The TU 10: Next Year’s Top 10 Disruptive Telematics Technologies

The TU 10: Next Year’s Top 10 Disruptive Telematics Technologies

10. Plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles

With the first plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and several new electric vehicles (EVs) being introduced next year, 2010 could be the year to see some progress in smart grid and charge monitoring. “The big question is, who are the first adopters?” says Dave McNamara, president of McNamara Technology Solutions and previously manager of advanced infotainment at Ford Motor Company. “Maybe it’s farmers who start being able to deliver power to the grid and therefore want smart systems to know when they are users or suppliers of power.” Mark Fitzgerald, senior automotive analyst at market research firm Strategy Analytics, is not as upbeat about the impact in 2010, but solving the range issue on pure electric vehicles by identifying the next available charging station could change his mind: “If you can link your telematics system or your navigation system to some sort of a smart grid, that would help.”

9. Dedicated short-range communication

Dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) (5.9 GHz) is under investigation for exchanging data vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V). “This could be a break out year for DSRC,” says McNamara, since a number of highly visible test beds will use 5.9 GHz DSCR technology for V2V development. “The Europeans are going to kind of shame us into it a little bit, too, because they are going full blast.”

8. Outstanding voice recognition

Voice recognition is a perennial favorite but, though the technology has been steadily improving, progress is slow. Still, all those incremental improvements do add up. “It’s kind of snuck up on us,” McNamara observes. “We now see voice in every device.”

7. New standards

Introducing consistent standards would have a huge impact on costs, interoperability, and technological consistency. The auto industry seems to realize this, increasingly adopting standards developed outside the auto industry itself. In infotainment, for example, the consumer electronics and cell phone industries are sources of new standards. Look for this trend to continue and even speed up next year.

6. USB connectivity for data and charging

Hardwired connectivity through USB ports already has a significant presence in vehicles. In addition to providing consumers with the ability to connect MP3 players and memory sticks for custom audio, USB ports can charge portable products, too. That’s important because smartphones are very power hungry.

5. Changes in network technology

The growth of 4G wireless technology in 2010 could prompt some significant changes.

“Potentially, 4G could be very disruptive,” McNamara says, “because you could have everything wireless. You could talk to just about any device and know where it is and be able to communicate with it, which would have a lot of new applications relative to energy management.” Of course, 4G would first have to pick up sufficient interest in the consumer space before it could translate into automotive.

4. Off-the-shelf hardware and flexible programs

“When you start to get off-the-shelf hardware and flexible programs for managing the hardware, we’ll see a dramatic increase in the use of telematics,” predicts Myles H. Kitchen, automotive electronics consultant/analyst at M.H. Kitchen & Associates. Commercial vehicles are one area where this type of technology could attract considerable attention. Flexibility in frequencies for external communication will be key, with some systems using multiple frequencies and some sticking to just one. “There’s going to be all types of connections and data transmission schemes and so forth involved,” says Kitchen, “but if the system itself is seamless, it doesn’t matter.”

3. Breakthrough displays

New display technology will shake things up in the human-machine interface (HMI) area. The innovative use of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays is just one example of a potential game-changer; others will no doubt be shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. “There is a lot going on in display technology that could just revolutionize the ability for people to interact with a lot of information,” says McNamara.

2. Third-party software

Third-party software can be a serious disruption to the status quo, especially among the full-service suppliers in the auto industry. Many companies are relying on the availability of and willingness of third parties to develop software to enhance the value of their own offerings. “It’s about having an open platform that’s attractive for developers to develop software on,” stresses Dominique Bonte, director of telematics and navigation research at ABI Research. With the iPhone, for example, Apple has made a simple platform that is very attractive to developers, and now others—Nokia, Samsung, and Google with its Android system—are following suit.

1. Free apps and services

It’s hard to beat free for its disruptive potential. A free product or service from one company can quickly unravel the business model of another. In 2009, several companies played the free card to trump the business of their competitors. The impact of Google’s free turn-by-turn navigation for Android 2 operating systems is a case in point. Google’s move could stimulate others, especially large companies, to consider what they could offer for free. Car companies that sell expensive products are certainly in a position to be able to offer free apps; some, like Ford’s Sync, already do it. So expect a lot more freebies next year.

Randy Frank


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