In-vehicle telematics and navigation En Route to mainstream status

July 1, 2005
System costs are dropping as GPS hardware approaches maturity; meanwhile, automakers are mulling ways to leverage automotive telematics technology in ways that could lower warranty costs.

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PRICE AN IN-VEHICLE TELEMATICS AND NAVIGATION SYSTEM at $500 or less and everyone will want it, according to Cliff Fox, vice president and general manager of Chicago-based NAVTEQ's vehicle business unit. He said system costs are in the $1,500 to $2,000 range. He estimated that portable navigation systems available for upward of $700 would sell for $500 or less within the next 12 months. In-vehicle systems, which have to withstand temperature extremes and last about as long as a vehicle does, will take longer to reach the magic number.

Fox is optimistic about prospects for telematics and navigation technology between now and then. He says the market grew by anywhere from 100% to 200% per year from 1996 to 1999, and has continued to grow by 40% or more since then. Approximately 6% of vehicles sold in North America are equipped with telematics and navigation technology. In Japan, which Fox estimates is seven years ahead of North America, half of all vehicles include telematics and navigation.

“The units out there are performing well,” Fox said. “More than 80% of current navigation system users say they would buy again. They're satisfied with performance, in terms of getting from ‘point A’ to ‘point B.’ What's coming, according to Fox and other telematics market executives, is an even richer experience. “Systems are going to be easier to use, with voice response, for example, instead of pushing buttons,” Fox said, “and in addition to costing less, systems will have more capabilities.” Desire is strongest for dynamic routing, according to Fox. Today's systems provide routing, “but it's at the driver's risk, because systems don't have sufficient information on traffic flow.”

The research firm Strategy Analytics (Newton, Mass.) defines telematics as two-way cellular, microwave or GPS communications that link a vehicle with the outside world for delivery of data services such as navigation, traffic information, emergency roadside assistance, and security. Clare Hughes, an automotive analyst in the firm's Milton Keynes, U.K. office, cited as examples Europe's radio data system traffic message channel (RDS TMC), ITIS and Trafficmaster in the U.K., Mediamobile and ViaMichelin in France, and T-Mobile Traffic and PTV in Germany.

Deployment of telematics technology in North America has focused more on safety than on navigation, reflecting the presence of General Motors' OnStar, the largest telematics service. “There's been basic navigational assistance and traffic information,” said David Schrier, an analyst at ABI Research Inc. (Oyster Bay, NY), referring to the technology's emergence over the past nine years.

“Safety systems cut response times down,” he said. “ATX says one-third of all accidents don't require emergency assistance, but that means that two-thirds do.” Schrier said the lack of a pan-European safety system has delayed adoption there; a condition that the eCall initiative should remedy by the end of the decade.

“In Japan, the three main telematics service providers — Nissan Car-wings, Toyota G-Book and Honda InterNavi Premium Club — have focused on delivering enhanced navigation and entertainment services.” Schrier said Toyota G-Book's newest “Alpha” offering, which introduces automation crash notification, positions that service to compete in North America.

“There are big differences in global markets,” concurred Jon Cropley, automotive market analyst at IMS Research (Wellingborough, U.K.). “In Europe and North America, the focus is more on a house than on a car. In Japan, however, there's great interest in automotive technology. One reason is that the address system in Japan creates a stronger need for navigation systems. Another is that OEMs in Japan have supplemented navigation with Internet access, so when a car isn't moving, a driver can check e-mail or browse the Internet.”

GPS chipmaker SiRF Technology Holdings Inc. (San Jose, Calif.) is riding the crest of the telematics and navigation wave. To support the development of lower-cost systems, SiRF introduced SiRFstarIIA, a system-on-chip that combines GPS functionality with peripheral interface circuitry for entry-level telematics systems. The chip leverages sensor data gathered elsewhere in a vehicle, thus eliminating the need for external sensors dedicated to GPS. The chip complements the company's SiRFDRive2 GPS/Dead Reckoning software.

Kanwar Chadha, SiRF founder and vice president of marketing, said the system-on-chip should accelerate the growth of auto navigation and telematics markets by enabling a new class of high-performance radio navigation systems at price points comparable to those of portable navigation systems. SiRF supplies GPS technology to LG Electronics for General Motors' OnStar system, the largest telematics service provider. SiRF last month acquired Motorola Inc.'s GPS chipset product lines, including the MG2000 telematics chip, for $20 million. As part of the deal, SiRF will supply chips to Motorola.

Motorola has supplied telematics technology since it joined Ford and Westinghouse in the RESCU emergency messaging system for the 1996 Lincoln Continental. Motorola also began working with OnStar in 1996, and in 2003 introduced a CDMA-based telematics control unit for OnStar.

Also a factor in the telematics and navigation market, automotive semiconductor supplier Freescale Semiconductor (Austin, Texas) introduced the MPC5200B, an 885 MIPS telematics and automotive infotainment processor (Figure 1), a development platform (Media5200) and an evaluation board (Lite5200B). The device is based on mobileGT architecture and is pin- and software-compatible with Freescale's earlier MPC5200. Anand Ramamoorthy, general manager of Freescale's infotainment, multimedia and telematics business, said most architectures that support advanced multimedia applications are multicore solutions or processor/DSP combinations, whereas the MPC5200B hosts all applications on a single PowerPC core. The single-core design allows the processor to execute system applications efficiently, while helping shorten product development time and reduce total system cost. Ramamoorthy said the MPC5200B could unite in-car infotainment and navigation applications. “Features like front-seat navigation can work in tandem with rear-seat entertainment and the processor can do this with performance to spare for additional applications,” he said. The chip can handle next-generation 3-D navigation systems as well as audio compression decode/encode, and video decode for rear seat entertainment.

