Intelligently Connected Cars Evolve

Consumers’ connected lifestyle moves into the car, bringing with it opportunities for development around safety, security and user interfaces.

By Cheryl Coupé, Senior Editor

Intel’s automotive industry activities date back to early infotainment work with German auto makers – particularly BMW – in the mid-2000s. At that time, the “connected car” was limited to hooking up a phone, MP3 player or other consumer device to a car with some degree of integration. From that jumping-off point, the connected car has evolved considerably and is heading towards deep integration between consumer devices, the car and the cloud – and from there to other cars, the intelligent highway, digital signs and to just about any other system.

Looking Out to the Next, Next Big Thing
Cars have long product life cycles – similar to silicon devices – so Intel is looking at automotive as a long-term investment. Joel Hoffmann, business strategist for the Automotive Solutions Division at Intel says, “We’re looking out to what’s going to be the next, next big thing. So we’re looking at innovations and ideas that are going to start developing into vehicles that might be on the road in 2016 and beyond… Our goal is to anticipate the kinds of technologies that are going to be needed in our product – which ultimately is silicon – for a future product that doesn’t even exist yet.” Demand forecasts support this approach – silicon solutions serving the infotainment and telematics market are expected to rise from $5.6 billion in 2010 to $8.7 billion in 2018, according to a Strategy Analytics study in October 2011.

And ABI Research forecasts that global shipments of automotive connected infotainment systems will reach 27 million by 2016, driven by a number of factors. “The emergence of smart phones and applications and their integration into the vehicle environment, decreasing hardware and connectivity costs, consumer interest and increasing awareness, fast development of cloud-based and web-based services, and consumers’ drive to extend their ‘connected lifestyle’ into the car environment are all key contributors to the push for connected infotainment,” says Dominique Bonte, group director, telematics and navigation.

As this connectivity increases, however, awareness is rising on how the connected car impacts the driver. Initially, it was a way to bring content into the car (or through the car into the phone or other device). But according to Hoffmann, innovation in future will be around “how can that connectivity help the driver – how can it help them become a better driver? Today we’re seeing the reverse of that – all these devices going into the car and making people into worse drivers.”

Driver Distraction and Safety Issues Need to be Addressed
ABI Research’s Bonte believes that connected infotainment in vehicles is inevitable, but he also addresses safety issues. “There is no way of stopping connected infotainment from finally conquering the car,” he says. “One way or another, users will access entertainment and information while driving. While connected PNDs, smartphones and tablets are already being adopted, the main challenge for the automotive industry is either allowing safe integration of portable infotainment devices, in various flavors of more or less integration, or preferably, provide embedded infotainment solutions maintaining control over quality, safety, branding and business models.”

Already, safety issues are being addressed by distracted driver legislation around the world and the auto industry is being held accountable to solve some of those problems, but not all of them will be solved in the near-term. In the meantime, Intel believes that one approach lies in user-interface enhancements. “We believe we’re always going to have consumer devices coming into the car, but we need to make that process safe,” Hoffmann says. This will play out in the ways people interact with the devices – including developments around voice recognition and touch- and gesture-based interfaces that don’t require the driver to look at a screen. It may also play out in new sensor advancements that observe and respond to specific user attributes, such as facial recognition that automatically adjusts radio and car settings to match the driver without the driver’s specific interaction. Intel and Toyota recently announced joint research into a next-generation in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) system that will integrate advanced technologies in the vehicle in a way that helps reduce driver distraction.

Other safety advances are farther out, such as smart sensors in roads to help drivers avoid accidents. “If the world is ever going to go to an autonomous or semi-autonomous driving situation, there will need to be a lot of those sensors and there’s a lot of technology that would have to be deployed,” says Hoffmann, who doesn’t see that happening anytime soon.“We try to come with a sense of realism. If you meet with the government agencies, they have a lot of ambitions about how they’re going to improve intelligent traffic systems. But the truth is that funding is always a factor – who’s going to pay for it always comes into play.” Ultimately, consumers will pay for systems they see value in. But even today, new IVI and safety systems are available primarily in high-end vehicles and other drivers continue to use their cell phones as usual – regardless of safety or legality.

Data Sharing Leads to Opportunities for Security Advances
Intel sees the security side of the vehicle as a big area for opportunity as consumers realize that all these connected features are potentially exposing their vehicle to theft or malware introduction. Intel’s McAfee acquisition should provide opportunities there, as well as in privacy and data integrity. Hoffmann says, “As the connected car becomes more useful and valuable, we believe people that are driving their cars are going to be very conscious of the data they’re sharing.” In fact, data sharing is likely to trigger new business models around the connected car. For example, consumers may be willing to share driving pattern information with an insurance company for a discount. And with the rise in super-efficient hybrid and electric cars, states will see decreases in gas tax revenue, which may drive them to bill for road use. Drivers may be willing to share driving pattern information with state transportation departments to control their portion of that bill. Concerns that shared data could be used negatively (no one likes getting traffic tickets in the mail) may hold back the growth of the connected car, but there are already several proven approaches.

