No car unconnected – talking points from Connected Car California 2017

Xavier Boucherat presents the key takeaways from Connected Car California 2017, an event hosted by Automotive Megatrends

The smartphone-on-wheels analogy is hardly a new one, but it has proven robust. With more and more consumers demanding in-car connected services, the very idea of an unconnected car is fast becoming economically unviable. And yet experts gathered at Connected Car California 2017, an event hosted by Automotive Megatrends, agreed: the industry, and society at large, has only just begun to reap the potential benefits of connectivity. Here, Xavier Boucherat presents his main takeaways from that event.

Connectivity will change how OEMs do business…

OEMs may have no choice but to transform their business as a result of connectivity – that was the message from Kia’s Henry Bzeih. To date, the product-centric automotive industry has measured success in terms of vehicle sales and market share. This is unlikely to fly with debt-ridden millennials, who won’t hesitate to opt for the reliable and affordable mobility options that connectivity enables, such as car-sharing. According to Audi of America’s Anupam Malhotra, “The connectivity business model doesn’t focus on one transaction at the retail level. Instead, it’s the number of transactions that happen over multiple owner cycles where the vehicle is rented, or shared.”

…and how OEMs build cars

Connectivity means OEMs will need to design future-proof vehicles. As Toyota InfoTechnology Center’s John Kenney suggested, cars will have to be organic, re-programmable devices that can take advantage of further innovation after they leave the factory via over-the-air updates. Ford’s Don Butler agreed, but underlined that this would require a major change in mindset. Unlike mechanical engineers, who develop products to specifications, technology engineers need to factor in future changes: “If there’s a certain amount of processing power and memory needed to accomplish functions, it’s wrong to spec to just that – without extra headroom, there will be no way to update features.”

Similarly, OEMs – traditionally the hardware manufacturers – will need to embrace practices developed in the software world. Paul Asel of Nokia Growth Partners pointed out that a component like an airbag module can never afford to fail. But with new connected experiences, he believes OEMs must not be afraid to trial new ideas, let them fail and move on quickly.

DSRC is coming (but it’s not the only solution)

New cars already make use of multiple connectivity forms, including cellular, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, but tomorrow’s cars will also require a standardised language for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication.

Multiple speakers agreed that NHTSA is likely to mandate direct short-range communication (DSRC) – the Agency is already proposing mandating new V2V capability for all new vehicles by 2023. Some cellular industry groups, such as the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), argue that DSRC is out of date, and that cellular vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication could achieve lower latencies.

Looking beyond dependency on any one technology, Mindtree’s Prasanna Gopal suggested a combination of technologies. DSRC and 5G could co-exist in many situations, he said, enabling the industry to overcome coverage challenges and standardisation issues.

New technologies, new business opportunities

Connectivity will also create business opportunities for non-automotive players, for example in the sphere of infotainment. Michelle Avery, VP Automotive Products & Strategy at Aeris anticipates a variety of approaches, dependent upon vehicle type. Municipal buses, for example, will require a broadcast medium providing information, while chauffeured services might require personalised, on-demand content.

There will also be space for companies looking to help make the world’s ever-growing cities a smarter, safer, less stressful place for society. For example, a network of connected vehicles which could recognise empty spaces on the road, combined with connected infrastructure, could help to create smart parking solutions. Automated payment solutions for car-parks, bridges and toll roads could further speed up the flow of traffic, whilst improved car-sharing models could increase utilisation rates and take cars off the road.

The self-driving car – the ultimate connected car?

Many agree that an autonomous car cannot operate in isolation, particularly in urban environments. Whilst sensor technology is always improving, complex processing systems and reduced performance in poor weather conditions sstill create issues that need to be overcome. Solving these could be just one of the roles for vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and V2X communication. “The biggest advantage of V2I is that it brings in pre-processed data,” said Savari’s Ravi Puvvala. This data can be used by vehicles way ahead of typical crash scenarios such as four-way intersections. “V2X allows communication with traffic lights, around corners, and other use cases that are simply not possible on standard sensors.” Ultimately, it could enable capabilities that lend substance to Avery’s surprise suggestion: that human-driven cars could be banned from public roads a decade from now. It was the boldest statement of the event, but on reflection, perhaps not that far-fetched.