• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
BW Businessworld

Driving The Future

Photo Credit :

Last summer, Chetan Maini, the founder of the Reva Electric Car Company who sold a majority stake to Mahindra & Mahindra in 2011, penned down 250 ideas to build a connected vehicle. His idea was to go beyond the current connected telecom module of the Mahindra Reva E20, which interacts with smartphones. The E2O is connected via a Vodafone GSM module to servers for predictive maintenance and remote charging.

Now, Mahindra Reva wants to push the boundaries of technology in its next car, which will be introduced in Europe in two years. It is going to be based on an end-to-end technology platform where on the consumer side the car’s operating system will support gesture and voice controls, with a multitude of apps connected via Bluetooth and 3G. On the enterprise side, Reva will offer diagnostics with data being collected on the cloud for predictive maintenance. It will also collect data on driving behaviour. This car, called the Halo, will be India’s first electric sports car for the world. “I have already invited developers to build apps for Android,” says Maini, now the chief technology officer at Mahindra Reva.

Reva’s current operating system is based on a Windows Linux platform. It is experimenting with the telematics of the car. “I have also created reference drawings for car-to-infrastructure communication and autonomous drive in traffic situations,” adds Maini.

Tata Motors, too, has been on the lookout for startups to build a connected car experience, especially after its recent tie-up with Harman Electronics to build and integrate a telematics system that can be connected to the cloud. This system will debut in the Zest and the Bolt and will be voice-activated. For Tata Motors, the rebranding allows it to connect with
a connected generation. “We are looking at this very closely and have already begun pilots. But the ecosystem must be ready to provide seamless connectivity,” says Timothy Leverton, head, Engineering Research Centre, Tata Motors.

In India the consumer is ready, but original equipment makers or OEMs are not. Integrating these technologies is not expensive; sources peg the cost of a telecommunications module in a car at under $200. The solution lies with the regulator and the consumer. The consumer signs a pact with the OEM and insurance company to share data based on protection of identity. The consumer may also subscribe to the services of a telecom provider of his choice while driving.

Experiments like these are on across the world, thanks to Google and Apple. Since both companies have the largest sales of smartphone operating systems in the world, the owner of a car will want his phone to be plugged into the telematics system. This also signals the end of the OEMs’ control over telematics systems. Fortunately for them, their engineers have figured out a way for them to stay relevant. But before they do, in 2014, all new car launches from OEMs like Honda, Hyundai, Ferrari, Volvo and Mercedes will support Apple’s CarPlay telematics system. By using CarPlay, you can mirror all your phone apps onto the head-end display of the car. It can be controlled via Siri and the touch screen. Apple has signed on 15 OEMs to launch its CarPlay as part of their telematics systems.

The question is how many modules can tier 1 vendors keep adding on to the telematics systems of the car? This is where the OEMs will strive to make the whole telematics system device-agnostic. Smartphones change every year, but the car is with the consumer for six years and more. Gartner predicts that tablets will become more commonplace in cars than smartphones because the tablet will become the head-end display. “Beyond all the technical jargon, devices, mostly tablets, will become the preferred entertainment modules for consumers,” says R.M. Satish, principal research analyst, Gartner India. While connected vehicles have been around for a while, he points out that “this is the first time that consumer devices and automobile companies are working together to create standards around data capture, outside of the car, for various business purposes”.

According to a Gartner report, “Automotive system suppliers, along with automotive OEMs, will provide vehicle information via a wireless interface such as Bluetooth. Wi-fi is used for high-bandwidth requirements. The wireless interface serves as the port between the vehicle and the tablet in exchanging vehicle-related information and data. The vehicle context will be aggregated from several vehicle systems and will eventually include data from wireless networks. There are certain connected vehicle functions that need to be active even with the vehicle user not present, such as remote services and anti-theft assistance. Remote services include automatic body and engine controls and remote diagnostics.”

At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Delphi introduced a unique plug-and-play system that provides connectivity between the vehicle (via its onboard device connector) and mobile devices over the Verizon Wireless network or via Bluetooth. Data transmitted through this connectivity interface is secure and encrypted.

Today, all OEMs have created partnerships with device manufacturers and telecom networks. The global connected car market will be worth €39 billion in 2018, up from €13 billion in 2012, according to new forecasts from research firm SBD and GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide. Over the next five years, there will be an almost seven-fold increase in the number of new cars equipped with factory-fitted mobile connectivity designed to meet demand among regulators and consumers for safety and security features, as well as infotainment and navigation services.

