On the road and up in the Cloud, part II

A debate over in-car tech standards

If convenience is the watchword here, Cloud-based databases have the potential to be a major ally of drivers in other ways as well – especially for people who drive many different cars.

Putting one’s apps and playlists in the Cloud could make it easier, for example, to seamlessly drive your spouse’s car without having to sync up, according to Alec Saunders, vice president, Cloud business, QNX Software Systems. 

“The whole idea of letting your Cloud follow you from one vehicle to another is a very compelling scenario, especially when you talk about business travelers,” he says. “I rent a lot of cars.”

To get to that point, though, carmakers are going to need to see past the era when their in-car technology and communication protocols are exclusive and proprietary.

“The various Cloud platforms that are out there make it difficult to manage these different services,” says David Jumpa, chief revenue officer at Airbiquity. “The Cloud partners they may use in North America will be different from Cloud partners they’ll use in Europe or in China. So, that said, they’re going to need a middleware platform, and that’s in essence what we’ve been focusing all of our attention on. … If you look at the approach some of our competitors have taken, they’re building what I would call a private Cloud – very specialized in a certain vertical.”

Saunders agrees. OEMs “will need to find a way to provide a common interface for others,” he says. “If you want to enable those interesting scenarios where you’re mashing up data from multiple sources, then you need to have canonical standardized representation of that data. It doesn’t help us if one OEM stores their data in a different format from another OEM. Opinions vary across the industry about whether they want to share in that fashion. The OEMs will have to come to a conclusion of their own on that one.”

One reason for the accelerating prominence of Cloud-based solutions is that they eliminate the often huge costs of building on-site data storage.

“With Cloud computing, you can be renting the space on a daily or monthly basis, so as the volume goes up, you can scale up, and if the volume goes down again, you can scale down, and it hasn’t cost you a capital investment to achieve that,” says Tony Lovick, a telematics pricing actuary at Towers Watson.

Speaking at a recent Telematics Update conference, Bruce McKee, financial services industry lead at Microsoft UK, was more specific.

“If you spent 20 million pounds to build your [own] data center and then spend an hour processing data on it, it still cost you 20 million pounds,” McKee said. “If you spend an hour on our Cloud, it will cost you a few cents, just pocket change.”

And, McKee noted, the OEM is getting a lot more than a remote data storage service; Cloud services include data management capability, software deployment, integration, identity – “all of those things you need if you’re building an enterprise-class application for use on a global or even local basis.”

Security is a watchword

Security, too, remains a major concern when it comes to Cloud-based platforms.

QNX, which competes with several other firms including Xively, Ayla Networks, Berg Cloud and ThingWorx – not to mention  the giants of the Cloud space: Microsoft, Amazon and Google – as a provider of back-end Clouds, is touting its Project Ion, as a particularly secure way of centralizing and protecting vehicle information.

According to Saunders, his company has something its competitors don’t have: A proven history of safeguarding data. QNX’s parent company, after all, is BlackBerry, a firm that has one of the longest histories of securing a vast variety of digital information for millions of business enterprise customers around the globe.

“BlackBerry’s security is so robust that, literally, the BlackBerry Enterprise Server is the only device that most companies will allow inside their most valuable asset, their e-mail,” he says. “Security is a hard problem. … Well-known, robust solutions just need to make their way into the implementation of Internet-attached devices, including automobiles.”

Ultimately, the rapid adaptation of Cloud-based solutions as both a storehouse of data and as a go-between for communication between the car and the OEM is seen in the industry as a precursor for the broader adoption of autonomous cars and safer roads.

And the Cloud will become the intersection of much of the intelligence behind it, says Magnus Lundgren, strategic sales director – head of Connected Vehicle Cloud at Ericsson. With the Volvo system, for instance, the car’s braking system can inform the Cloud of the GPS location of slippery roads and that information could someday be automatically transmitted to other Volvos in the area, he says.

“It’s a bridge, it’s an enabler,” agreed Stefan Cross, a spokesman for OnStar, the in-car system owned by General Motors. “Autonomous cars are still a few years out. These are the enablers that are in place. Autonomous driving requires more standardization across the industry and regulation. But at the same time, you’re seeing elements of it.”

(For the first part of the series, see On the road and up in the Cloud, part I.)

Steve Friess is a regular contributor to Telematics Update.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Advanced Automotive Safety USA 2014 on July 8-9 in Novi, Michigan, Insurance Telematics USA 2014 on Sept. 3-4 in Chicago, Telematics Japan 2014 in October in Tokyo, Telematics Munich 2014 on Nov. 10-11 in Munich, Germany, and The Open Mobile Summit on Nov. 10-11 in San Francisco. 

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: Insurance Telematics Report 2014Connected Fleet Report 2014The Automotive HMI Report 2013 and Telematics Connectivity Strategies Report 2013.  

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