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Talking Telematics: Tomorrow’s Connected Car

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Technical editor Larry Carley recently attended the Telematics Conference in Novi, MI and filed this report…

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The Telematics Conference in Novi, Michigan June 4 & 5, 2014, covered a wide range of technologies that are shaping the future of the automobile.

telematics_Tesla

A Tesla vehicle was used for demonstrating onboard navigation and infotainment capabilities of tomorrow’s vehicles during a recent Telematics Conference in Novi, MI.

Telematics is a broad term that describes all of the technologies that are making today’s vehicles more connected, safer and more interactive with their passengers and environment.

It includes navigation, infotainment, smart phone connectivity, V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle), V2I (vehicle-to-internet) and M2M (machine-to-machine) communications, driver-assistance technologies and even autonomous (self-driving) controls.

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Automotive technology is undergoing a revolution that will transform the driving experience as we know it today. As one engineer said, ” we will see more change in the next 5 years than we’ve seen in the past 50 years!”

Safety has always been a driving factor in bringing new technologies to production vehicles (think airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control and tire pressure monitoring). Government regulations have made many safety features that were once optional mandatory on today’s vehicles, and it seems likely that this trend will continue with respect to emerging telematics technologies.

Connectivity is a current trend that will continue to expand thanks to faster 4G connections that are just now being built into today’s vehicles. Faster connections allow more data to travel in both directions (from the vehicle to the outside world, and from the outside world into the vehicle).

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The proponents of “Big Data” say this will create all kinds of new information sharing, vehicle control and marketing opportunities for auto makers, tech companies and the government as vehicles become more and more integrated into the “Internet of Things” (IoT).

The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) is currently formulating rules that will define how the next generation of vehicles will communicate with each other, smart traffic control systems and the internet. Standards are being developed for V2V, V2I and M2M communications so all of these systems can speak the same language and share data.

V2V offers tremendous potential because it allows auto makers to develop ADSS (Advance Driver Safety Systems) that can reduce accidents and improve the flow of traffic. V2V allows vehicles within a certain radius to communicate their direction and speed with other similarly equipped V2V vehicles (which is essential for V2V to work!). Unlike optical systems or radar, V2V can see around corners and is unaffected by weather.

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It’s based on short range radio frequency communication. Two vehicles with V2V approaching a blind intersection can detect each other, warn their drivers and automatically brake if either driver fails to react in time to avoid an accident.

V2V also allows vehicles to interact with roadside traffic controls such as stop lights and speed limit transponders. Smart traffic controls can monitor traffic at intersections to keep the light green longer for the direction that is currently experiencing the highest volume of traffic. No more waiting for a red light to change if there is no cross traffic.

V2V may also allow fast moving “trains” of vehicles to interconnect so they can speed along expressways spaced closer together without fear of a multi-car pileup. The old rule of leaving a car length of space for every 10 mph (which nobody pays any attention to anyway) becomes unnecessary with this next generation adaptive cruise control (Such as Cadillac’s Super Cruise system that is currently under development). When it is combined with lane departure control, it will essentially allow hands-free driving in many situations.

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Another advantage of V2V and V2I communication is that traffic information can be collected by using vehicles as a “group sourcing” input. If roads are getting icy or traffic is slowing due to an accident or congestion, the information can be instantly relayed to other vehicles or a smart grid traffic control system.

THE CONNECTED CAR
Most vehicle manufacturers offer some type of connectivity system such as GM’s OnStar system. Volkswagen just announced the availability of their new “Car-Net” system on all 2014 models.

According to one market report, 40 percent of new vehicle sales today is being driven by the connectivity and infotainment features that are available on a given vehicle. If the vehicle doesn’t offer it, the consumer doesn’t want it.

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The Connected Car Forum (CCF) says that over 50 percent of all new vehicles sold worldwide in 2015 will be connected, either by embedded telematics systems or via smart phone integration.

Within 10 years, virtually all new cars will include connectivity as a standard feature — even in entry level vehicles. Currently, 28% of all U.S. vehicle owners have Bluetooth connectivity in their vehicles.

Many people today, particularly the younger generation, don’t want any disruption in their connectivity when they are driving. They want the same connectivity in their $40,000 car that they already have on their $200 smart phone.

The challenge for auto makers is figuring out whether its better to simply link a consumers smart phone to their vehicle, or to offer the same capabilities within the vehicle itself. Some say the connected car has become nothing more than a very large wearable device.

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The average American driver spends roughly an hour or more every day in their automobile commuting, running errands and driving here and there. When they’re behind the wheel, they want a certain amount of connectivity to the outside world, including music, news, weather reports, traffic information, maps, navigation assistance, roadside assistance (should they need it) and the ability to receive and respond to call calls, texts and tweets from friends, family and co-workers.

