Telematics and connectivity: To embed or not to embed?

Telematics and connectivity: To embed or not to embed?

Amidst all the excitement about the connected vehicle, one question still remains unanswered: How will the connected car connect to the Internet?

The decisions OEMs make now will position them as leaders of the pack or also-rans in the race to make money and win customers by providing essential and fun applications and services to drivers.

OEMs are keeping their options open. Some are pursuing a ‘tethered’ model, also known as ‘brought-in’, in which apps reside or run on the driver's smartphone.

A Bluetooth or other link connects the phone to the automobile’s embedded head unit.

Ford follows a tethered approach, recently releasing its software development kit to a new set of interested smartphone app developers.

The aim: to help them modify their apps to work with SYNC’s hands-free voice recognition software.

In the hybrid model, the smartphone supplies connectivity and some apps but the car’s built-in head unit controls them.

(For more on different approaches to connectivity, see ‘Wanted: A single interface for all in-car apps’ and ‘What is the best way to deliver in-car telematics?’.)

Already connected to the Internet

Despite the high profile of SYNC, analyst firm iSuppli expects Ford to eventually embed modems in the car.

“Ford’s engineers came up with an amazing array of services you can use with the tethered approach, but they can’t do stolen vehicle location or remote door unlock or any number of those remote telematics services,” says Mark Boyadjis, analyst and regional manager of North American automotive research for iSuppli.
“You still need an embedded unit in the car for those.”

Other OEMS and their partners definitely plan to continue down the built-in path.
Chuhee Lee, head of infotainment for Volkswagen’s Electronics Research Laboratory, sees autos’ in-car systems becoming smarter and more highly connected.

He expects the car’s embedded head unit and modem to be able to combine data from a variety of sources in the cloud with information from the car’s sensors to automatically deliver appropriate info and services.

That could involve everything from rerouting the nav system because of a traffic jam to allowing email access during stop-and-go driving. (For more on cloud computing and telematics, see ‘Cloud computing and fleet management’.)

Erik Goldman, president of Hughes Telematics, the service provider forMercedes-Benzmbrace, says that a broadband link directly to the in-car modem will be in the Mercedes'mbrace in a few generations.

“Over next two years, you’ll see a high percentage of vehicles already effectively connected to the Internet when they roll out of the factory,” he predicts.

Ready for the throwaway radio?

Louis Brugman, general manager, product planning for Pioneer Automotive

Technologies, says Pioneer definitely expects to produce embedded head units.

Even in this scenario, though, questions remain. For example, will the car have its own data plan or use the driver’s smartphone plan?

The bigger question, Brugman says, is whether drivers will accept the same disposability in their auto head units that they do in other consumer electronics products.

“Are they ready for the throwaway radio?” he asks.
“Consumers upgrade their phones every one to two years. Is there an expectation I should upgrade the navigation, or whatever is embedded in my car, every two years? And are they willing to sacrifice the quality for the upgrade?”

The answers to questions like these will help determine which path, tethered or built-in, OEMs take.

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

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