Weekly Brief: Volvo hands Google keys to its infotainment

Volvo cars will soon come with Android built into the dashboard. Andrew Tolve reports.

Forget about mirroring your smartphone with Android Auto, Google has bigger plans in the dashboard:the company announced last week that the next generation of Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system will be built on Android. Exact timing is still a little fuzzy but in the coming years Volvo cars will feature Google Assistant as a central voice interface that allows drivers to control in-car functions like air conditioning and use apps to play music and send messages. Volvo cars will also feature Google Maps for real-time maps and traffic updates and the Google Play Store for third-party apps. All of this will be available to drivers whether or not they own an Android phone.

Why is Volvo handing over the reins? It’s no secret that most infotainment systems built by carmakers rank as the most flawed and troublesome parts of a modern vehicle(See Tested: Ford Edge Vignale 2.0 TDCI – premium tech for ‘the masses’). In acknowledging this, Volvo has an opportunity to accelerate innovation and gain a leg up on the competition, even if it means giving up some control of the infotainment experience in the process. Since the next generation of Sensus will run on Android, Volvo drivers will have access to far more and higher-quality apps and new apps and software updates will be available in real-time and can be automatically applied. Word has it that Audi is planning to make a similar announcement with Google in the coming months.

In other news,Opel is dropping OnStar in Europe for an in-house infotainment system called Opel Connect. Besides an emergency call, the connectivity offering will include connected navigation, vehicle diagnostics, stolen vehicle assistance, remote vehicle access and fleet management capabilities, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Opel Connect will be introduced on Opel passenger cars and light commercial vehicles beginning in 2019. OnStar will be phased out by the end of 2020 and, by 2024, Opel Connect will be available across the entire Opel model range.

Another week, another self-driving car service debuts in America. Two weeks ago, Lyft and Aptiv launched in Las Vegas. Last week California-based Drive.ai announced plans for a similar deployment in Frisco, Texas, where the company will offer free rides to the general public starting in July 2018 for six months. To control the trial, Drive.ai will operate within a geofenced area with fixed pick-up and drop-off locations. It plans to work in close collaboration with the city and the local transport authority while servicing at least 10,000 people.

A team of researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has come up with a way for self-driving cars to safely navigate country roads, no matter how winding or how many sheep might pop up along the way. The key is ditching maps and GPS, which other self-driving cars are completely dependent on, and instead fitting the car with inertia sensors and LiDARthat allow the vehicle to analyse and predict road conditions up to 100 feet ahead. It compares that with basic GPS data to determine its route forward. The team reports that MapLite has shown great promise in testing.

Last year Uber launched Uber Freight, which made it easy for independent trucking operators to connect with businesses needing to move freight. Now Uber has partnered with fleet management firm Wheels to give fleets visibility into their ride-hailing activity. The Wheels app will automatically capture trip details and related expenses for truckers so that they don’t have to write up a travel and expense report later. Once the information is captured, Wheels provides visibility through FleetView, their online fleet management system.

Finally, Volkswagen beefed up its VW Car-Net mobile app with a new feature that lets owners set curfew times and pings them the moment the vehicle is in motion after that hour (nota bene, parents). The app now also features Valet Alert, which notifies drivers if their valeted vehicles go more than 0.2 miles from the last parked location and off-street parking information powered by Parkopedia. The original app covers diagnostic information, fuel levels, remote door lock/unlock, and speed limit alerts.

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

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