  • Connected car ecosystem size is £39 billion
  • Service providers like Infosys, TCS and Wipro to bag cloud & mobility business (integration, analytics, maintenance)
  • Automobile companies will redefine customer service through constant monitoring of cars
  • Insurance companies can reduce their claims payouts and ensure profitability because they have data available

For Indian IT service vendors like Infosys, Wipro and HCL Technologies, this business alone is a $500 million line, spread over the lifecycle of the programme. Services like application development and maintenance, along with cloud, analytics, mobility and security services for cars are already being looked into very seriously. “The integration needed for the connected car ecosystem is an untapped opportunity,” says Sudip Singh, global unit head of engineering and services at Infosys.

“The concept of remote diagnostics has immense scope in the near future from the Indian context,” says C.V. Raman, executive director of engineering at Maruti Suzuki.  He adds that his company is piloting preventive maintenance data collection. “This can generate new revenue streams for us,” he says.

Return Of OEMs
OEMs were a rattled lot when consumers began to look at the car like a device. But they adapted. Five years ago, OEMs were looking at the car as a travel box with wheels; today, they are looking at building cars not just for travel. It is the “third” space after the home and office. They believe software can change the human-machine interface in cars, with safety and security remaining paramount while accessing smart devices.

At Robert Bosch Engineering India (RBEI), such an approach has already begun with General Motors (GM). In their workshop in Bangalore is the top of the line Cadillac XTS, a premier brand from GM. Bosch’s engineers are trying to bring ethernet into cars, from the standard communication message protocol called controller area network (CAN). Both CAN and ethernet allow all the controllers in the car to communicate with each other internally and with external devices and networks. “It is the connection of these message protocols with outside networks that will essentially define the future of the connected car,” says Vijay Ratnapharke, MD of RBEI in Bangalore. He adds that OEMs are simultaneously striking partnerships with telecom providers.

RBEI is working on making mobile applications and maps accessible to drivers. It is piloting a concept where you can mirror your maps from the display on to the windshield. A little car pops up on the map and all you have to do is follow the car to your destination. This apart, it is working on voice- and data-based solutions for when the entire ecosystem on sharing data on a real-time basis is ready. “We believe that the chipset we are building for ethernet standards will allow faster connection speeds and also reduce cabling weight,” says Ravi Manik, director, Business Development, Broadcom, Bangalore. Broadcom, incidentally, is a founding member of the Open Pair EtherNet (Open) Alliance to develop an ethernet communication standard for cars. Its members include Toyota, Citroen, Volvo, Peugeot and Volkswagen. The new BMW X5 has its driver assistance cameras connected to a 100 mbps ethernet.

RBEI has opened up its platform ‘mySpin’ to mobile app developers. This platform mirrors all the phone apps on to the car’s display and allows advertisers to target customers. OEMs are working with all tier-1 vendors to figure out data capture from vehicle to networks.

GM, the world’s first OEM to use the cloud to deliver remote services to the customer, is in the middle of rebranding its onboard customer service app ‘OnStar’, which was launched in 1995. Starting this year, GM will be the first OEM to offer data services in cars, which will have an in-built high-speed data connectivity that can work on any operating system. Data can be pulled from the car and stored in the cloud for analysis. “We have opened up our MyLink platform’s APIs for app developers,” says Tim Nixon, executive director, Global Connected Consumer, General Motors.

The company is currently running a pilot with a fleet management company in the US to pull data on the go for predictive maintenance and has also tied up with an insurance company to use this data to study the impact on premiums for the fleet management company. “We are investing in data scientists to help our dealerships in connecting with customers; retailers or gas stations can access our information to make real-time offers to customers,” he says.

How does one ensure safe driving when the smartphone has your attention? GM is investing in safety, a trait common to all OEMs. It believes that humans can fail but sensors won’t, so the company began piloting ‘autonomous drive’ in the middle of the last decade.

“Seven years ago, we built an autonomous car for a science competition. It had a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of sensors. Not very practical in terms of cost,” says John Capp, director, Electrical and Active Control Safety, GM. He says research was furthered by the need to bring low-cost visual systems that could enable safety in cars that cost less than $40,000. “The cost of safety and security features can be bought down with software,” says Capp. He adds that in the future, it will be possible to take a nap while driving. Take the Super Cruise concept that GM is working on. It has adaptive breaking, lane following and semi-autonomous driving; it is a car that will run completely on sensors at the press of a button. Capp has driven this concept on roads and highways and he says “one can take one’s hands off the steering wheel and foot off the accelerator”.

Ford is not far behind GM. It was one of the first companies to create a platform, SYNC, in 2007 for mobile phones. SYNC has been continuously enhanced over the years and the latest version supports the control of mobile applications by in-vehicle buttons and voice. With SYNC AppLink, apps can be used seamlessly inside and outside the car. Ford SYNC customers, like GM’s MyLink, collect the ‘Vehicle Health Report’ in the US. Relevant diagnostic data is sent to a Ford server and the user gets notified if there is any potential issue with the car. Only technical data is transmitted, taking into account the customer’s privacy.