ABI Research’s Bonte recently stated, “Despite all the hype about hybrid and smart phone-based telematics solutions, embedded connected car systems still have a bright future. On the OEM side, solutions such as GM’s OnStar and Hyundai’s Blue Link offer more reliable safety and security functionality such as emergency calling. Similarly, embedded aftermarket systems for insurance telematics, road user charging, or stolen vehicle tracking offer the best performance. Finally, electric vehicles simply require embedded connectivity in order to remotely check battery charging status, which has even prompted Ford to abandon its hybrid approach in the Ford Focus Electric.” ABI Research forecasts that the installed base of embedded OEM and aftermarket connected car systems is expected to grow from 41 million at the end of 2011 to 189 million by 2016.

Software in the Driver’s Seat
One of the exciting changes Intel is involved in is on the software side. Particularly as hardware becomes more standardized, it opens up more opportunities for software to provide differentiation. While the systems that run a car can include tens of millions of lines of code, Hoffmann notes that, “More industry leaders are coming to realize that they only need to have complete control over about 5% of that software to offer differentiation – to control their future and their profitability. If they can let the other 95% of that development take place in collaboration with other auto makers, other suppliers and companies that aren’t even normally part of the automotive ecosystem, then they save money because they don’t have to develop all that code. And they actually get a stable and reliable set of code because millions of eyes may have looked over it if it’s attractive. That’s one of the reasons Intel is investing so much in software companies: to make sure that we have the skill sets in our environment to influence that.”

One of Intel’s automotive activities is its involvement in GENIVI, the industry alliance committed to driving the broad adoption of an IVI open-source development platform. “We see that as a significant inflection point for the auto industry – to be willing to open up their environment to other industries. The most aggressive move being made there is the idea of open source software, because software is such a big part of a car now and the availability of open source means that the bar is being lowered for new people to enter into the business.” There are a number of GENIVIAs-compliant open source operating system distributions, one of which is MeeGo – which was Intel-backed until recently, when efforts turned instead to Tizen. Hoffmann explains, “The MeeGo project is going to continue as far as a Linux Foundation project, but the resources for that are shifting towards Tizen, including from Intel. I think the project will still exist out there but it will be mostly legacy.”

MeeGo Gives Way to Tizen
Hoffmann says, “With MeeGo, our objective was to create a collaborative environment that lots of companies feel comfortable contributing to and there’s some structure to it so that it’s got a focus to specific industries. In the case of MeeGo, we spent a fair amount of effort in creating the in-vehicle (IVI) version of MeeGo and the purpose wasn’t so much to create an operating system that car makers would install into their car, but it was to create the environment where new innovations could be incubated, and then they could be incorporated by other commercial software distribution companies like Wind River.” This differs from the open-source approach for handsets and tablets, where an OEM may directly install the open source version of the distribution. But car makers can’t rely entirely on an open source project; they rely on systems integrators and operating system vendors to harden the OS, integrate it and provide full-time engineering, warranty and support. According to Hoffmann, at least a half-dozen companies in the GENIVI alliance are offering services to customers that will help them implement a Linux-based system on Intel hardware for any car company in the world. Many of them have derived their feature sets and components from MeeGo.

He continues, “What’s going on with Tizen is that there have been some learnings about how open source and industry – particularly the automotive industry – can interact. So Tizen has the opportunity to perfect that relationship and we’re certainly putting a lot of effort into making sure that when the Tizen automotive project is fully open and people understand it, that it will integrate smoothly with projects like GENIVI – and no doubt there will be an IVI version of Tizen that will be compliant with GENIVI – so there’s not a taking-of-sides here; everyone is a winner.”

According to ABI Research, car OEMs and tier-one suppliers are still facing multiple challenges in designing cost-effective, upgradeable and easy-to-use embedded solutions and bringing them to the market rapidly. While vendors such as Continental, Saab and SAIC Roewe and the GENIVI consortium are pinning their hopes on open source operating systems such as Android and Linux, others such as Toyota are looking to adopt cloud-based systems to achieve cost and scalability advantages.

There’s no doubt, however, that as the “connected lifestyle” era continues to gain momentum – especially with younger consumers – automotive OEMs need to develop a solid connected car strategy in order to retain control over the user experience, safety and monetization opportunities of next-generation vehicles.



Cheryl Berglund Coupé is senior editor of Embedded Intel® Solutions Magazine. Her articles have appeared in EE Times, Electronic Business, Microsoft Embedded Review, and Windows Developer’s Journal. She has developed presentations for the Embedded Systems Conference and ICSPAT. She has held a variety of production, technical marketing, and writing positions within technology companies and agencies in the Northwest.