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The Future's Not Far Away

Although Visteon's Jim Wynalek has a vision of the connected vehicle, he's not looking far beyond the parking lot. It is not a matter of if or when. It is a question of both how and how much? Here's what he's seeing.

The world that Jim Wynalek describes is one that's slightly ahead of the one that many of us inhabit. For example, he refers to a "multimedia head." In response to visible puzzlement, he says with a smile, "It used to be called a ‘radio.'" Of course, the multimedia head unit does a whole lot more than simply provide tunes or talk (although it does that, too: but chances are good that in Wynalek's world, the source of the audio is actually a satellite, not a terrestrial tower—or it could be an MP3 file). Navigation. Internet access. E-mail. E-commerce. The vehicle that Wynalek, vice president & general manager, Telematics/Multimedia Visteon Corp.'s Comfort, Communication and Safety Segment, and his team—along with partner companies including Microsoft, Intel, Lucent, Nintendo, and others—are developing may look like a conventional vehicle, but it will have tremendous functionality.

 

Visteon's Wynalek
Visteon's Wynalek anticipates changes in telematics will be driven primarily by customer demand: "How much we want and are willing to pay for."

Consider this possible scenario: "If we detected a vehicle that required a real-time recalibration of a key engine operating parameter"—say there was an emissions problem discovered with the type of engine found in that vehicle—"we could wirelessly download the new code. We could do a ‘seamless recall.' We don't have to have the car in our hands in all cases. We have the ability." (Imagine not having to spend time in some small waiting room—free coffee and donuts notwithstanding.) Visteon has learned a lot about real-world applications that include such data exchange through its participation in Formula One and Champ car racing. He continues: "We can track a vehicle from a wireless signal and its GPS location. There may be an operator that wants to know where their assets are at all times. We can do that." Think of logistics companies that are serving just-in-time customer needs. As for a vehicle that can do either of these things: they haven't engineered one—yet. They're working on it.

As for what this car will be built like, Wynalek observes, "We're not making radical changes to the physical architecture of the car. I think the electronic architecture of the car may change with time, such that we have the appropriate multiplexing and data buses so we can move more information around in the car and spin more of that off to some infrastructure."

Architectural Issues.

That "infrastructure" leads to a question of architectural issues of another sort: what will the "connected" aspects of this connected vehicle be? Wynalek acknowledges, "The format isn't clear yet." That is, say you have a cell phone or a communications-enabled personal digital assistant (e.g., a Palm). Chances are, you might not want to have redundant capability built-in to your vehicle. Instead, there could be a Bluetooth node in the vehicle that communicates with your device once you bring it into the vehicle. Then you would be able to save some money, not have to pay twice for similar functionality. However, Wynalek notes, "If the wireless link is portable and has to be electronically or physically docked in the vehicle and you get into a crash, wouldn't you feel bad if you left your cell phone on your desk and never got the help to save your life?" Well, maybe you wouldn't feel badly because you'd no longer feel—but if you did survive despite leaving your equipment behind, chances are that phone or PDA wouldn't be long for this world once you got back to your desk. Wynalek suggests that there will probably be a balance between portability and taking advantage of the vehicle platform.

 

the Dodge Super8 Hemi concept
DCX is partnering with Sun Microsystems on the "IT Cruiser" telematics technology, as shown in the Dodge Super8 Hemi concept.

Another architectural consideration is one that specifically relates to how much capability should be built-in to the vehicle and how much should be accessed via a network. For example, consider mapping. On the one hand, it might seem as though a DVD disk could contain a sufficient amount of data for, say, Europe. And there is an array of memory forms and formats being developed (e.g., the Sony Memory Stick). That on-board approach would be quite reliable. There is another school of thought that has it that a better approach would be to have navigation information accessed in real time. Visteon has developed a "NavRadio" system for Europe that takes advantage of the German traffic messaging radio channel so that getting there means being routed around traffic tie-ups that have suddenly occurred, or construction projects that didn't make it onto a disk. (He points out that in North America this sort of thing may occur on a private basis.) Or some architectures have it so that the whole thing is downloaded to the vehicle via the Internet in real-time. Visteon is somewhat neutral about these approaches in that Wynalek says they are willing to supply the required form and function.

Whatever shakes out will probably be a combination of things. Regardless, Wynalek is convinced that voice-technology will have a big role to play in the driver-system interface (something that Visteon has commercialized and which is currently available in the Jaguar S-Type). After all, the driver's eyes should be on the road and hands upon the wheel. Speaking in that context and referring to some capabilities being on board and others as part of the network, he comments, "If I need to make a voice command to dial the phone or change my climate control, I'm not going to make a wireless hookup to a server to give back a command to my climate control. Some functionality will be embedded, some will be off-line."

Widening the Pipeline.

The inhibitors that Wynalek sees are not so much from the point of view of electronics manufacturing (he suggests that one of the reasons why a company like Visteon is in a good position to provide these products is because "we are very good car guys and systems engineers, which comes partly from our heritage"—as part of Ford Motor Co. "There are several vehicle systems for which we were the primary systems engineers.

What Do (Some) Women Want?

Although the stereotype has it that guys are fascinated (bordering on obsession) by all manner of electronics—from digital gizmos to whomping stereos and mega-large-screen TVs—when it comesto in-vehicle electronics, women are the ones who are apparently the most interested.

