SEMA News - May 2010

By Steve Campbell

Entertainment, Information and Safety in the Connected Vehicle

  SEMA NEWS-MAY 2010-MOBILE ELECTRONICS 
   
Every modern vehicle is dependent upon electronics. From the engine’s ignition to sound systems, from safety sensors to climate controls, electronics have become integral to how vehicles operate and how their drivers perceive the on-road experience. And now electronics from outside the vehicle are resulting in a whole new wave of connectivity.  “Automotive technology has extended far beyond the car itself,” said John Waraniak, SEMA vice president of vehicle technology. “In addition to features, functions and systems that are built in, today’s vehicles are becoming connected to portable devices, to each other and to the roadway. The number of connected vehicles is projected to grow at about 31% each year, resulting in nearly 70 million of the 240 million vehicles in the United States being connected by the year 2015.”

Indeed, connectivity is the watchword for future vehicles. Entertainment systems, navigation and safety features are all becoming increasingly interdependent, either wired or wireless.

“Connectivity to the vehicle bus will evolve and mature,” said Michael Blicher, director of automotive business development for Immersion, an electronics company that specializes in Haptics, technology that interfaces with the user through the sense of touch. “The consumer expects connectivity and expects it to be done correctly and with integrity to the vehicle, so both the OEMs and aftermarket players are moving toward increased collaboration. It is a symbiotic relationship that cannot be ignored.”

One area of mobile-electronics innovation that has come into full bloom actually started several decades ago with the introduction of cellular telephones. The first models were nearly the size of attaché cases and included a base and a handset that looked a lot like the home telephones of the day. Cell phone evolution included not only miniaturization but also the development of “smart” phones, such as the Blackberry, iPhone, Droid and dozens of others, each of which go far beyond mere voice communication.

   SEMA NEWS-MAY 2010-MOBILE ELECTRONICS
 

People want to bring everything into the car on one device. Cell phones offer navigation plus WiFi with up-to-date traffic, routing, gas costs, movie times and more. Smart phones are now being designed to control OEM features, such as remote start and remote door locks.  

   
“We can have our to-do list, our e-mail, our calendar, our music, our PowerPoint presentations and whatever else on a single device,” said Stephan Tarnutzer, chief operating officer for DGE Inc., an electronics engineering and design company that is a Tier 1 supplier of control modules and test equipment to the OEMs. “People want to bring everything into the car on one device. Cell phones offer navigation plus WiFi with up-to-date traffic, routing, gas costs, movie times and all these sorts of things. And now, smart phones are being designed to control OEM features, such as remote start and remote door locks.”

In fact, the newest-generation of smart phones has begun to incorporate and even replace in-car electronics systems. GPS systems that were originally built into the dash and cost upward of $1,000 faced nearly immediate competition from portable systems that were available for just over $100, but even the portables are now giving way to smart phones that offer increasingly robust navigation options. And smart phones equipped with Bluetooth and streaming music applications, such as Pandora, have begun to overtake mp3 units as the player of choice.

“Connectivity linking hand-carried devices seamlessly to the vehicle is continuing to grow through various wireless means,” Blicher said. “Only a few years ago, about 15% of vehicles had a connectivity port for an iPod; now something like 80% of all new cars has some connectivity port for a hand-carried device. The same vehicles are also going to wireless communication with those devices.”

That trend has led to fewer instances of consumers swapping out their factory-stock stereo head units in favor or more full-featured or cosmetically appealing versions. But the availability of wireless applications isn’t the only reason for that decline, according to Doug Newcomb, senior editor, technology, for Edmunds.com.

  SEMA NEWS-MAY 2010-MOBILE ELECTRONICS 
 

Only a few years ago, about 15% of vehicles had a connectivity port for an iPod; now about 80% of new cars have a connectivity port for a hand-carried device. The same vehicles are also going to support wireless communication with those devices.   

   
“I had a 2001 VW Passat that I had changed the radio in,” he explained. “When I took my car to the dealer for service, I had put the stock unit back in so that the technicians could read the engine codes. That kind of integration makes it difficult for the aftermarket and seems to have caused a definite slowing in the replacement of head units, though, there was a slight uptick in head-unit sales in late 2008 because a lot more used cars were being sold.”

Such interconnectivity speaks volumes about the complexity of vehicle systems integration, Blicher said, pointing out that multiple black boxes link navigation, climate controls, information, entertainment and vehicle controls in what he calls the “smart one-inch” vehicle center stack. The latest control displays—only about an inch thick—replace bricks of electronics that used to reside in the dash. Today’s displays house only the control functions and communicate with electronics packages located elsewhere in the vehicle. And even those controls are undergoing a revolution of their own.

