Telematics and redesigning the navigation experience

Who needs an expensive in-dash navigation system at a time when  smartphone apps can get the job done, for free. Right? Well, not so fast.

Smartphone navigation apps may do a good job of getting a driver from point A to point B, particularly as they mature to integrate live traffic updates, speed camera warnings and local search. But that hardly means they are about to displace in-dash navigation systems, for these once static, perpetually out of date solutions are undergoing  an evolution of their own. And in many ways, they are poised to start delivering a far more sophisticated and current user experience, industry insiders say. (For more on apps, see Industry insight: Telematics and apps.)

Smartphone apps

At the moment, smartphone apps have several distinct advantages. As their maps are typically cloud-based, there is no waiting for that quarterly DVD or memory stick with updates to arrive in the mail. Change the direction of a one-way street in, let’s say, Prague, and as long as the map provider enters it in his database, that change becomes instantly available to all users.

They are also portable, always connected, and many of the basic solutions come free of charge; think Google Maps or Apple‘s Maps, though the latter continues to struggle to clean up the many glitches that made the app’s launch the butt of so many jokes last year.

There are, of course, good reasons why car makers have been sticking to embedded navigation solutions and maps that power them. They include issues of reliability, stability and availability independent of cellular network coverage. However, the problem with this approach is that while it ensures a high quality of service, it also guarantees the maps are perpetually obsolete, says Roger Lanctot, associate director for automotive multimedia & communications  service at Strategy Analytics.

“It’s in the interest of providing a predictable, high-quality service, yet the model they have chosen guarantees an unsatisfactory experience because the map is guaranteed to be out of date,” he says. Lanctot speaks from experience.

In late January, he took his wife to see Amour, the European film about an elderly couple trying to cope with the wife’s paralysis from a stroke, at a recently built movie complex near his house. But the embedded map on his 2013 BMW 3 series could not find it. So he turned to MotionX GPS, a $0.99 smartphone app, which confidently pointed the way but led him to a completely incorrect destination some five miles away

A quick online search yielded the correct address. But the car‘s onboard system working with a fixed database of street names and numbers would not acknowledge it. In the end, Lanctot was able to enter an address that was in the vicinity, which at least got him to the right neighborhood.

The good news is that carmakers are well aware of the limitations of their current navigation offerings and are sparing no effort to improve them by investing in cloud-based solutions and beginning to integrate all manner of dynamic content.

Cloud-based solutions

BMW is at the forefront of these efforts, and its ultimate goal is no less ambitious than a navigation system that "one cannot outsmart anymore,"says Ulrich Fastenrath, who is in charge of BMW’s strategy, product and community definition, traffic technology and traffic management.

“Today’s products always find the way somehow, but few of them are good enough for an experienced driver to always rely on them,” he says. “As soon as we have mastered the uncertainty of things that will happen in the future along the route, then I guess even experienced drivers will use those services or devices, even on routes they know. And that’s where the value is.”

In recent months and years, BMW has been working hard to understand this uncertainty by breaking it into its many constituent parts, including local weather conditions, information on traffic incidents and major public events, programming of traffic lights, availability of alternative modes of transportation and ad hoc decisions by urban traffic managers.

And it has been quick to use its insights to refine the navigation experience.

At the ITS World Congress in Vienna last October, BMW showcased several new concepts. One is called "intermodal routing"and proposes a navigation experience that not only considers transportation routes available to the car but also other modes of transport, all in the service of getting to a destination on time. Another concept is “strategic routing.” This concept aims to integrate real-time traffic information, which is already available to BMW drivers, with the multitude of tweaks city traffic managers make every day to optimize the use of available infrastructure.

Last year, BMW piloted the concept in London in cooperation with Transport for London. The trial involved “thousands” of vehicles, Fastenrath says, while smaller-scale trials took place in German cities.

