Talking About a Revolution: Connecting the Dots to Autonomy

Talking About a Revolution: Connecting the Dots to Autonomy

Auto industry insiders acknowledge a revolution has begun and they must deliver on the promise of the connected car right now or risk losing market- and mind-share to competitors new and old. At this year’s Consumer Telematics Show (CTS) in Las Vegas, more than 500 representatives from OEMs and their current and prospective partners not only showcased their latest advancements, but discussed and debated the merits, and need for cooperation in creating new standards, improving technology, and traveling farther down the road to improved connectivity, mobility, and autonomy.

“It’s always been about freedom!” exclaimed Klas Bendrik, VP & Group CIO of Volvo Car Group, as he kicked off the Consumer Telematics Show 2015 in Las Vegas. Bendrik was driving home his message about Volvo’s ambitious plans to not only make a more connected car, but the safest, self driving autos on the market “that do not crash.”

But the day’s opening salvo also underscored the themes of opportunities, obstacles, and alliances as the automotive industry races headlong into a more connected world.

Bendrik outlined and updated Volvo’s Drive Me program by showing the next steps to autonomous driving and improved mobility. While the forthcoming XC 90 will offer the latest ADAS features including adaptive cruise and pilot assist for stop and go traffic, the crowd’s imagination was captured as Bendrik outlined plans to put 100 of its self driving cars, driven by “normal people”, on the road in Gothenburg, Sweden. It’s part of massive real-world test collaboration with Swedish authorities.

“What we’re doing with the Drive Me program is bringing back freedom to driving… to choose when to drive yourself, but enabling you the choice when you are in a congested area to have an autonomous drive and use that time for something else for a personal or productivity standpoint.”

A Volvo video depicted further connection to the car via smartphone for finding the vehicle in a parking deck, for navigation updates, locking and unlocking, pre-heating, or using digital keys for delivery companies.

Lastly Bendrik showed off what he called “the world’s first connected safety concept”, an app that connects cyclists to the cloud via POC helmets so bicycles can communicate with cars for two-way proximity alerts.

Another OEM executive, Henry Bzeih, head of connected car at KIA, had a similar vision in a discussion on HMI when he quipped, “What if the human is also the machine? With a sensor that says ‘I’m here’, so when they cross the street it emits their position.”

Bzeih also announced that KIA’s premium 900K will for the first time offer embedded connectivity because Gen Xers and Baby Boomers who buy $65,000 cars want this experience.

Wearables are all the rage for Consumer Electronics this year and while some OEMs showed future integrations in videos, industry experts discussed them at length. While a watch branded with an automaker’s logo may replace the car key as a status symbol outside the car, it’s still unclear how much functionality will be transferred to these devices.

After all, as panel moderator Dominque Bonte from ABI Research points out, not all consumers will have wearables but they will all need keys. Thus, he posits keys could eventually become a wearable.

The connected car is truly on its way to communicating with everything, another big theme for CTS 2015.

Gartner analyst Thilo Koslowski called this a “defining year for the automotive industry”, predicting some companies will hit the jackpot. This was Las Vegas, after all.

Koslowski also said, “We’re still at the beginning of the Internet of Cars phase. That’s where a lot of the innovation will come going forward.” He estimates there will be about 25 million connected cars by year’s end, but exponential growth over the next five years will quickly take that number to 150 million by the end of 2020.

While Gartner predicts 7.3 billion personal devices will be connected by that same time and 30 billion things will be connected to the Internet, Koslowski notes the level of engagement is much higher in cars when compared to light bulbs. That’s why companies including Apple and Google made a U-turn after showing little interest in connected cars even a few short years ago.

The ongoing revolution has many areas up for grabs, according to Koslowski, including monetizing connected car opportunities, sharing data such as road conditions, and controlling the automated home from the auto.

Koslowski noted consumers surveyed said they only want to pay on average about $1,400 for self driving technology, but costs remain much higher though they are coming down.

He also raised a few eyebrows, saying “I see a future where the government will require you to gather data and share it in order to drive on the roads. Remember driving is a privilege, not a right.”

That message resonates to residents and ex-pats working in China. Kevin Link from Verizon Telematics noted the challenges of working in that burgeoning market. One being the lottery to get the right to buy a driver’s license, without which you can not drive so there’s little reason to buy a car if you don’t have the permit (though he noted nearly 23 million vehicles were still sold in China during 2014).

Link noted a number of China’s big cities keep a lid on licenses to try and reduce traffic and smog. The Verizon Telematics executive added that navigation apps are huge: “We do thousands of downloads for a location every day in the US. In China, we do it eight times the volume we do it in the US.”

And for intrepid companies that can navigate the Communist Government’s bureaucracy, Link says there’s great opportunity.

Audi continues cashing in on its role as a market leader in connecting consumers in the car. Anupam Malhotra, senior manager, Connected Vehicle and Infotainment, Audi America, noted the German automaker posted a 15% sales increase last year over 2013. And he says infotainment and connectivity are driving sales.

Audi is moving to a much faster processor, with a slick new virtual cockpit interface, and Truffles search which aims to ease queries across platforms and the cloud for quicker and safer results.

Malhotra predicts BYOD will continue to supplement integrated systems to allow for the greatest customization. He also showcased Audi Connect Gen 2, which will launch with the Q7 and include emergency services, diagnostics, as well as integration with smart devices and wearables.

While Audi provided a handful of journalists a ride from San Francisco to Las Vegas in a self-piloting auto, Malhotra said the vehicles won’t be hitting the road anytime soon: “It may happen in stages. What is the key thing to happen to bring it to market? Consumer acceptance and the realities around laws for piloted vehicles.”

While Audi, Volvo and other automakers take new steps towards autonomous vehicles, consumers have other legitimate concerns including data privacy and hacking of that data.

Michelle Avery, VP, Automotive Strategy for Aeris says remote vehicle information is the “killer” app. She pointed out 60 million vehicles were recalled in 2014, and asserted that big data collected by third-party firms across OEMs could provide true insights as well as offer something consumers real-time information on recalls and need maintenance in exchange for their data.

“When you get true value exchange, the privacy concerns begin to dissipate,” she said, adding, “It’s the intersection of big data and productivity that makes this interesting, when you make ownership of the vehicles less expensive.”

As for safety, a lively discussion was held on securing connected cars from hackers. While the panelists agreed that sloppy programming left Target vulnerable to a breach at its POS terminals, the industry insiders also said it’s important to realize that the connected car will have more vulnerabilities and entry points due to device Bluetooth connections and over the air updates as well as data stored in the cloud.

Dirk Reimer from Telit suggested including engineering security experts on teams to ensure safety and then look to standardize across the industry.

Matt Jones from Jaguar Land Rover disagreed, saying, “This is an industry problem that we need to fix.  (OEMs) should work together from the start rather than trying to standardize whoever’s best solution they found in the end. Sort of a pre-competitive advantage.”

As Jones suggests, some in the industry see the paradigm shift as a call for cooperation amidst competition. And even though the age of connectivity is still young, presenters at CTS see this as a golden opportunity to take the lead on issues such as security, safety, and standards as the self-aware auto connects itself and the driver to a rapidly changing world that’s slowly shifting towards greater autonomy and enhanced mobility.

Get the latest on automotive technology and innovation at TU-Automotive Detroit 2015 Conference & Exhibition this June. 

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