AUTOMOTIVE MULTIMEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS

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

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.


February 3, 2010 21:02 rlanctot
With the statement: "Consumers want their devices to work together, so it is inevitable that single-vendor connected solutions will lose their interest," Pioneer's senior managing director, Akira Haeno has shoved a stake into the ground for the company's Platform for Aggregation of Internet Services (PAIS). Pioneer says this new content and services platform, set to arrive formally in mid-2010, will provide a seamless home/car/work experience for different content sources and services in conjunction with any connected device. The announcement opens doors to new market opportunities for Pioneer Electronics while also opening the company up to a new range of competitors that are already aggregating content and services. But Haeno's declaration is significant considering there are several connected devices that are otherwise closed to different content and service sources. A few that come to mind are devices from TomTom, Garmin, OnStar, and Apple. The ability to bridge all of these platforms will give Pioneer an advantage against rivals such as Airbiquity, Hughes Telematics or even UIEvolution. The PAIS platform presents open-standard interfaces for voice, navigation and maps, local search, social networking, music and radio and video and television, the company says. The interfaces enable the addition of new content and services without the added investment in proprietary solutions. Pioneer's solution is a direct challenge to the strategies of competing Tier Ones such as Visteon, Continental, and Denso among others, all of whom are offering to enable a wide range of applications. Even real-time operating system supplier QNX has had to race to deliver new application interfaces in support of its technology already deployed in 12+ vehicles. The Pioneer solution is based on Windows for Automotive and incorporates VoiceBox technology but is otherwise technology agnostic. The challenge for the content and service aggregators will be to demonstrate that their solutions are truly able to seamlessly and easily deploy new applications. Ford Motor Company and Mercedes-Benz are the first to reach the market with systems sufficiently flexible to deploy additional applications. Ford relies on smartphone connectivity, while Mercedes combines smartphone connectivity with a sophisticated back-end provided by Hughes Telematics. Ford has made a software development kit available, as has Continental for its Android-based systems. Mercedes has not released an SDK but company executives envision a day when Mercedes customers could create widgets or full applications. Competitors may see a tough choice in choosing to support or leverage the Pioneer platform, but the company is early enough to market to stake a credible claim and the solution will no doubt support Pioneer's own connected offerings.

January 20, 2010 17:01 rlanctot

The single most important automotive product introduction at CES was MyFordTouch and the related software developer kit (SDK) and application programming interfaces. Competing OEMs and their suppliers are scrambling to respond to Ford's strategy which is only manifesting today what

has been in development for five years or more. In the end, Ford has created and demonstrated an ability to design and deploy new features and functions at an unheardof pace, unmatched in the industry.

 

Ford has finally solved the automotive industry solution development logjam and has further opened up its platform for the creation of even more new applications by third parties. This "long-tail" strategy has created a competitive environment where the OEM (or supplier) that enables or is capable of enabling the most applications will win. This does not mean that every car buyer uses every application, but it does mean that there will likely be at least a few applications that every driver will want to try - hence the long tail. It also means great aftermarket opportunities, marketing angles, and customer touch opportunities for Ford and its dealer network - "come down and get your free apps!"

The Ford announcement greatly overshadowed Kia's Uvo launch, which represented a significant advance on the original Ford Sync and is based on an updated Microsoft MS Auto platform.  Similarly, the OnStar Volt smartphone integration announcement is a mere one-off feature introduction for a single expensive vehicle due much later in 2010. Though the vehicle charge status application is necessary for the electric vehicle segment, t is not a mass market concept and it was originally shown a year ago. It does show OnStar integrating smartphone funtionality for the first time, but it is not the harbinger of an open platform from OnStar.

 

The mbrace announcement from Mercedes late last year was more important because Mercedes will be launching additional smartphone applications thanks to the Hughes Telematics back-end architecture. OnStar lacks the flexibility to deploy a wide range of applications in the same manner as Mercedes.

The influence of Ford's architectural decisions is reflected in the movement of Tier Ones to enable a wide range of applications across multiple platforms and operating systems. Some examples include QNX's ConnectedCar, Continental's AutoLinQ, Airbiquity's aqLink, Visteon's connectivity platform and Denso's BlueHarmony. Continental's choice of the Android operating system, in particular, reflects the objective of opening the automotive environment to a wider software developer community. Continental, in particular, announced plans for its own Androi-based SDK for Q1 and an application store due in the second half of 2010.