According to the Polk's Manufacturer Loyalty Survey conducted by Polk (Southfield, MI), 18.1% of women place automotive electronic accessories—e.g., navigation systems; entertainment systems—high on their vehicle purchasing lists. That compares to 15.1% of men.

Observed Yolanda Reid, Polk Loyalty Research Manager, "The auto industry estimates that more than 11 million people will have access to telematics within the next four years. And since women make up a significant part of this market, automakers will need to keep in tune with what women want in their vehicles to help them with their already hectic lives."

We know what it takes to harden those systems and ruggedize them for the vehicle environment. You might find some other companies coming from consumer or wireless electronics." Those companies, he suggests, don't have the same sort of understanding of what it takes to build electronics that operate at all conceivable manner of environmental extremes. "It's not that the other guys can't get it right but that we have a couple steps up that learning curve by virtue of our past experience.). They can't necessarily make everything necessary right now, but he is confident that they are in a good position to ramp up the needed capacity.

 

Rather, the problem is primarily one of content. He notes that essentially,GM's OnStar is offering the greatest amount of content. But if you consider what it offers in relation to what you can get via your computer, it is rather limited.

The issue is two-fold. For one thing, there must be content providers who are interested in developing information that is mobility-oriented (i.e., something that is car-specific, not desk-top)—content that consumers (in this case, vehicle operators) are willing to pay for in some manner (either through a subscription fee or by permitting themselves to be subjected to advertisements). "The technical capacity is there. We almost have an Internet"—by which he means in the context of the vehicle—"with no content providers today. Who are the people who can provide content for the commerce?"

As for the other, there must be an information "pipeline" into the car that has a wide-enough diameter to permit the on-board system to get the amount of data needed at sufficiently high rates in order for there to be usefulness, for it to be a "a value-added device to use your time more efficiently." Wynalek observes, "Current analog and 2G cellular systems are pretty low data rate." So the issue is telecommunications providers increasing their bandwidth capabilities in order to address this limitation.

He notes of how fast we are going to see these changes: "Rate of change is people-dependent: How much we want and are willing to pay for."

Wylanek adds, "We are not going to out-do the wireless guys. We are going to follow the wireless revolution. Wireless is the gateway to the car. There will be a wireless pipe feeding the car with as much data and speed as the next-generation digital networks permit us to. What we can do in the car is directly dependent upon that ramp. Given that that's the case, I look at the value chain: Portal operators"—like OnStar and Wingcast—"pipeline providers"—like Sprint and Verizon—"systems integrators, software and electronics providers and content providers must work to provide what people value. That's the real inflection point."

Really Extended

Karenann Terrell, director of E-Connect, DaimlerChrysler Corp., notes, "In the world of telematics, there's uncertainty." So just as is the case in developing everything from engines to body panels, DCX is working with a supplier to help manage the risk that's associated with the uncertainty.

Specifically, the DCX Research and Technology Center (in Palo Alto, CA), the DCX Liberty & Technical Affairs division, and the DCX Design Office are working with Sun Microsystems on a project. The project's aim: providing "Infotainment, Edutainment and Entertainment services and content to a vehicle over a wireless network."

"Instead of a car as an insular environment, it will be in a ubiquitous environment," Terrell says. "Information will travel with you."

As a demonstration, the group has developed a version of the PT Cruiser that's known as the "IT Cruiser." This vehicle is fitted with an "Infotronic system." This system is also featured in the Dodge Super8 Hemi concept vehicle.

Technically, the Infotronic system—which includes the ability to connect to the Internet, to handle entertainment (MP3 playing; games), navigation, and e-mail—employs four single-board computers; each runs as a certified standard Java Virtual Machine (JVM) on top of a Linux operating system. According to Mark Moody, a Sun senior Java architect, there are several benefits to using Java. Among them: it is a general-purpose language that was essentially designed for the Internet; it has multiple levels of security (you wouldn't want your car to catch a virus); it is scalable (from embedded devices to servers); and software development costs are low (and goodness knows automakers are always interested in low costs).

Of the computers, one is used as a communication gateway: it provides access to a global positioning system (GPS) and to other vehicle systems (e.g., the engine controller). The other three computers are used as human-machine interfaces: the vehicle is separated into four zones (driver; passenger; left rear; right rear) that not only have different capabilities, but which can be personalized through Java Smart Card Readers.

While the two rear positions have 8.4-in. LCD touch screens and wireless keyboards, the front position has a 6.4-in. LCD display in the center stack that is not a touch-screen device. Instead of physical interaction, speech recognition and text-to-speech technology are used up front as there is a concern with driver distraction.

One of the big issues is getting information into the vehicle. When the vehicle is parked in a garage, say, it may be simply a matter of transferring data via an IEE 802.11 download from the home computer. But the on-the-road wireless bandwidth is still a roadblock of sorts that remains to be navigated. One intriguing possibility is what's called an "e-gas station." That is, using high-speed local area wireless technology or high-bandwidth dedicated short range communication technology, data can be sent and received as a vehicle drives past these stations. Perhaps if hybrid-powered vehicles take off and the revenue models for gas stations are adversely affected, data would be the new fuel powering their (digital) cash registers.