Telematics: What’s next for apps and services, part I

Telematics: What’s next for apps and services, part I

BMW’s vision of the connected car of the future is an open roadster, where information picked up by the vehicle’s sensors and antennas flows continuously to the driver along red, blue and green light paths, assisting his every move, whether it means leading him to a pre-booked parking space in a multi-story garage or looking around corners to warn of cross traffic.

The light paths that outline the concept vehicle’s impressive curves may serve as no more than a visual aid to highlight the sophisticated telematics under the hood (red indicates safety functions, blue infotainment, and green convenience), but the technology is real and about to get a lot better. “With this concept [vehicle], we set out to create an attractive icon that makes visible what we already have and what we have for the future,” says Katharina Singer, spokesperson for research and development at BWM Group.

What BMW already has are more than 50 features grouped into its ConnectedDrive suite of telematics services. The concept vehicle, Vision ConnectedDrive, was launched last spring at the Geneva International Motor Show. The features include Parking Assistant (automatic steering to a parking place, with the driver only operating the accelerator and brakes), a fighter jet-inspired Heads-Up Display, smartphone app integration, and Night Vision with Pedestrian Recognition that uses a thermal camera to issue collision warnings.

What the carmaker has planned for the future are things like fully automated parking, a 3D Heads-Up Display, and a new type of human-machine interface (HMI) that features an extra display for the passenger and gives him the ability to transfer content to the driver’s instrument cluster with a simple wave of the hand.


Enhancing the in-car experience


BMW is far from alone in looking to enhance the in-car experience through increasingly sophisticated in-vehicle telematics. In fact, the entire industry is racing to evolve past basic safety and security features to telematics systems that include natural speech recognition, advanced forms of location-based services, social media integration, multimodal HMIs that respond to hand gestures, and augmented reality windows that promise to not only make driving safer but also engage passengers in the back seat. (For more on location-based services, see The role of telematics in next-gen mobile advertising and Telematics and EVs: Things to do while charging; for more on augmented reality, see Integrating telematics and augmented reality.)

But as the number of features increases, so does the need to integrate them in more intuitive ways. “If we just add, add, add functionality, nobody will be able to use all those functionalities,” says BMW’s Singer. “You know that from smartphones already.  There are a lot of functionalities in there that you probably never use, so personalization and intuitive handling will be key features.”

Justin Morgenthau, president and owner of BunsenTech, a mobile application developer in East Hartford, Connecticut, is paying close attention to Apple’s Siri voice recognition technology. “They have done some phenomenal things there,” he says. “The accuracy is remarkable. It’s completely speaker-independent, so there is no training involved. The industry is going to be playing catch-up for the next 18 months or so before we start seeing those applications on other devices.” (For more on speech recognition, see Can voice recognition make telematics services safer?.)

Another compelling feature is geo-sensing, a location-based technology that allows the user to set up geographic regions and have his phone perform an action upon entering or exiting the region. “When I tell my phone to grab my lunch when I get home, that’s actually done with geo-sensing,” Morgenthau says. “Once I give that command, the phone starts monitoring my position. It looks up my home address, sets a radius around my home address, and knows to give me a notification when that boundary is crossed. If your smartphone was integrated with your vehicle system so that it knew how much gas was in your gas tank, the phone could start monitoring for gas stations once you get down to a quarter of a tank and tell when there is one within a convenient location, possibly even cross-referencing gas prices.”


Integrating social media


Social media integration is another promising feature. The challenge of integrating social media into the car has been in finding out how to post and receive status updates with minimal distraction to the driver. While progress is being made on this front, drivers are likely to face limitations until a reliable voice-to-text systems become mainstream. (For more on social media, see Telematics and the socially networked car and Telematics and the socially networked car, Part II.)

A user of MINI Connected, the smart phone integration system for MINIs, can, for example, use Twitter without restrictions while at a standstill, but loses the ability to type messages when the car is in motion. Instead, he has to rely on preset responses that can be automatically updated with real-time data, like point of departure, destination and outside temperature.

But there is a way to look at social connectivity much more broadly. There are opportunities for sharing diagnostic and traffic data, fleet management, car-pooling, even streaming video of scenic parts of one’s journey. And many of these applications are automated and do not require the ability to receive free-form dictation to work in the car. “There are a number of ways to look at how vehicles and social media are going to integrate,” says Julius Marchwicki, product manager for Sync AppLink at Ford. “It’s not just read me my timeline or tell me where my friends are or read me their status.”

One key area that will increasingly rely on social connectivity is the gathering and sharing of traffic information. “Traffic data is critically important, and vehicle connectivity enables delivery of two-way traffic information,” says Roger Lanctot, senior analyst, automotive multimedia and communications service, Strategy Analytics.

Traffic data is “the single most important application in telematics,” he says. “Not only are you getting the traffic condition information, but you are transmitting your activity as a node on the network, further contributing to improving the quality of the network traffic data. This is something that is only just beginning to be realized today, in particular by Audi. With Audi Connect, you are a node in the traffic data network.”


Jan Stojaspal 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 2011on Nov 29-30 in San Diego.

For exclusive business insights into HMIs, download TU’s report Human Machine Interface Technologies.

For exclusive business insights into the telematics market, read TU’s reports In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.

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