Flexibility is the key to success for semiconductor suppliers in telematics and navigation markets, according to Volker Politz, vice president of the Automotive Business Unit at Renesas Technology America Inc. (San Jose, Calif.). To accommodate regional markets around the world, Renesas offers solutions at three levels — telematics, navigation and high-end navigation — all based on the 32-bit SH4 processor (Figure 2). “Within each stream, we have a processor that we're currently shipping, a next-generation device in development, and one after that in specification,” he noted.

“In Japan, the focus is on navigation and entertainment functionality, so we offer a highly integrated chip with 400 MHz or better processing power, a 3-D graphics engine and a broad peripherals set,” Politz said. “For another market we might strip away everything except basic interfacing, like PCI, so customers can take our number-crunching engine and put whatever hardware around it they need.” The third stream, which targets the North American market, is “classic telematics,” according to Politz, with a high-performance processor, a small display, speech recognition, and a number of integrated peripherals.

“Our assessment is that everywhere in the world, applications such as navigation are gaining momentum,” Politz said. “The biggest market for navigation is Japan, but we can see an uptake in the U.S. market. We are confident that the market will continue to grow.”

As in other semiconductor markets, partnerships are common in telematics and navigation. Paris-based Parrot S.A., for example, partnered with Atmel Corp-oration (San Jose, Calif.) on the Parrot4 automotive communication management chipset, which supports GSM/GPRS, Bluetooth and GPS, and enables hands-free operation of Bluetooth devices in vehicles. The chipset is manufactured using Atmel's CMOS technology that consumes no more than 13uA in standby mode, and between 10 mA and 100mA in operation. It includes an embedded DSP core. Product marketing manager Jean-Luc Gonzalez said the chipset expands the scope of hands-free systems from in-car mobile communications into PDA-centric GPS navigation and workable Java/IP off-board telematics.

In another collaboration, electronic system design house Plextek Ltd. (Essex, U.K.) earlier this year announced a reference design for a 1-DIN, in-vehicle telematics control unit based on wireless technology from Wavecom (Issy-les-Moulineaux, France). The ready-to-manufacture design includes GPS positioning, data processing and storage, an odometer, and a smart card reader for toll system applications, in addition to GSM/GPRS wireless connectivity. Options include FM radio, CD and MP3 playback, Bluetooth connectivity, and an external audio input. The design is compatible with GSM/GPRS, CDMA, and DSRC wireless standards, and can be adapted for use with European Union services such as eCAll and eSafety.

XM Satellite Radio partnered with NAVTEQ to develop XM NavTraffic in 20 markets last fall. The service, covering 22 markets, is a standard feature on the 2005 Acura RL and part of the DVD navigation option on the 2005 Cadillac CTS. Pioneer markets an XM NavTraffic aftermarket receiver. XM Rival Sirius Satellite Radio (New York) plans to introduce traffic data later this year, according to Jim Collins, vice president of corporate communications.

“We're a data transmission technology. All our programs are in digital format,” Collins said. Sirius' service will require a separate receiver with a larger screen. It won't be a GPS service, according to Collins, but will help drivers find their way. Additional telematics-type services are possible, such as unlocking doors, but rear seat video holds a higher priority. Sirius has more than 1.5 million subscribers and anticipates having 2.7 million by the end of the year. XM has approximately four million subscribers and expects to have 5.5 million. Subscribers to either service may be predisposed to purchase additional services, but two-way communication poses a formidable challenge for satellite signal services.

A basic XM or Sirius service plan costs a subscriber $12.95 per month. General Motors' OnStar, the largest telematics service, offers a Safe & Sound plan for $16.95 per-month that includes airbag deployment notification, remote diagnostics, stolen vehicle location assistance and remote door unlock. Driving directions are available in a $34.95 Directions & Connections plan. GM announced in January that OnStar will be a standard feature on all GM light vehicles sold in North America by 2007, with no additional subscription fee for the safety service in the first year.

Safety and security are the most significant applications today, ac-cording to Steve Millstein, president and CEO of ATX (Irving, Texas), the second largest provider of telematics services. “There will be more remote vehicle access services that allow drivers to interact with their vehicles, with better human-machine interfaces than are available today,” he said. The additional data-driven capabilities, which do not require human operator involvement, will be built into the cost of basic telematics services.

“One example is the ability to ventilate a vehicle and have it warm or cool by the time the driver gets in, or to roll up the windows if a storm is coming. This could be activated from a laptop or a cell phone or PDA. These are things that people have told us they want, and car companies know that people want to.”

In Millstein's view, however, remote vehicle access is part of a market opportunity with much broader potential — vehicle relationship management. “OEMs generally believe that there is greater value — a greater return on investment in having connectivity to processors in car than there is in providing front seat services.”

The concept has been tested. “Today, we can get real-time mileage from cars,” Millstein said, adding that the ability to collect real-time vehicle performance data can change the ways that automakers do business. Potentially, it can improve vehicle reliability and customer service while simultaneously lowering warranty costs. “And the investment (in enabling technology and infrastructure) has already been made.”

The value of vehicle relationship management is likely to increase along with the electronic content of vehicles. “Today, if a mirror cracks or breaks, a driver can put duct tape on it and keep going; only go to the dealer when it's absolutely necessary,” Millstein suggested. “It's a different story when mirrors are replaced with cameras and screens. (When) the driver gets a blue screen, the dealer and the OEM want to know right away and be able to reboot it to make it work.

“Telematics is going to change the way that cars are sold and serviced,” he said, “and the generations that have grown up being connected for their entire lives are going to want it, because they won't want to take their car in for service any more often than they take their laptop.”


John Day writes regularly about automotive electronics and other technology topics. He holds a BA degree in liberal arts from Northeastern University and an MA degree in Journalism from Penn State. He is based in Michigan and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].


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