technology applications that introduce new distractions for drivers work at cross purposes with the many positive things automotive engineers have done for safety. “We’ve seen auto manufacturers miss the mark before with improvements that weren’t really improvements. For example, more than twenty years ago a manufacturer made some models with a touch screen control panel that required drivers to look at the screen to change the radio station or adjust the heat. More recently, another manufacturer’s “all in one” vehicle control system was widely criticized for the visual and mental distraction involved in controlling temperature, radio, navigation, and phone using one knob, several buttons, and a display screen. We must make sure that one step forward in the name of convenience doesn’t take safety two steps backward.” It’s true that we ought to make sure we continue to move forward. But moving forward means embracing technology and harnessing its power to improve safety and convenience in the car. Based on the AAA statement the touchscreen, the iDrive and a host of other innovations might be banned. But why? People can change radio stations today with voice commands as opposed to reaching out for a knob while calibrating the movement of a needle across a dimly lit display. To return to the matter of safe operation of a phone in a vehicle, multiple solutions have been introduced that leverage technology to control mobile phone use in the car including DriveSafe.ly, SafeReader, tXtBlocker, and Auto TxtBak. But most of these applications lack the policy management elements of a ZoomSafer – which allows for the disabling of phone functions while in a moving vehicle. In fact, Zoomsafer's Voicemate has application in both consumer and commercial applications for monitoring, managing or controling driver use of connected devices. The solution recognizes the need for access to connected devices and provides the means for facilitating safe uses. Zoomsafer is offering a technology solution to a technology problem, but it is just one example. New solutions using new interfaces will help the industry steer its way through the challenge of enabling communication in a vehicle. Voice, touch, haptic, gesture, facial recognition, sensor inputs and fusion-based technologies that process all of these inputs are how enhanced safety will be achieved.

March 7, 2010 17:03 rlanctot
It is very strange indeed to find Toyota at the focal point of a vehicle recall imbroglio after years of immaculate quality ratings and at the peak of its global market share. But the strangeness of the timing is even more severe than that, because it was Toyota’s Prius that was used by QNX and Alcatel-Lucent to promote their “ng connect” LTE Car initiative late last year. The Toyota Prius became the mascot for the ng connect program, popping up in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas, in fact anywhere cars or automotive technology were on display. The purpose of the ng connect tour was to spread the word about the onset of 4G LTE technology and what it will mean for connected cars. Of course, the tour was also a showcase for QNX’s vision of both on-board and connected applications. Chief among the roster of on-board applications was a so-called Virtual Mechanic. The virtual mechanic is intended to provide live in-vehicle status reports on a wide range of vehicle systems including brakes, transmission, fuel, etc. with text and graphics. QNX is already the enabling software behind OnStar which, like Ford’s Vehicle Health Report feature, provide drivers with emailed status reports. The difference with virtual mechanic is that the information is live and delivered inside the vehicle. For QNX, the virtual mechanic was merely a concept shown in the context of a wide range of other concepts including in-vehicle displays of remote traffic cameras, access to Internet radio (Pandora), and a host of other location-aware and entertainment oriented applications. But the plot thickens with the emergence of Toyota’s recall nightmare because QNX is a supplier to both GM and Toyota. The virtual mechanic concept appears to belong to QNX, but the possibility for GM or Toyota to adapt the technology for their own marketing and customer relations purposes changes the prospects for this technology considerably. The question now is which manufacturer, Toyota or GM, will be first to enable a virtual mechanic-type application in the car. Or could some other QNX customer leap to the front of the queue: BMW, Peugeot, Mercedes Benz, Chrysler, Hyundai? Any one of these companies can look at Toyota’s difficult situation and realize they could be the next car company with software-laden cars producing unexplained, and seemingly unfixable, failures. A challenge for both Toyota and GM in implementing QNX's virtual mechanic will be the limited number of cars both companies sell with full-screen navigation sufficient to graphically display on-board systems. But LCD attach rates are improving for all OEMs in all segments and this application is yet another justification for large display fitment. Suffice it to say that the virtual mechanic is a concept that has arrived just in time to offer a way forward for a damaged auto maker and possibly for the entire industry. Whether QNX’s customers view this prospect from the same perspective remains to be seen. A final note: In this analyst’s opinion, the virtual mechanic will also make a great customer demonstration for car dealers. virt-mech-2.JPG Source:  Strategy Analytics