The challenge is, of course, how to roll these services out and scale them up, Fastenrath says; “There are so many data sources, so many traffic managers working across Europe and all over the world. It’s a very heterogeneous landscape. Therefore, it’s much more difficult than just to collect GPS data.”

Real-time traffic information

Real-time traffic information is a key ingredient to any such undertaking and one of the biggest challenges, not just in the difficulty of getting reliable data but also in the work required to build complex algorithms capable of accurately predicting traffic conditions.

In this area, INRIX has made some impressive advances. Its traffic information is currently refreshed every minute, and the company has grown so confident of the information’s accuracy that an agreement with the I-95 Corridor Coalition, an alliance of six U.S. states operating a stretch of highway that runs from Maine to Florida, stipulates that INRIX doesn’t get paid unless traffic speed information is accurate within two miles per hour of actual traffic speeds, 90 percent the time and under all conditions.

A little over a year ago, the New Jersey Department of Transportation, in fact, was able to use INRIX’s traffic information to pinpoint an accident—a dump truck that overturned and was blocking both lanes of the highway—before anyone called 911.

“The DOT truck got there 10 minutes before the first emergency responder,” says Jim Bak, director of community relations at INRIX. “You are getting to the point where you can almost identify incidents out of flow data because flow data is getting to the point of being that scary good.”

But that in and of itself is still not good enough for today’s customers, says Scott Sedlik, VP of product planning at INRIX. “We used to be a traffic data provider and would throw the data over the fence essentially … and then our customers would just take that and integrate it in their solutions,” he says. Today, INRIX is far more engaged in helping clients get the best out of the data.

A project INRIX has with BMW is looking at how to maximize engine efficiency depending on where the car is being driven.

The idea is that “a BMW should be performing differently and acting differently on a downtown city street than on a highway or a secondary road,” Sedlik says. “They are interested in not just what happens on the navigation screen … but how to maximize the efficiency of the engine going through city streets [and] timing it to traffic lights and things like that.”

Another concept INRIX is exploring with half a dozen OEMs is how to use data from the vehicle’s CAN bus—information around things like traction control, ABS and windshield wiper status—to give another dimension to its traffic information and improve overall performance and experience for the driver.

Fastest route, safest route

One potential question INRIX is looking to answer with this approach is not only what the fastest route to destination is but what the safest route is at a time when roads get clogged with snow or ice, Bak says.

“So we are starting to see these really advanced systems to leverage lots of different sources of data to add value to these applications,” Bak says. “You cannot just focus on helping people get some place they don’t know how to get to. You can help them get to the places they go to every day with less hassle, less frustration, using less fuel.”

Yet another project is in the areas of connected parking services. In January, INRIX launched a brand-new connected parking navigation service for 38 countries in Europe and North America. Called INRIX Parking, the service not only provides the location of some 60,000 parking facilities, but also real-time availability of parking spaces and pricing.

Kenwood is the first to roll it out on its high-end aftermarket navigation systems, but in-car systems are expected to be close behind, the first probably launching as early as this summer, according to Sedlik.

The fact that onboard maps go quickly out of date has long been a sore point for in-dash navigation systems. But that is beginning to change too as a lot more cars come with connectivity, which in turn makes it possible to embed systems with cloud access, says Christof Hellmis, VP for map platforms at Nokia‘s Location & Commerce business unit.

In fact, Hellmis expects the ubiquity of in-car connectivity to spawn a whole new wave of navigation innovation around driver safety, fuel efficiency, multimodal mobility and intelligent driving, which includes things like heads-up displays and advanced drive assistance systems capable of reading the road ahead and adjusting the car’s performance accordingly.

Another major trend, according to Hellmis, is navigation becoming a seamless, device-agnostic experience that travels with the user whether he is behind the wheel, at his home computer or on a smartphone. “We are just at the dawn of this era when these things truly start to come together and experiences go fluidly across the screens,” he says.

