Weekly Brief: Introducing Android Auto

In this week’s Brief: Google, Apple, Volvo, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota, IBM, Honda America, J.D. Power, Alllianz France, TomTom, Mitsubishi, SoftKinetic, Melexis and Ford.


Game on. That was the implicit message that Google sent Apple last week from its annual I/O developer conference in San Francisco, where Google unveiled Android Auto, a new infotainment platform to rival Apple CarPlay. Like CarPlay, which came out earlier this year, Android Auto harnesses the connectivity and apps of a smartphone docked in a car’s center console and enlarges the screen to fit the car’s dashboard display. From there, users of Android Auto have in-vehicle control of everything from navigation via Google Maps to music via Google Play Music to messaging via texts. The system is fully voice-chat enabled, with steering-wheel and touch-screen controls available as well.


The fact that Android Auto was one of three big platform announcements this year at Google I/O — Google Fit and Android TV being the other two — goes to show how much focus Google plans to devote to the car in the coming years and how eager it is to quash any first-to-market advantage that Apple may have enjoyed with CarPlay. Google says that 40 automakers around the world have agreed to carry the unit, including Volvo, Honda andHyundai, who have already committed to embracing Apple CarPlay as well. The first units should be on the market before the end of 2014.


In other news, Toyota revealed more about its new T-Connect telematics system that will debut this summer in Japan. The carmaker says that it has selected IBM to build and design a new application development platform for T-Connect that will bring together an ecosystem of mobile app developers and content providers to provide content for T-Connect. The ultimate goal is to foster better collaboration and improved apps for in-car services within T-Connect.


Honda Americameanwhile responded to news that consumers ranked its in-vehicle infotainment and connectivity solutions among the lowest on the market last year. That according to the latest J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. Honda jumped out in front of the news, announcing that it plans to recommit itself to connectivity and telematics and raise the bar across its offerings. Easier said than done, of course, although we’ll see what concrete steps the automaker makes in the coming year.


On the insurance telematics front, Alllianz France selected TomTom to underpin its new motor insurance offer: Allianz Conduite Connectée. The Allianz solution helps French consumers assess their driving by providing actionable insights via a new smartphone app. The app also lets policyholders easily request roadside assistance. TomTom’s telematics platform processes a range of vehicle and driving performance data for the app, recorded by the TomTom LINK 100 in the vehicle, which Allianz France policy holders can self-install in the vehicle’s diagnostics port of their car. The product is now available.


In infotainment, Mitsubishi introduced a new flexible audio-video bridging (AVB) system that allows different screens in a vehicle to play different entertainment. The FLEXConnect AVB system features two rear seat screens with cameras that operate as independent units while still being connected through the Ethernet AVB architecture. The system supports Wi-Fi connectivity and can be used with multiple smartphones or tablets.


3D vision and gesture-recognition specialistsSoftKinetic and Melexis released a 3D sensor for automobile safety and infotainment markets. Forgive the device its forgettable name — the MLX75023 — but the sensor makes up for it as the highest resolution 3D sensor available on the market today, enabling drivers to adjust the temperature and radio, for example, or make a phone call, using simple gestures and without taking their eyes off the road. Additional capabilities allow for driver behavior monitoring as well as context awareness.


Finally, Ford announced plans to beef up Ford Sync with a more robust emergency call feature. 911 Assist will now use a mobile phone connected to SYNC to call 911 directly when needed. With enhanced data, the system will provide more detail about a crash to aid in the dispatch of the appropriate resources. For example, if a dispatcher knows that both front safety belts were fastened at the time of a high-speed collision, he or she may decide to send an additional ambulance directly to the scene. Ford says that 911 Assist requires customer consent to enable the feature when initially pairing a cellphone to SYNC, and the customer has the option to cancel the call before it is placed. 911 Assist features will debut on the 2015 Ford Mustang.


The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.


Andrew Tolve is a regular TU contributor.

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