The Automobile as the Next Smart Device
Advancements in assisted driving software and self-driving vehicles portend a new era for ground transportation. One of the less-talked-about set of capabilities behind this trend is the integration of automobiles with the internet. This coalescence of two different industries is already underway and is changing the way we travel in areas like navigation, safety, and in-car entertainment. But the trend is only in its infancy.
At this year’s ISC High Performance conference in Frankfurt, Germany, Alexander Klotz will deliver a presentation about the integration of automobiles and the internet under the theme of “vehicle digitalization.” Klotz, who directs the R&D effort at the Interior Electronics Solutions group in the Interior Division at Germany-based Continental Automotive Group, will describe the different technologies involved in internet-enabled vehicles, including data analytics, sensor infrastructure, and telecommunications. We asked him to set the stage for these topics in a recent interview, which ranged from his thoughts on how internet connectivity will change the driving experience to what specific hardware and software elements are needed to build out these capabilities.
- Your upcoming talk at ISC High Performance has to do with integrating automotive vehicles with the internet, which is an aspect of telematics. Let’s start there. What is telematics?
Telematics is a broad field which combines vehicle technologies with telecommunications and computer science. Today the term is mostly used for connecting the vehicle to the internet and the related functions and services. Modern Telematics is characterized by integration of the functions into the Human Machine Interface of the vehicle, along with a coordinated back end system that allows for example for vehicle assistance and remote data processing such as remote status and diagnostics.
- How will internet connectivity change the experience for the average driver?
Basically internet connectivity has already been changing the driving experience since the mid-1990s. Back then the first telematics systems enabled services such as assistance or remote vehicle control. For the first time, vehicle occupants were for example protected by automated communications systems in the event of a crash and help was made available at the push of a button.
With the role out and the expansion of 3G and 4G cellular networks, the automotive industry was also able to integrate services such as music streaming, which require a higher bandwidth and a more stable connection. Vehicle manufacturers started to offer more and more entertainment and communication services. The need for drivers to stay connected and use these kind of services is sadly becoming visible, when looking at the significant number of accidents that happen because drivers are distracted when using, for example, their smartphone behind the steering wheel. In the US in 2014 alone, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. For this reason we see telematics and especially integrating the functions into a safe and intuitive Human Machine Interface of the vehicle as a very important step to increase road safety. We have actually coined the term Holistic Connectivity to make it clear that the vehicle as part of the internet of everything has to be at least partly re-invented. We think the vehicle will become the next Smart Device. It will link to your daily life, personal network and will provide visible and invisible services around and beyond the vehicle. The higher density and better quality of data will allow evolutions in existing functions and even help to create new functions for future mobility concepts.
- What other effects will internet integration have on ground transportation in general?
Vehicles communicating with the cloud unlock a huge potential for safer and cleaner vehicles and a more intelligent mobility. Vehicles on the road constantly collect data such as position or current speed and with sensors from modern driver assistance systems, vehicles would be able to gather even more data. With the dynamic eHorizon we are developing a way to match this information on a lane specific map in the cloud - highly accurate and close to real time. This allows for up to date and highly accurate data regarding the road and the traffic to be made readily available for drivers but also directly for vehicle electronics. Together with the colleagues from Powertrain we have just recently demonstrated on the roads of Las Vegas during the CES how this principle makes vehicles more efficient. But it also bears the potential to enhance driver assistance systems and even traffic management systems. Sometime in the future, traffic jams will hopefully be a thing of the past thanks to connected mobility.
- What types of technologies are being used or developed for these systems?
In general these kinds of systems require solutions in different technological fields. First and foremost, the vehicle needs to be ready to become part of the internet. This requires an extensive know-how in vehicle electronics and connectivity for hard- and software. The second field is concerning the over the air part around the vehicle. Here the main requirements are reliable and secure connectivity with sufficient bandwidth. And last but not least a very important field is big data analytics and processing in the backend. Looking at this one thing became clear to Continental very early: The connected vehicle also means connected industries. Connected mobility can only be made possible by combining the know-how from the automotive, the telecommunications and the IT and Software Industry.
- Are there systems in the field today? If so, what are they capable of?
Of course there are connected vehicle systems in the market today. For example Continental is especially active in the field of telematics and connected infotainment systems, which integrate apps and other connected services or fleet management, where topics like remote diagnostics are extremely important to efficiently manage a fleet. Also for alternative mobility concepts such as car sharing, we see that connectivity hugely adds to usability and attractiveness. Via smartphones apps user and service providers are for example able to share completely virtual car keys over the air. This is why we have founded the joint venture OTA Keys for example.
- How will these capabilities interact with completely autonomous vehicles, once they become available?
In our view systems like the dynamic eHorizon are an important milestone for making highly and fully automated driving a reality. The reason is simple: vehicle sensors such as camera or radar have a limited field of view of up to 300 meters. But for a comfortable ride, vehicles also need to collect information of what lies beyond this point. For example: a vehicle that is able to detect an obstacle behind the next bend can react early and start to slow down gradually or change the lane instead of initiating an emergency brake or steer maneuver once the obstacle is within the sensors range. When it comes to autonomous vehicles, which do not even require a human being to be present in the vehicle, the need for connectivity is even greater. Autonomous taxis are for example only possible with fully connected vehicles.