Like the Greco-Roman sea god Poseidon, “connected car” developers come brandishing a three-pronged spear. One prong (and the most popular) is a fully tethered solution in which the network-connected smartphone is paired up with the car’s dashboard system to allow consumers to listen to online music and access Web information among other things. More than 90 million vehicles will feature technology to integrate smartphones by 2016, according to a study by Juniper Research, a wireless technology research firm based in Hampshire, U.K.
This number is rather remarkable given that automakers use proprietary protocols for in-vehicle electronics, so it is difficult for consumer electronics (CE) companies to produce one smartphone pairing device that will work with all vehicles. The Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC), an organization driving global innovation for phone-centric car connectivity solutions, is trying to solve this dilemma via MirrorLink, which provides standardized in-vehicle mobile device adaption using two-way communication between the vehicle’s in-dash display and applications running on the smartphone. MirrorLink, a common middle layer that phone makers, automakers, and car audio equipment suppliers can write to, is an attempt to reliably connect to your car and “mirror” on-dash what’s on your phone, including navigation apps.
Prong number two represents embedded connectivity solutions—all of the connectivity and intelligence that is built into the car itself. Automakers like GM, Mercedes and Volkswagen embed the phone into the car and support it with telematic services focused largely on features like crash notification and emergency location. This may be slowly broadening, however. BMW’s ConnectedDrive, for example, also offers full on-board Internet access and browsing via an embedded system, along with safety and security features.
And last year Verizon formed the 4G Venture Forum for Connected Cars to promote 4G LTE connections in vehicles. BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Toyota joined Verizon as the initial members of the Forum.
The last of the three-pronged approach to connectivity is a collection of devices that allow the use of “external” apps and pave the way for third-party services to be integrated into car models. The results of these efforts will allow, in addition to preinstalled systems, aftermarket devices to help consumers attain the solutions for connectivity they desire in any vehicle. Sony’s App Remote, for instance, lets the in-dash receiver’s buttons drive local music or Pandora streaming radio. Using App Remote, information like album art can be shown on the smartphone or car display and incoming messages can be read aloud on your car audio for added convenience.
Aha Radio and Pioneer use a hybrid app-based platform model. Its operating system is housed in part in the dash, in part in a smartphone app and in part in the cloud. Honda also hopes to get ahead of competitors like Toyota’s Entune and Ford Sync’s AppLink by not only outsourcing app integration but also by bringing in more content and making updates easier and more frequent. With the same goal in mind, France’s Peugeot Citroen has formed an alliance with car manufacturers including BMW, Volvo, Toyota and General Motors to make it easier for software developers to create applications for proprietary user interfaces.
For its part, Ford is allowing developers to tie into a car’s voice recognition system, text-to-speech engine, steering wheel controls, radio controls and displays. Similarly, the QNX CAR application platform features a set of pre-integrated and optimized technologies from QNX and dozens of ecosystem partners. Its latest iteration, QNX CAR 2, is designed to reduce the time and effort required to create custom in-car infotainment systems. The platform is now being evaluated by automakers and tier one automotive suppliers for use in next-generation infotainment systems.


The Crystal Ball

One topic guaranteed to create a heated debate is whether the smartphone will continue to dominate as the focal point of car connectivity or whether some other scheme will supplant it. The answer is unclear, however there is agreement on several factors that manufacturers must consider moving forward:

• Apps in the Cloud

A whitepaper written by research firm SBD for the Worldwide Mobile Operations Association GSMA called 2025 Every Car Connected: Forecasting the Growth and Opportunity, says the decoupling of car apps from phones may eventually become reality as more content and services are hosted on the cloud rather than residing on the phones. This could potentially reduce the motivation for smartphone integration in the long-term and encourage the use of embedded telematics.

• Cost Will Play a Role

Telecom operators have already started to adapt to the new reality of multiple connected devices per user. Several operators have developed flexible shared data plans that let customers pay a single bill and access the same data plan via multiple devices. Split-billing SIMs (subscriber identity modules) are likely to appear in the automotive industry, which would enable the OEM to pay for vehicle-related connectivity and remote diagnostics in the car. Consumers could benefit if the automakers—as a car buying incentive—cover the cost of (limited) data traffic to the infotainment center.