“The newest control systems feature a combination of voice and unique disassociated controls, including rotary, joystick and touch surfaces that integrate Haptic confirmation,” Blicher said. “Some of the column and stalk switches are still a blend of traditional mechanical switches and buttons.”

The use of touch controls and optical displays has also led to the ability to reconfigure a single screen for multiple uses, so the screen can control the entertainment system, then be switched to control the climate system, then switched again to control the navigation system. T.C. Wingrove, senior manager for innovation at Visteon Corp., said that his company expects the use of 5.5-inch or larger displays to increase by 60% over the next five years. Wingrove also said that 3G and 4G Internet connectivity will unlock an even greater range of possibilities for consumers.

   SEMA NEWS-MAY 2010-MOBILE ELECTRONICS
 

The latest control displays—only about an inch thick—replace bricks of electronics that used to reside in the dash. Today’s displays house only the control functions and communicate with electronics packages located elsewhere in the vehicle.   

   
“The rapid increase in mobile Internet usage on consumer portable devices and the migration of that Internet connectivity to the vehicle space offers opportunities for new business models and content distribution, such as navigation and location-based services, Internet radio, streaming video to rear-seat screens, web browsing for passengers and remote customization and downloading of content and apps,” he said. “It also is a threat to several established business models, such as on-board navigation and satellite radio.”

Vehicle safety systems also offer unique opportunities. Ed Browalski, a SEMA technology consultant and the owner of Advanced Controls Engineering Consultants, said that vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications can provide comprehensive safety controls that not only enhance a vehicle’s response to driver inputs, but actually intervene based on information that the driver may not be aware of but is available.

The interaction between systems enables self-directed control and safety intervention in ways that seemed too complex to achieve just a decade ago, Browalski said, referring to such progressions as ABS and traction control leading to electronic stability control. The latest iterations of those systems will provide vehicle intervention without direct input from the driver, such as braking for an object in front of a vehicle despite the driver’s intention to continue at a constant speed. Many motorists—particularly enthusiasts—might have balked at that type of mechanized insurrection only a few years ago, but even their perceptions are changing when it comes to vehicle electronics and safety.

  SEMA NEWS-MAY 2010-MOBILE ELECTRONICS 
 

The use of touch controls and optical displays has also led to the ability to reconfigure a single screen for multiple uses, so the screen can control the entertainment system, then be switched to control the climate system, then switched again to control the navigation system.  

   
“The emergence of systems such as blind-spot awareness, back-up aids, adaptive cruise control and lane-change management systems has become prominent over the past five years,” said Wingrove. “Visteon research shows that consumers have had a fundamental shift in their attitudes toward active safety systems over the past 10 years. Consumers who were skeptical of systems that took control of the vehicle in any way early in the decade have became more willing to accept active safety-related driver awareness systems in certain situations. The tremendous increase in potential distractions for drivers over the past 10 years—mobile phones, portable music players, more content available in the vehicle—likely contributed to this trend.”

The approach toward the V2V and V2I networks that will supply those types of systems has also morphed in the recent past. They were initially envisioned as a government-built national system, but the more favored approach now is to use existing resources from such providers as Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and others.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) and our other partners realized that many providers have already made substantial investments in their networks, so we don’t need to duplicate that,” said Gregory Krueger, intelligent transportation systems program manager for the Michigan Department of Transportation. “We can supplement it for safety purposes, but there are systems in place right now for collecting real-time safety data and distributing real-time traffic speed and flow data.”

Those systems can provide warnings about impending danger from sudden speed reductions in traffic, changing traffic signals, unplanned lane changes and other on-road conditions. And the vehicle will warn the driver not only visually and with audible cues, but even verbally.

  SEMA NEWS-MAY 2010-MOBILE ELECTRONICS 
 

Under the OEM Safe Aftermarket Gateways (OSAG)concept, the OEM passes data to and is aware of what an aftermarket company is doing. The product or system is tested, and the OEM knows that the aftermarket device cannot affect the OEM’s architecture and will interact with only certain modules.   

   
The innovation mentioned most frequently by those we spoke with about mobile electronics trends was the Ford Sync communications and entertainment system developed in conjunction with Microsoft. Sync allows most Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and some digital media players to be operated using voice commands or the controls on the steering wheel or the vehicle radio. It can also receive text messages and read them aloud, and it can even interpret many shorthand messages such as LOL (laughing out loud). It’s easy to imagine such systems integrating with V2V and V2I networks.