“We view autonomous or automated driving in the broader context of active safety technology development, and as enablers to ensure the future of personal mobility,” says Pim van der Jagt, executive technical leader, Ford Global Vehicle Dynamics. Ford believes automation will act as an assistance feature, supporting the creation of more confident drivers, providing increasingly more capable cars that make driving safer — while always keeping the driver in control of the wheel, if necessary.

Currently, in India, there are plans to have the Ford EcoSport allow usage of apps like ESPN cricinfo, MapmyIndia, Burrp!, Glympse and TuneIn Radio via Bluetooth. Ford is working on the future of mobility, where vehicles will use vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication (V2X) to allow safer, more efficient and more comfortable driving. The driver, for example, will be warned against hazardous situations even if the hazard is out of sight due to a bend or other vehicles ahead. One communication technology used to enable V2X  is an ad hoc wireless LAN network that the company is working on. The last couple of years, Ford has joined field operational tests with connected vehicles globally. The DRIVE C2X (car to infrastructure) in Europe and Safety Pilot Model Deployments in the US are examples of these pilots.

Additionally, Ford is contributing to various research projects and consortia globally. For autonomous vehicles, Ford has just announced cooperation with the University of Michigan, MIT, Stanford University and Aachen Technical University. Four Ford Fusions have been built as prototypes, allowing highly automated driving. Ford has just signed on BlackBerry’s QNX platform to be the preferred telematics module for its cars after many years of using Microsoft’s modules to link phones. Security is one of the key features of all these platforms. “A separation of diagnostic software and infotainment functions with smartphone connectivity is important. Any information over the network can be hacked and OEMs will always protect the software that controls critical components; this will not be sent to a mobile phone,” says Tejas Desai,  head (North America), Interior Electronics Solutions, Continental. His company has worked with the Volkswagen Passat driverless concept and is now working with BMW on the next generation driverless car. Continental says the world’s first driverless car will be a reality by 2025. Hyundai, Toyota, Nissan and Honda are all working with several operators and have opened up their platforms to app developers. Nissan’s Leaf is a car that is already connected to the cloud. Its telecom module enables predictive maintenance and sends diagnostic reports of the car to its app. Toyota announced its ‘Future of Mobility’ programme last year and is part of Japan’s smart-city programme. The data from cars will be connected to a Toyota data centre, which will be collated with all the data from intelligent infrastructure in the city to foster harmonious living for citizens. Hyundai is piloting the Google Glass app, which will be connected to the BlueLink telematics system in the car. While all these developments are still in their infancy, German companies are in the process of adding muscle to their connected drive programmes.

Germans Dominate
Mercedes has quietly gone on to offer real-time traffic services to customers about congestion and traffic obstructions. Mercedes-Benz apps operate in the cloud and not locally in the car. One advantage is that updates can be realised at any time without the need to bring the car to a garage or to the trader. “We do not offer software development kits, our Mercedes-Benz apps are programmed in-house,” says a spokesperson for Daimler AG. Most of the application development and testing work gets done by a 2,000-member research team at the Mercedes-Benz Research and Development Centre in Bangalore.

In August 2013, Mercedes was the first car manufacturer worldwide to show that autonomous driving is possible in inter-urban and city traffic with their research vehicle. The Mercedes-Benz S5000 Intelligent Drive drove autonomously for about 100 km from Mannheim to Pforzheim. Daimler filed 21,800 patents for its connected vehicles in 2013.

While Mercedes is doing all this in-house, Audi has tied up with Google. Like Mercedes, Audi has a real-time traffic management system, managed by Google, and its tablet-like display works with voice controls to search for the best possible routes. Audi is consciously trying to distance the telematics system from the car product cycle of six years, which means any Audi car can henceforth be updated with the latest networks, software and applications, whenever there is an upgrade. A spokesperson from Audi AG told BW that they have demonstrated pre-production vehicles with piloted parking and piloted driving functionalities in traffic jams during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The next step will be to have systems that assume the task of driving in certain situations if the driver desires. Audi refers to this as “piloted driving”.

Its parent brand Volkswagen has fallen in love with Android. The new Volkswagen Polo will integrate current smartphones into its infotainment system using MirrorLink technology for Android devices. The customer will be able to use his custom apps as well as Volkswagen apps. “We have separate control units to establish a data connection in order to realise online services which started in 2010 in the Phaeton in cooperation with Google,” says a spokesperson for VW. They are, along with Bosch and Continental, working on next-generation telecommunication modules which will allow cars to communicate with each other.

The connected car is a reality. What’s next? Flying cars by 2040? 
[email protected]
twitter: @vishalskrishna

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 25-08-2014)