Telematics and the cloud: 4 keys to in-car offerings

The past few months have been good ones for the cloud, as more OEMs commit to the concept of streaming Internet-based services and offerings into the vehicle. In May, for example, Toyota announced a partnership with Microsoft to develop a cloud-based platform for future Toyota vehicles.

In October, Mercedes unveiled @yourCOMAND, a comprehensive cloud-based system and the future face of its telematics strategy.

As these solutions suggest, with the proper platforms, an array of products and services can be streamed into a vehicle and kept current with simple app updates, thereby decoupling in-car services from established vehicle development cycles.

In the minds of some, telematics and the cloud are soon to become inseparable.

“There’s no turning back,” says Guy Story, chief technology officer and chief scientist at Audible. “The cloud is part of the user experience in much of what people do these days. The ship has left the dock.”

At the same time, figuring out how the cloud will be present in vehicles is still very much up in the air.

While some companies have pioneered embedded solutions, others are wary of opening up their systems and potentially compromising security, regulatory compliance, and governance issues.

The need for enough bandwidth to host cloud-based solutions is another challenge. “We’re in the early stages,” concedes Story, “when all these different ideas are colliding. The industry is poised to really get going, but it hasn’t fully happened yet.”
In his opinion, the following four topics will be key to harnessing the cloud in the vehicle.

1. Phone doesn’t equal car
In the early stages the smartphone has been a great test model for how wireless data connectivity can operate within a vehicle.

Indeed, Audible, which sells audio books online, has reached its primary market—drivers listening to books while they drive—via smartphones and digital solutions like the iPad.

Ultimately, however, these solutions aren’t native to the vehicle and therefore lack the seamlessness Story believes drivers want. As he puts it, “My phone is not my car and my car is not my phone.

As a content provider, I want to develop to a car platform that I know is in the vehicle. It’s a simple, easy model when I can talk directly to the car.”

(For more on smartphones, see Telematics and the ‘built-in’ vs. ‘brought-in’ debate, Telematics, smartphones and the future of connected infotainment and Six reasons the smartphone is key to auto telematics; to learn more about smartphone integration, read TU’s In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report.)

2. Embracing dynamism
One of the most alluring aspects of cloud computing is that it can ensure in-car offerings remain viable throughout the car lifecycle.

This is an important point when you consider that OEMs often balk at in-car offerings because they’re worried that they will be outdated by the time new cars hit the market, let alone by the time their warranties run out.

“There needs to be some way that platforms can persist over time,” says Story, “and the concept of updating apps and functionality in the vehicle by way of the cloud is one of the most elegant ways to deliver on this.”

Of course, yielding control of the in-car environment is often anathema to OEMs, due to safety, compliance, or data management reasons.

Therefore, figuring out who manages in-vehicle platforms and to what degree content providers can leverage them is critical in the coming few years.

“You certainly don’t want the embedded system of a car to interfere with safety,” says Story.“These are things I think we can figure out, and I don’t see them as at odds with the idea of being able to update things more frequently.”

3. Ensuring consistency
As nice as a fast-flowing, constantly connected cloud sounds, the reality is that connections these days are rarely constant, downloads often take way too long, and bandwidth is a major problem.

Story points out that if you’re deeply engrossed in a great novel, it’s pretty enraging if you miss the final line of a chapter or the climax of plot. “You can’t miss part of a story,” he says, “and off-line playback can be a challenge.”

Content providers can work around those limitations, he says, but ultimately for drivers to be content with cloud-based solutions, OEMs and providers need to figure out how to ensure a higher level of consistency.

That extends to the look of interfaces as well, Story believes. Audible is a product, a brand, and something that ideally will look the same no matter the make or model of the vehicle in which it’s displayed.

 “I’ll stop short of saying we need the same platform across the board,” he says, “but a certain level of consistency needs to be there.”

4. Improving collaboration
Delivering the cloud to the vehicle is not a question of technology. The technology is there. What’s often missing is an open dialogue among OEMs, telecoms, and content and service providers.

Aligning goals or at least starting to communicate in the same language is a final key. “By and large, this is a matter of coming up with the right model of collaboration,” says Story.

“Partnerships and cross-industry business models will enable it all to happen.”
Story contends that once the various stakeholders align themselves, it will unleash a second wave of innovation:

“When we’re able to overcome the challenges and work in tandem, we’ll begin to think about even more innovative ways to work with the car. As a result, it’ll become a first-class citizen of the Internet.”
Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to TU.
For more all the latest telematics trends, join the sector’s other key players at Content & Apps for Automotive USA 2011 on Nov 29-30 in San Diego.

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