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Consumer telematics driving automotive electronics

First publishedin ITS International
January February 2009
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Next-generation vehicle cockpit concept from Visteon
Next-generation vehicle cockpit concept from Visteon; the distinction between conventional instrument cluster and centre-stack displays is becoming increasingly blurred

This year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was characterised by consumer telematics solutions, writes Dave McNamara


Consumer telematics characterised this year's Consumer Electronics Show, which took place 8-11 January in Las Vegas, in that a significant number of exhibits were focused on technologies specific to the automobile and Location-Based Services (LBS). Significantly, the cell phone was adopted by Ford as the way to bring new features into the car; other Consumer Electronics (CE) devices such as Personal Navigation Devices (PNDs) are the usual target platform for LBS. Aftermarket telematics providers also emerged - Hughes announced an open telematics platform, based on the Next Generation Telematics Platfom (NGTP),which can be tailored to any OEM and an aftermarket system called in-Drive. Other aftermarket entries included VehSmart, Guidepoint, Alopek, Spot LLC and Zoombak.

Overall, the event reinforced that the CE industry will drive automotive electronics, as built-in is supplanted by 'beamed-in' (via wireless or telematics) and 'brought-in' (via smart phones).

On the first day of the show, Ford CEO Alan Mulally announced the third generation of Ford SYNC, a factory-installed in-car communications and entertainment system developed in conjunction with Microsoft. Ford is firmly committed to the cell phone as the communication device versus an embedded solution (as typified by the OnStar system developed by GM and now adopted and enhanced by Toyota). Mulally proudly stated that "no other company is better leveraging the cell phone". His keynote address heralded a series of industry firsts: key services free to users for three years; global availability in 2010; and the ability for users to upgrade onboard hardware through downloads.

Both Mullally and Derrick Kuzak, Ford's North American Product Development Vice President, made a point of recognising a plethora of Ford "technology experts" or business/technical partners. This underlined that the automotive industry is more than ready to work with the CE and telecommunications industries.

Ford thinks that its strategy will make it faster to market with new features, provide a saleable platform for broad deployment across its fleet and, lastly, be more affordable and available to the masses. For example, Mulally announced a new service delivery network based on a voice interface (TellMe) to services for traffic (Inrix), directions (deCarta and TeleNav) and information such as movie listings and stock markets. These are all free for the first three years of ownership. As further evidence of the convergence of automotive with CE, Ford also announced a new partnership with leading retailer Best Buy to provide tech support through its Geek Squad.

The SYNC MyRide Website allows personalisation of addresses for the navigation service and a set of application programming interfaces for plug-and-play services over the internet. The software for 2010 SYNC systems can be upgraded by downloading the firmware to a USB flash drive then loading it to the car via a USB port.

SYNC will be global starting in 2010, first in Europe with seven Western European languages and then two Eastern European countries. Asia and Australia will follow.

Device of choice

The 3G smart phone has emerged as the personal device of choice for LBS. The current device platforms and related support/delivery systems are the: Apple iPhone (iTouch included) with iTunes; RIM Blackberry with Owner's Lounge; Windows Mobile smart phones and Microsoft.com/windowsmobile Website; Google Android Platform and Open Handset Alliance; and Palm Pre (which received a Best of Show award) with WebOS and the Palm Website (WebOS is a new operating system for mobile phones that is designed to be pervasively connected to the Internet).

PND/cell phone convergence

Many think the PND and cell phone will converge into one device. Some smart phones have begun offering navigation applications and some PND manufacturers have stopped producing navigation devices. But a number of changes have taken place in the market in the past year to make a PND a companion to the phone. The connected PND is here and there were some interesting offerings on show from Mio, Magellan and Navigon.

The TomTom Go 740 Live won the Best of CES Award in the GPS category. It has a built-in, high-sensitivity GPS receiver, voice recognition, Bluetooth and a variety of other capabilities. Garmin's latest Nuvi device, the 885T, was a nominee in the same category. Its features include voice-activated navigation and lane assist with junction view.

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Hughes Telematics solution
The Hughes Telematics Next-Generation Telematics Protocol solution (Picture: Hughes Telematics)

Automotive industry participation

The vehicle cabin is becoming more PC-like, except for the user display which is highly stylised with the appropriate placement of large-panel displays and controls. The distinction between cluster and centre-stack is becoming blurred and a seamless cockpit is the result. The computing platform is also highly integrated versus multiple microprocessors dedicated to each display. This architecture makes the addition of new telematics features, such as dynamic navigation, 3D navigation and other new mobility features (curve speed warning, eco-friendly routing and so on) easy and affordable to integrate.

