Auto Electronics

Telematics resurgence

Everyone is interested in what's new in electronics. This is true of the decision makers in the automotive industry who travel to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to see the new electronic gadgets. CES, held in the Las Vegas Convention Center each January, is the biggest technology and consumer product trade show in the United States with more than 150,000 attendees and 2,500 exhibitors. This is the place to see new electronic consumer products, and to identify what electronic gadgets have potential as future car accessories.

An important trend that is going unnoticed is the resurgence of telematics. Telematics, in the mind of most customers, is identified with GM's Onstar, which is the ability of the vehicle to use cellular and built-in GPS to receive information from a service provider relevant to the vehicle's location. These location-based services range from emergency response, traffic, weather, navigation to points of interest. Unlocking your doors from your cell phone through your service provider and receiving daily diagnostic reports are examples of two-way wireless. For several years after the demise of ill-advised serviced-based business, such as Ford Motor Company's Wingcast, the vision of every vehicle being equipped with built-in wireless had fallen from favor.

Why should we be confident in the resurgence of telematics? First, is the promise of affordable wireless connectivity in spite of the diversity (and complexity) of wireless standards — CDMA, GSM, Wi-Fi and WiMAX. Second, is the development of several wireless-enabled applications for safety and improved mobility. In November 2003, the USDOT announced the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) initiative, and the FCC allocated spectrum at 5.9 GHz for dedicated short-range communications (DSRC). The intent is to improve transportation safety, and to provide navigation and eCommerce features. The VII system promises to deliver a range of telematics (mobility and safety applications) co-existing on the same wireless national network. This fall, roadside equipment will be mounted along several miles of I96 in Detroit to test this infrastructure ( The VII-enabled features range from traffic advisory information (e.g., congestion ahead), toll payment and off-board navigation, to ePayment features (parking and gas).

Not only will these telematics features be enabled, but new intersection safety applications will use DSRC to allow vehicles to warn drivers of imminent intersection collisions. These cooperative collision-warning systems are being developed and tested through the Cooperative Intersection Collision Avoidance System (CICAS) ( The automotive manufacturers are working with the USDOT and state departments of transportation to test these safety systems to address the intersection crash problems. Vehicles equipped with high speed and secure DSRC wireless communicate with each other and the roadside to get a map of the intersection and to locate any vehicles that could collide with your vehicle. But how will DSRC and other wire-less technologies be affordable and seamlessly integrated into the vehicle? For safety applications, many think that vehicles will come with DSRC built into the vehicle, but the issue is how will the roadside infrastructure be funded? Urban areas will see the deployment of RSEs starting in 2010 and then a rollout nationally by 2012.

New mobility features, such as traffic and off-board navigation, can be affordable by the integration of a customer's smart-phone with the car's electrical systems, the data buses and, therefore, have access to the speakers and important vehicle information.

Ford with Microsoft at this year's CES, announced the Sync product that promises universal connections, the ability to connect any phone, PDA or iPod to the car. Either Bluetooth or USB can be used for a high-speed connection to the vehicle for streaming data to vehicle's speakers.

The industry efforts, namely VII and CICAS, and the market acceptance of the smart phone compel us to expect a resurgence of telematics.


Dave McNamara in 2006 launched his consulting business, McNamara Technology Solutions, and is working with clients in the area of active safety and automotive wireless technology. Prior to his retirement from the Ford Motor Company in February 2006, Dave was the manager of Advanced Infotainment Systems part of Ford's Research and Innovation Center located in Dearborn, MI.

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