Auto Electronics

Emerging Vehicle Technologies and Services

Emerging technologies and associated services to enhance the productivity and entertainment attributes of the automobile experience are at various phases of innovation, incubation and implementation. For example, navigation in its various forms — real-time or non-real time, map-based displays or turn-by-turn route assistance — are examples where information plays a defining role in enhancing the convenience or improving productivity experience while in a vehicle.

Another attribute that is undergoing a metamorphosis is automotive security. There is nothing new about locking cars but transforming the locking function into a service that is human-centered is a new opportunity. Who wouldn't mind a car that automatically locked and unlocked itself upon recognizing you?

As an industry, we face challenges in addressing the emerging automotive infotainment and security needs, but we also have an ocean of opportunities ahead of us. The consumer is in for exciting times — plug and play entertainment in the form of portable audio, video, games and text on demand — wirelessly downloadable; navigation systems, real-time traffic and other roadside information — all upgradeable over the ownership duration of a vehicle.

What is stopping the automotive industry from delivering on this convergence of information, entertainment and security systems? There are two significant challenges: One is the technology and the other involves the processes. As we take an end-to-end view, beginning with system creation, and progressing to design, development, manufacturing, assembly, sales and life-cycle management, one sees the gaps in technologies and processes that need to be filled in order to make the delivery of infotainment systems viable.

Even if the component technologies such as an MP3 player or a hand-held navigation system are ready, the system technologies such as an integrated solution that allows an MP3 player and navigation units to cohabit and share the interior “utilities” of the vehicle, are yet to mature. The utilities include power supply, input and output devices such as buttons, knobs, sliders, loudspeakers and video displays. These system technologies are software intense and demand a redesign of software systems and tools for requirements capture, modeling, verification, validation, testing, bundling, deployment, maintenance and upgrade. Other than in the powertrain function where software has been designed and written in-house by many of the major carmakers, software as an entity in its own right is a relative newcomer in the automotive industry, which has traditionally viewed automotive components in terms of hardware modules.

From a process standpoint, infotainment and emerging security components demand fast development cycles to match the relatively short life periods, about 18 months, of their associated technologies, compared to the 120 months for an automobile. If the infotainment specifications are created 60 months in advance, their features will be obsolete when the vehicles reach the showroom. Even if one manages to create the specifications in time for production, the challenge is not over because one must have the means of supporting late-stage customization and updating features as they “age” over the ownership of the vehicle. The industry has recognized this and is working pre-competitively and competitively in several ways.

Examples of pre-competitive collaborations include the Automotive Open System Architecture (AUTOSAR) development partnership, the Open Services Gateway Initiative (OSGi) alliance and the Automotive Multimedia Interface Collaboration or AMI-C. Over the past two years there have been several products and concepts — BMW's iDrive™-based products, Lincoln's “Wi-Fi” Aviator concept — that are beginning to manifest the emerging product value of the convergence of infotainment and security technologies.

As a consumer-driven industry, we'll do what it takes to find the answers to deliver the products and services that help our customers better manage and enjoy their driving experience.


K. Venkatesh Prasad is the founding leader of Ford Motor Company's Infotronics Technologies Group — a globally distributed activity the company established in 1998, within the Ford Research and Advanced Engineering Organization. Prasad is responsible for the research and accelerated development of a broad spectrum of end-to-end communications and in-vehicle computing technologies.

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