Bosch and Visteon showcased many new automotive interior design concepts which demonstrate how telematics/LBS features now have a home for viewing in a safer and non-distracting way.

Bosch presented a variety of technologies, including a curve-speed warning system, dual-view displays, night vision and a couple of impressive instrument cluster solutions that use large, reconfigurable LCD displays. The instrument clusters are examples of the growing trend toward flexible, reconfigurable solutions.

One of Bosch's most interesting exhibits was a dual-view display implemented in a vehicle centre-stack. Such displays offer many opportunities for infotainment features to front-seat passengers while only allowing drivers to see the screens that are appropriate. These displays also enable OEMs to implement one rear-seat display while allowing rear-seat passengers to view two different streams of video.

Together with its partner 3M, Visteon showcased the next generation of cockpits. The Integrated Control Panel (ICP), a 2011 concept, features: multiple large-panel LCDs with highly integrated content which blur the distinction between a conventional instrument cluster and centre-stack displays; and 3D displays for dynamic navigation. The latter was produced with partners Planet9 and NDVIA.

The Toyota NA system is an improvement to the existing OnStar product and has a similar overall architecture based on an embedded cellular radio as part of a telematics control unit, Telematics Service Provider (TSP) and customer-facing Web portal. At the Telematics Update Consumer Telematics Show, held the day prior to CES, Toyota confirmed ATX as its TSP. The Cross Country/ATX approach is to be agnostic relative to the wireless solution and the in-vehicle hardware and focus on innovative off-board services.

Jon Bucci, Toyota's Vice President of Advanced Technology, gave an outstanding presentation at the Telematics Update CTS. He described Toyota's thoughtful and methodical approach to balance consumer wants/needs, development timelines and cost. Bucci emphasises a process focused on executing a set of features that would meet customer and business needs while understanding that no one size fits all.

Hughes Telematics

Hughes Telematics made several key announcements: in-Drive, an aftermarket product line offering telematics services and hardware; Cocero, a white-label brand which partners can adopt under their own brand; and adoption of the Next Generation Telematics Protocol (NGTP).

Contrasting with the Cross Country/ATX approach, NGTP is an open architecture solution to support various vehicle interfaces and data formats. BMW, with TSPs Connexis and WirelessCar, developed the framework and supporting specifications as 'a technology-neutral telematics protocol' with the obvious benefits of flexibility and expandability.

Lastly, the 2010 Dodge Journey was announced as the Uconnect Guardian, to go on sale in July 2009, which provides services similar to OnStar.

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Ford SYNC presentation
The Ford SYNC communication and entertainment system includes several industry firsts

Content providers

The selection of Inrix by Ford SYNC was a significant development in the traffic content providers war between Inrix and Traffic.com (Navteq). Inrix provides for the SYNC system: a third-generation routing engine and traffic fusing engine which uses both real-time and predictive traffic information for routing and traffic congestion avoidance; a new alerting service which allows users to receive personalised traffic alerts delivered in the car with voice-enabled user capability; and a new, location-aware, consumer-friendly means of access to traffic information, allowing SYNC users to get answers to questions such as 'Traffic ahead', 'Fastest route home', and 'Traffic around me'.

Navteq continued to promote the Navteq LocationPointTM Advertising LBS. This is an approach for subsidising high-value content services, while enabling advertisers to reach and engage with consumers where and when they are making shopping and purchasing decisions. Garmin was the first PND manufacturer to join with Navteq to bring an ad-supported service model to market. Also, Navteq has joined with HD Radio to showcase its dynamic POI development kit. The dynamic POI content has three integral parts: air travel status, event listings and fuel prices.

Conclusion

For many it was hard this year not to focus on the relatively sparse hallways and reports of attendance down 23 per cent to 110,000 from 140,000 last year. Is there a silver lining to this cloud? Many telematics insiders think yes. Telematics Update Consumer Telematics Conferences attendance was up 22 per cent to 140, and Toyota chose this venue to make a key announcement. Thanks to Ford SYNC, the cell phone will be viewed as the telematics device of choice. The 911 Assist feature will provide an emergency management capability and other telematics features will become available and affordable to the masses. The telecommunication giants Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile are now viewing automotive telematics as a space to watch, even though they haven't figured out like Ford that the $50-60 data plan is not getting it. The USDOT has figured it out, as evidenced by the number of staffers who were walking the halls in order to gain an understanding of what was on offer at first hand. We can expect these trends to grow next year and consumer telematics to become a widely used and understood phenomenon. Global economic situation aside, there continue to be many exciting and positive technological developments.

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