How cars are going from smart to smarter
New Delhi: Carmakers and technology firms are leaving no stone unturned in their joint efforts to enhance the performance of smart car platforms. The so-called “Detroit gang” is working in sync with the boffins at Silicon Valley—redefining convenience, safety, security and efficiency of cars that are already getting smart with multiple devices communicating with them.
Just ahead of its developer conference in May, for instance, Google showcased a full-fledged Android version that will run in-car infotainment systems. This is nothing like the Android Auto platform, which requires you to plug in your smartphone to a compatible in-car system. Instead, this Android version runs off the system’s internal storage itself, and can relegate your smartphone to the “not-necessary” category for the duration you are in the car.
German carmaker Audi, on its part, plans to upgrade its multi media interface (MMI) infotainment system with Android, while Volvo’s Sensus Connect system will also run the full version of Android. “With the advent of Android, we will embrace a rich ecosystem while keeping our iconic Volvo user interface. We will offer hundreds of popular apps and the best integrated experience in this broad, connected environment,” said Henrik Green, senior vice-president, research and development at the Volvo Car Group.
While Android Auto (the same applies for Apple’s CarPlay platform too) relied on the phone and apps (on the phone) to function, using Android as the very foundation of the in-car experience will allow consumers to access a library of apps—be it for entertainment, streaming, navigation or utilities.
Carmakers have traditionally deployed their own proprietary software, which has restricted app development and the range of apps available to customers. In the future, more carmakers are likely to follow Audi and Volvo in using Android or other similar platforms.
Eyeing more features
Consumers are now giving more consideration to advanced infotainment and safety features when buying cars. According to the Connected Car consumer survey for 2016 by research firm IHS Markit, consumers regularly use navigation apps—with 41% of those surveyed using weather apps for updates and 37% using music and news apps during their drive.
Carmakers as well as the tech giants realize that. American carmaker Ford, for instance, has the Sync platform in its cars in India, with the AppLink feature that allows compatible apps to share information from the phone to the in-car infotainment system screen. The platform has now been updated to add a bunch of new apps, including Hungama Drive for media streaming, navigation by MapMyIndia, weather by AccuWeather and a parking finder app called PParke. “Besides offering seamless hands-free music streaming on the go, we’ve also created special drive-related playlists and other innovative programming to engage and enhance the Ford user’s drive experience,” said Siddhartha Roy, CEO, Hungama.com.
Starting with the 2016 versions of the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and Discovery Sport vehicles sold in India, Jaguar Land Rover introduced the InControl Apps platform which was developed in partnership with German electronics company Bosch. It replicates the interface from the phone (works with Android and iOS) to the display in the car, which allows users access to compatible apps such as entertainment app Hungama, navigation from MapMyIndia and restaurant discovery app Zomato.
There is good synergy between carmakers and technology companies when it comes to developing technology and solutions for smarter cars of the future.
Tata Motors Ltd, for instance, tied up with Microsoft Corp. in February to focus on developing cloud-based products for in-car use using the Azure cloud platform—making it the first Indian carmaker to do so. “This will be done through Tata Motors’ unique user interface application and services suite utilizing Microsoft-enabled functionality like advanced navigation, predictive maintenance, telematics, remote monitoring features, external mobile experiences and over-the-air updates,” said Tim Leverton, president and head of advanced and product engineering, Tata Motors. Some of the updates will include features such as proactive point-of-interest recommendations based on location, service alerts based on the car’s health telemetry, and unifying navigation, weather and parking data, among other things.
At the Geneva International Motor Show earlier this year, Tata Motors unveiled a new sub-brand called TAMO. The idea behind TAMO is to make it a digital ecosystem, where tech companies and start-ups can come together to design solutions for smart and connected cars. “There are three main areas we are focusing on: Software-driven services (for example, journey planning), driver-assist systems even up to the autonomous function level, and artificial intelligence/deep learning applications,” added Leverton.
Making cars more secure
Security forms a key part of the automobile innovations. Dutch security firm Gemalto, for one, is using the Trusted Services Hub (TSH) platform to create virtual keys for Mercedes-Benz cars. Owners can now download virtual keys for their E-Class sedans, save them in the near field communication (NFC)-enabled phone, and hold the phone up against the car’s door handle to unlock it once the sensor authenticates the keys are meant to unlock precisely this vehicle. “Digitalization demands that companies harness their expertise to forge strong relationships with all stakeholders within the connected car ecosystem,” said Christine Caviglioli, vice-president of new mobility solutions, Gemalto, at the launch.
Gentex Corp., a maker of electronics components for automotive, aerospace and other industries, has developed a high-tech rear-view mirror for vehicles which uses mobile security firm Delta ID’s ActiveIRIS authentication technology. This enables the vehicle to authenticate the biometrics of the person in the driver’s seat—in case they don’t match, the security system can disable the engine.
Getting rid of distractions
One aspect of the smartness in cars is ensuring that drivers keep all the attention on the road—which is critical especially when they are tired, preoccupied with thoughts or simply distracted. Texas Instruments’ AWR1443 radar sensor for cars is a technology that not only helps the driver keep an eye on the road but the tech itself helps in keeping an eye on the driver—an alarm is sent out in case the driver’s attention is detected to be waning. British company Racelogic has developed a rather clever electrical system for future cars that will detect and disable a smartphone if it is distracting the driver. It is called TouchLock, and the system works with a transmitter that is installed beneath the driver’s seat. This gets activated every time the car goes faster than a speed threshold. It will detect when the driver picks up their phone, by sending a very low voltage signal through the human body, and it’ll immediately deactivate certain features on the phone to complete the safety circuit—a bit freaky, but the human body is already full of signals passing through, and the signal would be harmless.
Earlier this year, Apple filed a patent that allows Apple Watch to detect when someone wearing the watch is behind the wheel of a vehicle, and disables certain notifications to avoid distractions. This is done through data from the watch’s motion sensors, which can determine the device’s angular velocity—it could be the hand on the steering wheel plus how fast the vehicle is moving. Another factor is the relative position of the smartphone, which would normally be either in the console or on the passenger’s seat. Beyond a predefined speed, the notifications will be disabled.
Driving with data
Capturing and analysing sensor data is a big opportunity in the connected car segment. Microsoft estimates that connected and autonomous cars of the future will generate as much as 150GB of data every second.
With multiple smart car pilots and research projects currently going on around the globe, data scientists are at work trying to make sense of all that data—and how it could be put to better use in an increasingly connected world.
No surprise then, that research firm Frost and Sullivan’s Global Connected Car Market Outlook, 2017 report forecasts that global connected car shipments will increase from around 25 million to almost 70 million units by the year 2022.