Panda’s GPS-driven insurance premiums, Molex makes the MOST of its junction box, and more…

Panda’s GPS-driven insurance premiums, Molex makes the MOST of its junction box, and more…

This data, in turn, will be used to customize insurance premiums and road use fees to individual drivers. “Our aim is to develop an increasingly fair model for the insurance premiums where the driver himself can influence the charges by adjusting his driving style and the amount of driven kilometers,” says Kyösti Talsi, director of Pohjola Insurance, the Finnish insurance company set to implement the program.

Panda—an acronym for Pohjola, Aplicom, Nokia, Destia, and Astarte—was conceived in 2007 as a collaboration between the telematics, insurance, and mobile industries, along with the Finnish federal government. Vesa Helkkula, CEO of Aplicom, which chairs the Panda project, says the current roll out of 1,000 Aplicom A1 units comprises Panda-pilot phase 2. If it’s successful, a third phase will be executed in 2011, with hopes of extending the model to the rest of Europe. “Panda Group is actually proving a complex and innovative service concept, where many parties, both service providers and customers, can work for the benefit of all the parties,” says Helkkula. Helkkula adds that the big picture here is “safer, less polluting and more convenient driving, with services that are really appreciated and needed.” TomTom released two new low-cost GPS devices available exclusively at Wal-Mart. The TomTom ONE 125 SE ($59) and TomTom XL 325 ($89) offer touch screens, preloaded maps of the US, spoken instructions for street names and preloaded points of interest. The low-cost devices indicate TomTom’s willingness to trade slim profits for larger market access.

Meanwhile, TomTom competitor Magellan released a new car kit for the iPhone. Unlike TomTom’s kit, which attaches to the windshield, Magellan’s kit mounts to the dashboard. Magellan’s RoadMate iPhone app costs $79.99; TomTom’s navigation software goes for $99.99. A new study from ABI Research projects off-deck LBS application downloads, like TomTom’s navigation software and Magellan’s RoadMate, to reach nearly two billion by 2014. In spite of this growth, the study also projects that the rise of free off-deck LBS products, like Google’s free turn-by-turn navigation on Android phones, will make it difficult to monetize the off-deck LBS after 2014.

MiX Telematics has unveiled an inexpensive telematics system geared toward owners and operators of small van fleets. The system, FM Protector, offers features like vehicle tracking and usage-monitoring, unauthorized use and theft alerts, and enhanced security for single drivers. The system is supported by a low-cost payment plan that makes it affordable for small fleet operators.

Mazda Motor Corporation announced that it will provide vehicles for the Tsukuba Environmental Style Test Project in Tsukuba city, near Tokyo, Japan, slated to begin in March 2010. The project will test a low-carbon energy network of electric vehicles, fixed battery stations, rapid chargers, solar panels, and a car sharing service. The project organizers hope to prove the viability of an integrated system that minimizes environmental impact and maximizes EV efficiency.

Ford continues to ramp up its focus on the Ford Sync telematics system. In the past two years the company has embedded features like 911 Assist, Vehicle Health Report, turn-by-turn navigation, and real-time traffic in its cars (an industry first), while pursuing open-source platforms that would bring social media safely into vehicles. Now Ford is offering free personal tutorials on the platform at select locations around the US, notably at Best Buys in Texas, California, and Pennsylvania.

Finally, on the engineering side of telematics, Molex has developed an innovative new junction box, the MOST straight junction box. A junction box is the interface connector between the electronics of the vehicle and the multimedia interface module and thus is the device that provides drivers with all their infotainment and multimedia needs (stereo, GPS, DVD, phone and portable media player controls). The housing of Molex’s new junction box is made from a high-temperature PPA resin that can withstand higher soldering process temperatures. As a result, the box increases manufacturing efficiency and reduces associated production costs.

“This product contains Media Orientated Systems Transport (MOST) technology, which was designed to provide an efficient and cost-effective method of transmitting audio, video, data and control information between attached devices in the harsh environments of automotive applications,” says Padraig Franklin, Molex product manager. “At the same time it provides a unique quality of service required for the transmission of audio and video services.” Molex released the product in the second quarter of 2009. Franklin says that a number of original equipment manufacturers have already made the switch to the new junction box. If an OEM is currently using MOST technology, they don’t have to make any manufacturing changes, as the MOST interface remains the same.

By Andrew Tolve

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