All of these things increase the driver’s workload and contribute to distracted driving. Some states (such as Illinois) have passed laws that ban the use of hand-held devices while driving. If you’re going to make or receive a call, it must be with a hands-free setup.

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Some of the current smart safety systems such as adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, lane departure warning and collision avoidance warning/automatic braking are all intended to assist the driver and make the driving experience less harrowing (especially in heavy traffic). But the capabilities of these simple add-on systems pale in comparison to a vehicle that can drive itself.

AUTONOMOUS CARS
Autonomous vehicles that are aware of their position and surroundings, and are fully capable of driving themselves with or without a human driver behind the wheel have been on the road for several years — not as production vehicles but as test mules for the coming generation of production cars that will have self-driving capabilities.

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It’s not as far off as you might think. Engineers at the Telematics Conference were seriously discussing the first autonomous vehicles being in production within 10 years — or even less! The question is not “if” but “when” this technology will become a production road-ready reality.

Google has been running their fleet of autonomous test vehicles in California for several years and racked up millions of miles or read world driving — without incident. Google’s latest concept for an autonomous vehicle doesn’t even have a steering wheel or pedals.

It’s essentially an automated cab. Realizing that self-driving car technology is advancing rapidly, several states have enacted laws governing the use of autonomous vehicles on public highways. The cars are legal but they still have to have a human driver behind the wheel as a failsafe backup in case something goes wrong.

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Volvo is putting a fleet of 200 autonomous vehicles on city streets in Sweden to test how they perform in a variety of real world settings. Volvo is also testing cars that not only park themselves, but can go seek out the closest available parking spot entirely on their own after they have dropped off their human passengers.

One of the reasons self-driving cars are coming is because robotic drivers don’t make the same kinds of mistakes that human drivers do. They are not easily distracted. They don’t fiddle with a cell phone or put on their makeup while driving. They are not susceptible to road rage if somebody cuts them off in traffic or gives them the one finger salute. They obey every stop sign, traffic signal and posted speed limit, and they always signal before changing lanes or making a turn.

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They also come to a full stop at every stop sign, and don’t proceed until it is safe to do so, and their all-seeing digital cameras and sensors maintain a constant vigil of what’s going on in front of, beside and behind the vehicle at all times. They can see and recognize the bicyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and animals who may be in their path, and they can steer and brake to avoid unexpected obstacles in the road. In short, they can driver better than most human drivers.

One of the big questions that has yet to be resolved with respect to autonomous vehicles is the issue of liability.

Who’s responsible if an autonomous vehicle is involved in an accident and who do the lawyers sue for damages? The vehicle manufacturer? The OEM supplier who provided the driving controls? The vehicle owner?

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Until this issue has been sorted out, the auto makers are proceeding cautiously with plans to offer “enhanced” driving aids such as fully automatic braking, cruise control steering and complete vehicle control as production options or standard features.

Most of the automatic braking systems that are currently available are speed limited to slower speeds, primarily for legal reasons rather than technical limitations.

REMOTE DIAGNOSTICS AND REPAIR OPTIONS
The connected car of today already incorporates the ability for an outside source (such as GM’s OnStar) to monitor the health of the vehicle, to perform remote diagnostics and to send service reminders when scheduled maintenance is recommended. Next generation connected cars will do even more.

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The ability to seamless download software upgrades for everything from the powertrain control module to any other onboard module will be part and parcel of keeping the vehicle up-to-date and safe. Recall notices and possibly even software corrections that can address electronic-relates problems that arise can be sent directly to the vehicle with no need to schedule a service appointment.

Predictive analysis using the operational data generated by the vehicle itself can be analyzed to accurately predict when certain repairs (such as a brake job) might be needed. When the repairs are scheduled (from the vehicle), the dealer is notified so they can have the parts on hand when the vehicle arrives, hopefully minimizing any delays that might prevent the vehicle from being repaired in a timely manner.

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One thing the auto makers are taking a hard look at is ways to tie their vehicles more closely to their dealer network via telematics, not only be remote diagnostics and vehicle monitoring but by offering vehicle owners additional services and features (including non-automotive related services such as enhanced onboard infotainment, shopping directions, shopping discounts, you-name-it).

The idea is to make the vehicle an integral part of the consumer’s digital life, and in doing so, form a closer link between that customer and their brand. The challenge for the aftermarket will be to develop new telematic tie-ins of their own so they don’t find themselves disconnected from the connected car.

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