March 4, 2010 00:03 rlanctot
At a recent telematics event in Shanghai a General Motors executive, when asked who owned the vehicle data generated by the OnStar system, said the customer owned the data. His response was somewhat misleading, and it highlighted the quandary facing the automotive industry, particularly in the wake of Toyota’s unintended acceleration woes and related recalls. What vehicle data are car makers going to collect, who will have access to it and under what circumstances? In truth, customers have little or no access to the data generated by their telematics systems. In fact, the sharing of this data is anathema within the industry. Some limited information is being shared under very specific circumstances (vehicle location, fuel level, battery charge, etc.), but the volume of data being shared is miniscule in the context of the scope of data collection. Actually, for many OEMs it is a cardinal rule to not preserve or share vehicle data for a wide variety of reasons including, but not limited to, liability and privacy. It is for this reason that companies such as BMW, Mercedes Benz and GM have not provided Web delivery platforms for preserving and reporting comprehensive historical vehicle data to their telematics customers. While it might make sense to provide complete driving and service history to the customer it is also possible that either the customer or the OEM does not want all of this information shared for the reasons noted earlier. (Of course, OEMs are particularly concerned with liability, consumers are more concerned about privacy.) Toyota’s recent recalls related to vehicle acceleration and other failures have highlighted these limitations and threaten to upend the manner in which vehicle data will be managed in the future. One early press report suggested that the current Toyota on-board systems for capturing event data were limited and definitely not able to shed light on incidents that may have contributed to driver fatalities. Whether that is true or not, it is clear, by now, that Toyota either has insufficient data to properly diagnose the problem(s) in a timely manner or is hiding valuable information from its customers and NHTSA. It is hard to envision governmental organizations such as the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) resisting the urge to demand higher degrees of data collection, disclosure and analysis. (A brake override system mandate is already in consideration, according to published reports.) Consumers may demand more data as well and solutions already exist from suppliers such as Hughes Telematics and QNX. Hughes has been showing for more than three years its concept of a vehicle Website showing the status of various vehicle systems in realtime. And QNX has demonstrated comprehensive on-board diagnostics including data and graphics and complete user interface with its LTE car project in conjunction with Alcatel Lucent. Ironically, even in a perfect world, the prospect of diagnosing vehicle problems from vehicle-generated data is far from guaranteed. Still, more data is generally better and the federal government in the U.S. long ago contributed its voice to the debate. A mandate for electronic data recorders – set in 2006 - comes in to being in 2011 in the U.S. laying out requirements for data collection, retention and the terms and conditions for access to the data. Perhaps Toyota would have benefited from such an implementation. (The U.S. mandate contrasts with Europe where privacy concerns have trumped the interest in accident diagnostics thereby forestalling wider EDR adoption either voluntarily or via mandate.) EDR data, unlike telematics-related data, is typically only gathered in connection with a vehicle accident and is normally only accessible to public authorities acting on behalf of law enforcement or insurance agencies with the cooperation of the vehicle owner. OEMs that have deployed telematics systems are already capturing, processing and leveraging vehicle data whether consumers have access to this data or not. GM, for one, claims hundreds of millions of dollars in savings from warranty claims avoided by leveraging OnStar data to resolve problems before they become recalls. Most consumers are not aware of what data is being captured or how it is being used. This contrasts with the mobile market where Droid phones, for one example, ask the customer to opt into sharing location-related information. The proliferation of connected vehicles will force OEMs to reconsider their data management and sharing policies. Toyota is no doubt weighing its strategy for managing its fleet; processing vehicle failure information; sharing that information with regulatory authorities, dealers and consumers; and responding to inquiries from the public and the press. Out of a worst case scenario for the industry is likely to come a new paradigm for information sharing that will be more open and comprehensive and which, hopefully, will lead to greater peace of mind, safety and understanding of vehicle functions among the driving public.