 

Even telematics service providers - Airbiquity, Cross Country/ATX, Hughes, and WirelessCar - are seeking to enable and support a much wider range of applications ranging from news, weather and sports content delivery to traffic camera display and Internet radio. And social networking applications such as Twitter, FaceBook and myspace are being enabled for embedded in-vehicle use as well.

OEMs will do well to choose hardware, software, content, operating system and service providers that are capable of rapid deployment of voice and connectivity-enabled features and functions in a safe manner via a controlled vetting process. Ford is showing the way, but there will be multiple paths to this objective.


January 13, 2010 16:01 rlanctot

Genivi Challenges Automotive OS Duopoly, Disrupts Business Models

 

The Genivi Alliance had a coming out party at the Consumer Electronics Show this week. Aside from the formal launch of the alliance at CeBIT in the winter of 2009, the organization has chosen smaller stages from which to tell its story and attract additional partners. At the CES show, however, Visteon raised the Genivi flag high in introducing new automotive infotainment solutions.

 

Genivi is currently positioned in the industry as an alternative to Microsoft and QNX as an automotive operating system for a range of cockpit applications. The business models of these three organizations differ significantly, though, and the objectives of the Genivi Alliance are not strictly related to taking the place of either of Microsoft’s automotive OS offerings or QNX. The stated objectives appear more closely aligned with reducing development costs for OEMs and, more recently, may include shifting ownership of intellectual property to the OEMs as well.

 

QNX and Microsoft are not the only operating systems available to automotive suppliers. There still remain multiple Linux distributions – including the recently emergent Android being positioned for automotive applications by Continental - as well as versions of M-Itron. But when it comes to the development of the most advanced automotive cockpit systems on the road today, QNX and Microsoft are dominant.

 

When it comes to business models, the two companies differ significantly. Microsoft has a reputation for being expensive, but mitigates the expense with marketing dollars. QNX takes a more traditional approach to software licensing and is a much quieter player in the market, from a marketing or marketing dollars standpoint. Microsoft has found success in both the high-end infotainment segment and the low end (Ford Sync, Fiat Blue&Me).

 

QNX has seen much of its deployments in the luxury segment in connection with parent Harman International, but has also had its share of success in Bluetooth solutions, instrument clusters and GM’s OnStar system. QNX’s most recent success has centered on its work with Lexus and parent Toyota which appears to have opened the door to additional business in Japan. QNX claims in excess of 12M cars deployed with its software.

 

The Genivi strategy, rooted in the shared-code model of Linux, is designed to speed product development by identifying and distributing those layers of operating system code that are identical across platforms. Of course, all operating systems have an element of shared code, but the Genivi approach creates a “star chamber-like” panel of alliance members that vet new additions to the underlying shared code, presumably leaving ample room for alliance members to differentiate their solutions in higher levels of the software stack such as HMI are other application-specific areas.

 

Genivi had its CES debut in the Visteon booth. While one physical platform was shown based on an Intel ATOMM processor, executives said it could be swapped out for solutions from competing silicon suppliers such as Renesas or Freescale, depending on the customer requirement. This is one element of the Genivi platform, like other industry platforms it is intended to allow virtual plug-n-play swapping of processors and other system elements.

 

Visteon executives noted that the initial release, Genivi 1.0, occurred December 17 and the organization is now in the midst of a 21-business day review by its membership. Genivi announced that it surpassed the 50-member mark before CES including such significant partners as Renesas and Nissan. The Genivi 1.0 review is to be completed Jan. 21. During the period of the review the Board of Genivi may receive, via its executive director, any potential member claims of IP which were not contributed by the member under the terms of the IPR policy that they feel are infringed upon with the candidate release. The review period is also indeed to perform a careful review of the documentation of inbound and outbound licensing of the components included in the release. In no notifications occur, the board is expected to vote in a meeting Jan. 27 to release Genivi 1.0. Otherwise, the Board may delay until IP notifications are research and resolved or until license documentation is complete.

 

Because Genivi is so new, rumors continue to swirl around critical business model issues such as IP ownership by OEMs implementing Genivi solutions and around the extent to which it may creep into upper levels of the software stack such as HMI and the application level. For now, the industry will have to wait for its chance to see the first implementation.

 

Genivi will coexist in the market with both QNX and Microsoft including in some of the same systems. This is true for Android as well, which will not replace QNX or Microsoft in the short run. In the end, while additional versions of Linux will continue to emerge and find a place in the automotive market, the duopoly of Microsoft and QNX is likely to persist for some time. Genivi stands to have its greatest influence over time as additional layers of code are added. Participants in the alliance will be watching most closely to see that their value add contribution is preserved.