The navigation experience

The navigation experience itself is undergoing a redesign. Garmin recently launched a new line-up of its nüvi navigation devices that come with a more natural way of giving point-by-point directions. Instead of telling the driver to turn left in three hundred meters, the devices use landmarks like gas stations or traffic signs to indicate the next turn.

And navigation providers have been working hard to find better ways of sorting through the ever growing amount of available data in order to provide drivers with just what they need and when they need it.

Maps will, of course, remain the backbone of any navigation solution, but they too are changing. One of the biggest map providers in the world, Nokia, has been doubling down on investment into vehicles surveying the roads and technologies to improve the quality of its map data.

Hellmis predicts that next-generation maps will move away from being flat and two-dimensional, and become rich, three-dimensional and highly interactive propositions capable of highlighting buildings, fading in and out relevant information, and mixing reality with the digital footprint of the world.

To get that level of detail, Nokia has been using Lidar, a new technology that uses 64 laser beams to record up to 1.3 million points per second. “We try to capture the world as truly as we can,” Hellmis says. “No abstract computerized picture, not just vectors, but vectors combined with imagery in a complete three dimensional representation of reality.”

How that reality will be paid for is still being debated. Subscription and licensing fees are likely to remain the main sources of income for the time being, even as free smartphone navigation solutions continue to exert downward pressure on prices.

Vehicle data

Providers of navigation solutions are confident that premium services will provide enough added-value to get customers to pay.

IP-based contextual advertising is another way to monetize navigation, and the long-term financial outlook looks promising. According to Lanctot, the total market of radio advertising in the United States is some $20 billion a year, half of which is auto-centric.

The problem is an absence of technologies capable of serving up location-based ads in the car, though various experiments are under way.

Deeper integration of navigation systems with vehicle data is one sure way to build premium services and keep in-dash navigation solutions relevant, industry insiders say. Another source of major value is building systems capable of all manner of predictive behavior, from guessing the driver’s intended destination to predicting traffic conditions ahead.

“The experience for most people today with a navigation system is you get into your car, you gotta plug in your destination through a complicated wheel or some complicated HMI that’s not really intelligent,” Sedlik says. “The navigation system is not really taking advantage of the intelligence, that [the car] knows about you, your routines or where you are going.”

What INRIX sees the industry working toward are far more intelligent systems that no longer need to be told where to go unless the destination is a new to the driver, for example. “What you have today is a map, color-coded lines with traffic, gas station listings on the map, POIs,” Bak says. “That’s Web 1.0. Web 2.0 is about how you filter this information down to make it easily digestible for the person based on what’s relevant and interesting to them.”

“It’s [going to be] much more about you get in your car at eight in the morning, your vehicle should already know that there is a 90 percent chance you are going to work that day, has already been looking at traffic on your route, and is telling you which of the two routes is the better one to go,” Bak adds.

Ultimately a car would go as far as to read the driver’s calendar and reset his alarm clock depending on expected traffic conditions and time of arrival for the driver‘s first meeting, Bak says.

Appello, a smartphone navigation provider, already offers a version of this service. Called NeverLate and priced at $9.99 after a free trial, the smartphone app ensures that drivers always leave for their appointments in time to be on time, says Peter Tyreholt, head of product portfolio at Appello. With NeverLate, a driver enters his destination and time of arrival, while the app uses real-time traffic information to sound an alarm for when it’s time to leave to arrive on time.

Jan Stojaspal is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on apps, see Industry insight: Telematics and apps.

For the latest on apps, visit Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 18-19 in Munich.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics India and South Asia 2013 on April 17-18 in Bangalore, India, Insurance Telematics Europe 2013 on May 7-8 in London, Data Business for Connected Vehicles Japan 2013 on May 15-16 in Tokyo, Telematics Detroit 2013 on June 5-6, Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on September 4-5 in Chicago, Telematics Russia 2013 on September 9-10 in Moscow, Telematics LATAM 2013 in September in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Telematics Japan 2013 on October 8-10 in Tokyo and Telematics Munich 2013 on November 11-12.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.

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