February 21, 2010 20:02 rlanctot
Telematics has become synonymous with automatic crash notification and roadside assistance, thanks to the admirable and successful marketing efforts of General Motors and OnStar. But telematics is so much more than this and this story needs to be told, particularly in the wake of Toyota’s recall debacle. I have been driving a telematics equipped vehicle for the past year.  For me, telematics has meant destination and navigation assistance, movie times and theater locations, and flight arrival times, but, most importantly, telematics has been a powerful connection with my dealer. When combined with on-board diagnostics, the telematics system in my car has meant notifications for low coolant, an engine failure (although the vehicle was still able to operate), low oil level, low tire pressure, and scheduled maintenance.  In each case, the warning in the vehicle caused me to contact the concierge service for guidance.  And in almost every case, the guidance led to an on-the-spot invitation to visit the dealer to correct the problem. While saving lives via ACN is certainly a valuable contribution for a telematics system to make, it is the daily needs related to maintaining a vehicle (and preserving its function and value) that determines the true worth of a telematics system to the dealer and the customer.  With each dealer visit I have learned more about my car and forged a stronger bond with the dealer and with the brand. The combination of diagnostics and call center connection has made the ownership experience one of the most pleasing automotive experiences I have ever had owning a car. In contrast, I receive occasional mailings related to my other vehicle when the computer for the dealer of that vehicle guesses that I have crossed a mileage threshold and am due for scheduled maintenance. (For some reason, dealers – at least the ones I have worked with - routinely fail to properly set the on-board diagnostic systems to the correct mileage thresholds or time stamps, which leads to premature visits for oil changes etc.) There is a big difference between an onboard service notification – which conveys a degree of urgency – and a dealer postcard that looks like a mass mailing come-on. The value of integrating diagnostics and telematics systems has not been lost on OEMs, as both Ford and GM have introduced diagnostic elements in their respective systems. Both systems provide email notifications of vehicle status and functionality. And Hughes Telematics’ vision for automotive connectivity includes Internet-delivered vehicle status reporting. For me, though, it is the integration in the car itself that is most powerful. What is missing in some systems, though, is a more complete integration. When I call the OEM call center, the OEM should already know that a problem has been flagged. The driver shouldn’t have to tell the call center what the error code is. In fact, there are some indications that OEMs such as BMW are moving toward more pro-active messaging to customers in the event of error codes or system failures. Acura, for example, leverages the XM satellite radio connection to the vehicle to provide for direct one-way communications to specific vehicles in the event of recalls or other urgent service issues. (The market is also moving toward onboard and offboard digital manuals, but OEMs will remain hesitant to focus on enabling the customer to correct any but the simplest vehicle problems.) The next step in this process will see a more complete and comprehensive vehicle connectivity solution.  Today’s integrated telematics and vehicle diagnostic offerings fundamentally help to preserve and extend the customer relationship as well as the value of the vehicle investment. For those reasons, it is time for a more complete portfolio of integrated messaging to include leasing, insurance and warranty service partners and their information. Customers should only have to go to a single Website to manage or obtain all of their vehicle information including financing, insurance, scheduled maintenance, maintenance history, and warranty information. Bits and pieces of this kind of integration exist, but the OEM or dealer group that makes a more complete solution happen will have a significant advantage in building customer relationships and maintaining the value of the fleet. Toyota’s woes – and the many other less noteworthy recalls that regularly afflict the industry – are a wake-up call.  As more OEMs move to bring vehicle connectivity to the market, the focus will be on the leveraging of diagnostic data for enhanced dealer-customer connectivity.

February 5, 2010 15:02 rlanctot

Autotxt is a stolen vehicle recovery and immobilization solution provider that spread its wings in 2009 to move beyond its home market in the United Kingdom to explore SVR opportunities in Germany, Brazil and China.  In the process, the company has begun trials of fleet solutions around the world pointing the way forward for the entire fleet industry to bring robust commercial solutions, eventually, to the large volume passenger vehicle market.

 

Autotxt has clearly recognized that its immobilizer technology, though a powerful differentiating solution, is not a mass market product. In the U.S., for example, vehicle immobilization is primarily used in the buy-here-pay-here market for consumer with poor credit seeking to purchase cars. This market segment is served by a half dozen or more companies and experiences strong, steady demand. OnStar caused a stir with its vehicle slowdown solution introduced in 2009. There have been a handful of high-profile vehicle recoveries using the technology, but it has yet to see wider application - something that Autotxt might change.

 

Autotxt is building upon its existing solution to offer comprehensive vehicle telematics solutions with over-the-air configurability, CAN integration and Website management for fleets. But these same solutions are increasingly well-suited to the passenger vehicle market especially since they already include tools for CO2 reduction and green navigation. The next step for Autotxt may well be more consumer-facing products and services.

 

In the U.K., Autotxt is best know for its Thatcham Category 5 vehicle recovery technology which includes pro-active notification of the vehicle owner of its theft and the ability to immobilize the vehicle and thereby recover it.  The Autotxt solution is used by Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover and Autotxt is now running tests and trials with potential customers in Germany and elsewhere.  The technology represents a major business opportunity for Autotxt in Brazil, but that country is still in the process of re-evaluating its vehicle tracking and immobilization mandate.

 

In Germany, Autotxt is currently running trials with bigger commercial vehicle fleets with its new fleet efficiency tool, which focuses on improving driver behaviour, reducing CO2 and anti-theft.  The first trials are nearly completed, according to the company.  In China, Autotxt has two different activities, one focused on fleet applications and another one involving stolen vehicle tracking solutions for car makers.

 

All Autotxt applications involve CAN integration and in-depth CAN analysis for accurate data.  The company's hardware is configured over the air for the dedicated vehicle type.  The company also provides custom configured Web-based applications for customers for free since there is no standard telematics product for every customer.

 

Immobilization technology has been available from Autotxt for several years. The company works with different service partners in different countries covering Europe and an increasing number other countries.  Development goes in the direction of interactive CAN applications (in cooperation with the automotive companies) and remote diagnostics capabilities (self healing car) in cooperation with IBM and Jaguar.  The company is looking at opportunities in the U.S.