• Access Points Abound

In the next five years we will see different types of applications using various access points. Apps that fit best on the phone and do not require deep integration into car functions—apps for finding a parking spot, for example— are likely to remain on handheld devices. However, an app that needs to access car system information regarding acceleration, cornering or braking will probably have to be embedded in the vehicle. Consider, for example, an insurance company trying to determine rates based on a driver’s performance (think of a software version of Progressive Insurance Snapshot device that plugs into your car’s diagnostic port and automatically keeps track of your driving habits). Such an app might also come with direct car-to-cloud/cloud-to-car communications eliminating the phone company as the middle man.

Emphasis on Safety

With more than 30,000 lives lost each year due to vehicle crashes, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is studying whether future cars should have some form of embedded connectivity for safety reasons. According to DOT, as many as 80 percent of all crashes—excluding those in which the driver is impaired—could be mitigated using connected vehicle technology.
As a first step DOT has embarked on an ambitious effort to examine V2V communications with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, stating that in 2013 it intends to make a major decision on whether to pursue regulation of Vehicle Communications for Safety for light vehicles. (See sidebar: “Here I Am”) A similar decision is expected in 2014 for heavy vehicles. (See sidebar: “Look Ma, No Hands”)
V2V or V2I devices must be installed in the majority of the existing fleet of more than 250 million vehicles—not just new cars—for the system to be effective. Hence there is a great opportunity for the CE industry to develop aftermarket devices that draw on data from a GPS device to determine the location of an emitting device and then generate a “here I am” safety signal to warn similarly equipped vehicles of a given vehicle’s presence and, more importantly, warn drivers of potential danger. Without a viable aftermarket solution to retrofit vehicles already on the road, it will take a much longer time to achieve the necessary critical mass. For example, it took about 30 years for front airbags to reach 95 percent total penetration of the on-road fleet.

A Connected Future

CEA’s latest automotive connectivity study, Furthering the Drive towards In-Vehicle Connectivity, indicates that about 15 percent of U.S. households now own a vehicle with a connected communications entertainment system. CEA expects this figure to rise swiftly as auto manufacturers increasingly make tech products available across more new models.
Self-driving cars are close to reality. GM’s Cadillac division is on record as expecting to produce partially autonomous cars for the mass market by 2015. The company is road testing a semi-autonomous technology it calls “Super Cruise” that is capable of fully automatic steering, braking and lane-centering in highway driving under certain optimal conditions. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) also recently released a prediction that autonomous cars will account for up to 75 percent of vehicles on the road by the year 2040.
Among carmakers Audi and BMW have shown self-driving concept cars, with an Audi TT driving itself up Pikes Peak in Colorado. BMW has an interim technology called ConnectedDrive, which uses GPS, radar sensors, lidar optical sensors and video cameras to determine the car’s position on the road and establish its immediate surroundings. At highway speeds, the cruise control system can overtake slower cars with no driver input. Other carmakers developing autonomous technologies include Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.
DSRC technology consists of road side units (RSUs) and on board units (OBUs) with transceivers and transponders that use a 75 MHZ spectrum swath on the 5.9 GHz frequency band. The cost of a DSRC radio is estimated to be much less than the current sensing devices (radar and blind spot cameras) now being installed on vehicles. DSRC is meant to be a complement to cellular communications by providing very high data transfer rates in circumstances where minimizing latency in the communication link is important.
The Wi-Fi Direct peer-to-peer wireless connection standard also is being considered for safety communications, allowing smartphones and other connected devices to communicate with cars. Wi-Fi Direct would be integrated with existing driver-assistance systems that use sensor-based object detection to identify pedestrians and others carrying smartphones equipped with a Wi-Fi Direct app. Unlike the type of Wi-Fi you find at a hot spot, where each user connects to a central access point, Wi-Fi Direct is an ad-hoc network that allows device-to-device connection. With a range of just over 200 yards, the format would ensure a low-latency (sub-one-second) response time since it would not have to connect to a wireless cellular network.
According to DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) unit, V2V safety technology could help drivers avoid or reduce the severity of four out of five unimpaired vehicle crashes.
The NHTSA says that in 2013 it intends to make a decision on whether to pursue regulation of Vehicle Communications for Safety for light vehicles.