Weekly Brief: eCall nears finish line of decade-long marathon, faces final vote in April

In this week’s Brief: European Parliament, U.K. Department of Transport, Ford, Microsoft, QNX, Tesla, U.K. Chancellor George Osborne, Alibaba, SAIC Motor, Baidu, Google, Apple, South by Southwest 2015, Vinli, GM, Toyota, and Stanley Law Group.


So it’s come to this: After more than a decade of proposals, pilots, draft rules and delays, eCall will be put to a final vote before European Parliament at a plenary session in Strasbourg in April.


Internal market members of parliament green-lighted a final set of draft rules for the emergency call system last week by a vote of 26 to three. The draft rules specifically address carmakers and state that all new car models sold in the E.U. are to be equipped with eCall technology from March 31, 2018. Separate rules, which entered into force at the end of June 2014, require E.U. member states to ensure that they have the infrastructure needed to handle all eCalls in place throughout the E.U. by October 1, 2017.


Whether the full parliament approves eCall is still anyone’s guess. The U.K. has vocally opposed the regulations, declaring that it will not participate even if the rest of the E.U. moves forward given the cost of implementation (which the U.K. Department of Transport predicted at £370 million) and redundancy with existing and planned smart motorway technologies. Other countries have stated reservations as well, making the full vote in April as unpredictable and exciting for us telematics folks as, say, a European Championship for football fanatics.


In other news, Ford announced a new cloud-based delivery platform that it will use to send over-the-air software updates to its vehicles around the world. The big surprise? Microsoft will power the network. Clearly the two have patched things up after Ford kicked Microsoft to the curb for QNX when designing Sync 3. The Ford Service Delivery Network will run on Microsoft Azure.


Tesla took over auto headlines yet again, this time with news that the Model S will become a self-driving car within the next three months. Yes, you heard that correctly. What’s more, the upgrade won’t even demand that Tesla drivers make a physical trip to a Tesla dealership, as the carmaker will be sending out an autopilot software update to Model Ss sometime in the near future. Elon Musk, the outspoken CEO of Tesla, says that the feature for now will operate like an assisted cruise control in highway environments and will appear in version 7 software for the Model S by summer. “We can almost drive from San Francisco to Seattle without touching the controls,” he said as a teaser at a press conference announcing version 6.2 software last week.


Sticking with self-driving cars, the British government pledged £100 million to support autonomous vehicle pilots, infrastructure, and testing centres. U.K. Chancellor George Osborne announced the funding as part of a new budget that also included measures to support low-emission vehicles with lower taxes. Osborne wants the U.K. to stay “ahead in the race to driverless technology.” Other European nations have recently stepped up with major pledges of their own to support self-driving car pilots (the Netherlands) and self-driving car development (Germany).


On the Asian front, Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba launched a $160 million joint venture with Chinese carmaker SAIC Motor. The two plan to build Internet-connected cars together, with the first model to debut next year. Alibaba follows in the footsteps of Chinese Internet search company Baidu, and of course the likes of Google and Apple stateside, in trying to stake out valuable territory in the connected car realm.


At South by Southwest 2015, Vinli debuted a new device “that can turn any car into a connected car.” The device plugs into the OBDII port and offers pay-as-you go Wi-Fi over LTE networks. It also makes it easy to set up geo-perimeters around neighborhoods or cities so that parents can easily monitor a teenager’s driving use, with the built-in accelerometer notifying when the car exceeds a certain speed threshold. Vinli says it’s actively encouraging third-party development of apps for the device around the world. Pre-order price is set at $149, with an option for advanced crash response capabilities at an additional $2.99 per month.


Finally, remember that streak of cyber security hacks back in January and February? Well, the first class action lawsuit has come out of it, and two of America’s Big Three are in there (Ford and GM), plus Toyota. Stanley Law Group claims in its filing in the U.S. District Court of California that all three automakers were well aware how susceptible their vehicles were to cyber hacking due to poor security in their CAN-bus-equipped cars. SBD has a good break down of why the lawsuit is likely to fail, but as it notes, carmakers better lawyer up, because this is the first suit of what’s bound to be many.

You may also be interested in TU-Automotive Detroit 2015 – the world’s No.1 conference & exhibition dedicated to the future of the connected car and innovation in automotive technology.

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