Auto Electronics


New features and new system offerings are on the way as telematics technology continues its move to mainstream status.

Few New Telematics Chips have been announced in the past 12 months, indicating that design engineers' metaphorical plates may be sufficiently full. Evidence of engineers' accomplishments are the new features that automakers are adding to the telematics systems they currently offer and the new systems that are poised for launch.

Earlier this year, for example, Ford upgraded its SYNC system to include a 911 Assist feature that will be available for vehicle emergencies at no additional cost (Fig. 1). In the event of air bag deployment, presuming that a phone has been properly paired and is turned on and connected with SYNC, the system will be ready to assist in placing a call to a local 911 emergency operator.

The system will provide a 10-second window during which the driver can decide whether to place or cancel the call. A pre-recorded message will play when the call is answered, after which vehicle occupants will be able to communicate directly with the 911 operator. If the occupants are not responsive, the location of the vehicle can be determined through voice-signal triangulation or a cell phone's GPS location feature.

Ford also added SIRIUS Travel Link navigation, which provides information on gas prices as well as traffic, weather, sports scores, and movie listings. The automaker said that SYNC will be available in nearly all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles later this year. It estimated that nearly one million SYNC-equipped vehicles will be on the road in 2009.

SYNC customers will be able to use the SYNC web site to set up preferences for a Vehicle Health Report that can be requested at any time using voice commands. SYNC will gather relevant information from vehicle control modules and send that information to Ford via an 800-number, using the customer's mobile phone. Information transmitted from the vehicle is analyzed by Ford and made available to the customer via the SYNC web site. SYNC can prompt owners at mileage intervals when service is due.

“Consumers are increasingly demanding seamless connectivity between their house and office and car,” noted Sheryl Connelly, Ford Global Trends and Futuring manager. “They want to be able to access information ‘just in time’ or on-demand, because they are used to having access to it wherever they go. More than anything, they want to stay connected and informed.”

Ford's SYNC is powered by a 400 MHz Freescale i.MX31 multimedia applications processor that runs the Microsoft operating system, handles audio signal processing for hands-free phone operation, and provides voice-recognition functionality in the SYNC system. On-chip USB connectivity enables high-speed data transfer between the SYNC system and a mobile phone or portable media device, while Freescale's Smart Speed technology supports low power consumption. The Microsoft Auto platform includes a hardware reference design that supports the i.MX31.

General Motor's OnStar system is based on Freescale Power Architecture processors like the MPC5121e, Freescale's telematics workhorse (Fig. 2). The MPC5121e, part of the firm's mobileGT family, is a 32-bit system-on-chip that combines Power Architecture technology with 3-D graphics and multimedia acceleration cores. Based on an e300 core, the MPC5121e also includes a PowerVR MBX Lite 2-D/3-D graphics core and a programmable 32-bit RISC-based multimedia acceleration core optimized for audio processing.

Among the newest OnStar features is Stolen Vehicle Slowdown, expected to be available in 2009. The enhancement to OnStar's Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance capability allows OnStar advisors working with law enforcement to send a signal to a subscriber's stolen vehicle that will reduce its engine power so that the vehicle slows down gradually.

OnStar ranked first in the most recent Consumer Telematics Vendor Matrix prepared by ABI Research. Others in the top 10 are BMW AG, Nissan, Toyota, Mercedes Benz, BMW North America, Fiat Auto, Volvo, Land Rover, and Ford.

“Considerable progress has been made in consumer telematics solutions across the world with representatives from North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific in the top three,” said ABI Research principal analyst Dominique Bonte. “OnStar emerges as the clear market leader of consumer telematics solutions, excelling in both innovation — with the largest number of features — and implementation, with its solution offered on all GM models.”

Bonte noted that all of BMW's new vehicles in Europe will be equipped with Internet access as part of BMW's ConnectedDrive solution. He said that Nissan excels in innovation with its CarWings telematics solution offered in Japan. “It collects its own traffic data based on probe data, and has introduced social networking features.”

ABI assessed features such as infotainment, emergency calling, stolen vehicle tracking, roadside assistance and remote diagnostics. It also considered new features such as insurance solutions, social networking, and connectivity to external devices.

“After several years of moderate growth, consumer telematics solutions are expected to become very popular in the future as drivers start to appreciate the advantages of GPS and cellular communication technology for improved safety, comfort and entertainment,” Bonte said. ABI Research predicts that by 2013, OEM and aftermarket consumer telematics hardware and services will generate annual revenue of $41 billion, and more than 30 million new cars will ship with on-board telematics units, representing a penetration of nearly 44%.