“Sync already reduces driver distraction by allowing the driver to keep his hands on the steering wheel while changing his radio station,” Krueger said, “but it has gone from basically a speaker for a mobile phone to something that interacts with the vehicle and with every device that I bring into the vehicle. Ford has allowed its customers to bring their devices in and has figured out ways to have the vehicle interact with those devices in a safe and efficient manner. I think that’s a great direction to go.”

Sync is also significant because of the way Ford has marketed the system, said Wingrove. “For the first time in history, an automotive OEM has used an electronics component, combined with a consumer electronics brand, as a competitive weapon for selling vehicles,” he explained. “Consumers are coming to Ford dealerships and asking for the Ford Sync by name. That has Ford’s competitors scrambling for an answer to the Sync system.”

All of these advances are not without complications, however. Newcomb touched on the tip of the iceberg in describing the inability of technicians to read his older Passat’s diagnostic engine codes when his non-stock stereo was in place. Increasing vehicle complexity only exacerbates the problem.

“A few years ago, you had maybe 20 or 30 control modules in a vehicle—full-blown computers that are, in some cases, more powerful than our older desktop computers,” said Tarnutzer. “Now you have up to 80 or 100 different controllers, and each is as complex as the others. If you change one element but don’t understand exactly how these things work together in the overall vehicle system architecture, you can do real damage or cause safety issues in the vehicle. It’s hard for even Tier 1 suppliers to keep up with the latest system requirements. For somebody who doesn’t have access to all of the specifications and the insight into what’s going on at the OEMs, it’s even more dangerous to reverse-engineer something.”

   SEMA NEWS-MAY 2010-MOBILE ELECTRONICS
 

Making connected vehicles cool and demonstrating product benefits are the fastest ways to ensure consumer acceptance, reduce costs and drive profitability and growth. The challenges and opportunities for the aftermarket lie in how effectively these features, devices and accessories can be integrated into the vehicle by OEMs, suppliers and specialty-equipment manufacturers, retailers and installers.   

   
And that’s precisely why collaboration between the automakers and specialty-equipment manufacturers is crucial. One of the ways Waraniak and SEMA are working to alleviate such problems is by embracing what are known as OEM Safe Aftermarket Gateways (OSAG).

“An OSAG bridges the gap between the aftermarket and the OEMs, which benefits the entire value chain and all stakeholders in it,” said Tarnutzer. “Under the OSAG concept, the OEM passes data to the aftermarket people, is aware of what they’re doing and gives them approval through the use of the OEM-approved OSAG and its application programming interfaces. The product or system is tested, and the OEM knows that the aftermarket cannot affect the OEM’s architecture and knows that the device is going to interact with only certain modules. The aftermarket company can then add to its OSAG module for additional functionality, so it’s not ‘me against them.’ It will take a few years to get both sides comfortable with each other, and there is always going to be reverse engineering, but once you start bridging that gap and both sides realize that they can connect to the vehicle in a safe and secure way, both will be satisfied.”

There are also concerns for retailers, and they boil down to safety issues. Jobbers and retailers must be aware of who designed, tested and approved every device, so education and training are paramount. Retailers should also be aware that software offers increasing opportunities in the mobile electronics segment—but traditional outlets may need to look to their Internet efforts to keep pace.

“Many automotive ‘app stores’ will develop in the coming years,” Wingrove said. “Feature upgrades will happen via software that could be downloaded and installed by consumers without ever having to go to a brick-and-mortar store.”
Still, customization remains the name of the game. The automakers have never been able to supply every vehicle variation that consumers demand, so personalization will continue to drive the mobile-electronics segment.

“The biggest challenges for manufacturers, retailers and installers include the adoption of new and innovative revenue, business and organizational models and determining how consumers will pay for basic safety and security services as well as what value-added services consumers are willing to pay a premium for,” Waraniak said. “Making connected vehicles cool and demonstrating product benefits are the fastest ways to ensure consumer acceptance, reduce costs and drive profitability and growth. The challenges and opportunities for the aftermarket lie in how effectively these features, devices and accessories can be integrated into the vehicle by OEMs, suppliers and specialty-equipment manufacturers, retailers and installers. Flexible systems, open platform architectures and OEM-aftermarket collaboration are the way forward. Open architectures, interoperability and accessory-friendly systems drive integration, and integration drives innovation
and growth.”  

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