Electronic Design

Telematics Set To Accelerate In The Fast Lane

Making telematics profitable is an ongoing struggle among automakers.

Making telematics profitable is an ongoing struggle among automakers. Add to that the controversy swirling around driver-distraction issues, and you wonder what the future holds for telematics. Judging by the confidence shown by hardware, software, system, and automotive manufacturers, though, it appears that the technology's horizon shines bright.

Developments in automotive telematics anticipate a large market. Car makers believe that ultimately more drivers will choose telematics. Still to be worked out is a price favorable to the end user, but it's becoming more affordable as evidenced by the success of GM's OnStar system (see Electronic Design, "OnStar System Puts Telematics On The Map," March 31, p. 49).

Both hardware and software suppliers are busy preparing for what they envision as a growing telematics market in the next few years. They foresee future cars with converging navigation systems, Internet connections, and entertainment systems. End-to-end networks based on a dynamic signal-delivery model will result, providing timely information, services, and entertainment to a car's occupants (Fig. 1).

Telematics suppliers are hard at work on many important aspects of the technology, including accurate voice recognition. They're using the latest ICs and software to improve voice-recognition technology so that built-in phones can distinguish between different speakers, road and radio noises, and lengthy and unclear phrases.

Sophisticated multimedia and navigation displays are now available on many high-end cars. They can unleash their full potential once telematics becomes standard on all cars, much like air conditioning and power windows (Fig. 2 and photo). Clearly, the technology to implement telematics is here. All that's missing is a way to instill the extra confidence in consumers that the returns from telematics are worth the few extra dollars.

Another big issue involves standardization. A standard for a voice portal is essential, a sort of HTML-type language for voice communications. This will let third-party vendors create applications that enable drivers to talk to the telematics head unit in the car and listen to its responses. Also needed is a standard that will permit any brand of cell phone to dock in any vehicle and tie it into radios and navigation systems.

Other standards exist that require development as well. One concerns the multimedia bus, which could work through a common gateway that connects to a vehicle's proprietary bus. A standard is also needed to let users connect to the system from their personal communications devices, wherever they may be.

To help facilitate the process, the Automotive Multimedia Interface Collaboration (AMI-C) (www.ami-c.org) was formed in 1999 by a consortium of automotive manufacturers and electronics suppliers to standardize telematics designs. Already it has released standards specifications that constituent members are trying to work with. These include Bluetooth, the Open Services Gateway Initiative (OSGi), the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), and the Controller Automotive Network (CAN).

Even software manufacturers are gearing up to tap into the telematics market. Some are working on security systems that prevent potential hackers outside of a Bluetooth-equipped vehicle from intercepting Bluetooth communications signals.

Maya Software Technologies (www.maya-st.com) believes that it has the answer to automotive telematics software security with its Virtual Private Network (VPN) for Automotive system (Fig. 3). This gateway, based on patent-pending encryption technology, accelerates cryptographic operations on low-CPU mobile appliances and embedded systems, provides end-to-end security, integrates with leading VPN gateways, and supports the IPsec/IKE security protocol.

Software giant Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) is already entrenched in the telematics market with its Windows CE operating system deployed in many U.S., European, and Japanese cars. It claims to have a leading role in supplying the automotive industry with dashboard electronics software for hands-free phone dialing, voice-recognition and text-to-speech capabilities, and traffic information and navigation aids. Its Windows Automotive 4.2 software, based on Windows C .Net 4.2, pipes in real-time weather alerts, driving directions, and other information over in-vehicle computing devices. It supports the Bluetooth version 1.1 standard and the IEEE 802.11 and 802.1x standards.

The Bluetooth standard is receiving lots of attention from the automotive telematics community. Bluetooth chip makers also are trying to penetrate what they view as a lucrative telematics marketchips for hands-free telephone communications within a car. Still, they have some technical hurdles to overcome, including cost, reliability, and RFI/EMI issues, as well as the ability of such chips to withstand the extreme temperature and shock environments encountered by automobiles.

Such barriers have retarded the introduction of Bluetooth chips in the telematics market. But that won't be for long. Companies have already produced improved automotive Bluetooth ICs that can operate from -40°C to 105ºC.

Expectations on the part of chip makers are high, with hands-free telephone communications the tip of the iceberg. Other potential automotive applications include advanced dealer-service diagnostics, as well as audio and video systems that can download music and movies from storefront kiosks.

One of the most important aspects of telematics is the issue of vehicle tire safety. Already introduced to the industry, tire safety systems monitor a tire's pressure and temperature, as well as other tire conditions, and feed that information to the driver on a vehicle's instrument panel. Someday, such smart tire systems could even do away with the search for compressed air at service stations.

Two methods are used to detect high or low tire pressure: indirect and direct. The former is less expensive, but it doesn't use on-board pressure sensors and is not as accurate. Wheel-speed sensors on antilock brakes enable a vehicle's computer to infer tire-pressure status by looking at one wheel that may be spinning faster than the other three. The direct method, which uses microelectromechanical-systems (MEMS) sensors in the tire or on the hub along with a transceiver to communicate with the instrument panel, is more accurate but costs more.

Many manufacturers of tire-pressure monitoring systems are waiting for the federal government to mandate which approach automakers should use. It's likely that a compromise will be decided, with the choice of either method possible for a limited number of car-model years, followed by a phase-in of the direct method. The government estimates that "smart-tire" systems could prevent more than 10,000 injuries and 70 deaths a year.

Telematics technology using available GPS systems will make future cars much safer and more enjoyable to ride in and drive. The technology has already been proven. Market demands will soon let it proliferate on a much larger scale.

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