“Car manufacturers will deploy telematics hardware as a standard feature enabling remote diagnostics, which reduces maintenance and repair costs,” Bonte suggested. “Governments will make telematics safety systems such as emergency calling mandatory in new cars in regions such as the EU. Insurance companies will provide premium discounts to drivers willing to install telematics systems to monitor their driving behavior and for stolen vehicle tracking and recovery.”

Barriers to widespread telematics adoption include cellular carriers' data communication costs, hardware costs attributable to a lack of standardization, and non-intuitive user interfaces, according to Bonte.

In-vehicle web browsing presents an opportunity for standardization according to telematics service provider ATX Group and the Connected Vehicle Trade Association (Fig. 3). The pair are inviting discussion on the topic and are planning to hold a forum during the Convergence conference in Detroit in October.

ATX is proposing to establish .car as a top-level domain for sites delivering web content to vehicles. It's also proposing a telematics firewall process to ensure protection of the vehicle from content delivered to in-vehicle browsers.

ATX provides telematics services to owners of vehicles from BMW, Maybach, PSA Peugeot Citroen, and Rolls-Royce. Mercedes-Benz USA, an ATX customer since 1999, plans to end its relationship with ATX in November 2009 and will partner instead with HUGHES Telematics, Inc.

Hughes is also developing a monitored telematics system for Chrysler that is expected to launch in 2009 (Fig. 4). According to early reports, it will be a Linux-based multiprocessor system with hands-free Bluetooth capabilities and multiple CAN interfaces. It is believed to include STMicroelectronics' NaviFlex platform technology, consisting of an ARM9-based Nomadik STn8810 processor with multiple DSP cores and an ARM7-based GPS tuner and baseband with embedded flash.

Other features include a satellite digital audio radio service (SDARS) chipset and Internet protocol support. The system is expected to use terrestrial cellular service for voice and point-to-point data communications, evolving to Wimax-like broadband capability. Hughes' roadmap includes two-way satellite capability (Fig. 5).

Continental designs and manufactures the telematics modules used in General Motors' OnStar and BMW's Assist, and currently used in Mercedes-Bens COMAND system. It also collaborated with Microsoft on Ford's SYNC. Herbert Halamek, vice president of Sales and Portfolio for Continental's Connectivity Business Unit, said Continental is helping to enable the transition of digital entertainment from the home and into the car. The firm is also working “to combine active and passive safety systems with wireless technology to enable cars to talk with each other and the roads in an effort to reduce congestion and enhance vehicle safety.”

Continental has developed a Multi Media Platform (MMP) that includes a car radio, CD/DVD player and navigation system, plus the ability to connect mobile phones and audio players wirelessly. The MMP uses Microsoft Auto software.

“Device-to-vehicle integration solutions are critical to the success of telematics offerings,” said Thilo Koslowski, vice president and automotive practice leader at Gartner. “Solutions that allow consumers to use their mobile devices and consumer personalized content in the automobile via a customized user interface will create differentiation for automobile manufacturers.”

Continental's Halamek said that in the future, the MMP could also provide updated information to other vehicle systems about the road ahead, road intersections, tight bends and topography in the form of an electronic horizon (eHorizon). When combined with other car-to-car and car-to-roadside applications, and active and passive vehicle safety systems, the MMP could provide the car with electronic reflexes to help people avoid critical driving situations.

Continental technology is also included in Cross Country Automotive Services' MERJ system, which offers emergency assistance, vehicle diagnostics, infotainment, connected navigation, and ETA alerts, among other services. Bill Tolhurst, Cross Country's senior director of telematics and LBS, said Continental provides “a seamless means to transform a mobile phone into a personalized connected navigation device that combines intelligent voice recognition, predictive navigation and points of interest information that anticipate a driver's needs.”

The first release of Cross Country's system will also feature a mobile GPS navigation solution from TeleCommunication Systems that provides real-time navigation based on addresses sent by Cross Country via SMS or entered via the Continental in-vehicle system and displayed on the Continental system. Macrovision's All Media Guide Holdings unit will provide music recognition and discovery technologies.

Further indication that telematics is moving toward mainstream vehicles is Microsoft's agreement with Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group to co-develop infotainment systems based on the Microsoft Auto software platform. The first product, planned for introduction in North America in 2010, will be a system that provides voice-controlled connectivity between mobile devices, allowing consumers to enjoy music in various digital formats. The product will launch later in Asian and European markets, and expand into multimedia and navigation devices. Microsoft and Hyunda-Kia described next-generation infotainment systems as comparable to mini-PCs, allowing functions to be added or upgraded in the form of software program updates.

ABI Research
ATX Group
Connected Vehicle Trade Association
Cross Country Automotive Services
Fiat Auto Group
Gartner Group
Hughes Telematics
KORE Telematics
Land Rover
Mercedes-Benz USA
PSA Peugeot Citroen
SIRIUS Satellite Radio
TeleCommunication Systems
Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group
Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.