Connected car platforms ‘must be customised and owned by OEMs’

During a keynote at Connected Car Pune, Microsoft discussed in-car connectivity and the need for OEM-specific solutions. By Michael Nash

Connected car features are hitting the market thick and fast, but in order to differentiate from the competition, OEMs will need to ensure they offer specific features catered to individual customers.

Connected opportunities

“The automotive industry is getting disrupted by a couple of things,” Ankur Agarwal, Microsoft’s IDG Chief Technology Officer for Cross-Domain Solution Architecture, told the audience at the recently held Connected Car Pune event. “The first is the connectivity piece. By 2025, 100% of new cars will be connected. What it means is that some aspect of the car will be connected, be it the car talking to another car, to the infrastructure or to the Cloud. It basically understands what is happening.”

Several OEMs offer a remote unlock feature

This is allowing OEMs to add various features to the car. One that has been widely explored already today is remote keyless entry. “There is a control pattern where we send some information or command to the car, and the car can work on that command. A simple  example is that while I’m sitting here with my car in the car park, if it is connected I can press a button on my smartphone to unlock it.”

Like many experts, Agarwal thinks that connectivity will play an important role in the ride-sharing trend. “We’re seeing a lot of growth in Ola and Uber in India,” he noted. “By 2025, 22% of all miles driven will be shared rides. People who own cars will also use these services.”

He described a scenario whereby people receive messages in the morning via their smartphones, explaining that parking spaces are in short supply and asking if they would therefore like to share an Ola with co-workers or people travelling in the same direction.

“There is an opportunity there even with people who own cars,” Agarwal suggested. On a regular working day, private cars often sit idle in the car park for most the day. “If I know that there is a driver who has a driving pattern similar to mine, and if I trust that driver based on data coming from the system in the car, I would probably let that person use my car,” he added.

This could provide car owners with an additional source of income. Using connected car features, the owner could receive information on the vehicle’s location, its mileage, and what time it will arrive back at the office.

“Technology can enable these scenarios, and that’s why there is an opportunity for OEMs to look and see if they want to get into fleet management services,” Agarwal stated.

Optimising design

Using data sourced from connected cars, Agarwal believes that OEMs could design the car and include certain features based on customer usage and needs. This, he suggested, could be vital for brand loyality.

“With the connected car, the OEM will know the way in which the driver is using it based on the data it generates,” he said. “For example, a driver might spend two hours on the road every day to and from the office. The OEM could identify ways of making this person productive in the car during that period, organising meetings and responding to emails, but without getting distracted.”

BMW and Microsoft recently started offering Skype for Business as part of their ‘Open Mobility’ platform

In July 2017, BMW and Microsoft announced that they would expand the ‘Open Mobility’ platform that they announced in 2016 to include Skype for Business. This allows drivers to schedule meetings and take phone calls using BMW’s iDrive system and voice commands.

Speaking to Automotive World, Agarwal said that Microsoft is working on voice control recognition. However, the technology is still evolving. “Cortana does work in certain scenarios, but I wouldn’t say it works for all Indian accents,” he admitted. “I think it’s a learning curve, and it goes for all technologies today that use machine learning – the more it hears different accents and pronunciations, the better it will understand.”

He also thinks that connectivity could prevent the vast majority of vehicle breakdowns from occurring: “Before taking a long trip, the driver will normally go into the service centre and ask if the car is okay. But what if the car could tell you that itself? We also need proactive alerts that tell the driver that there will be a problem soon, so it requires maintenance work.”

The big ecosystem

For all this to happen, however, partnerships and collaborations across the industry will be vital, and Agarwal expects to see a growing number of companies working together on connected car solutions. “It requires an ecosystem,” he stated. “It won’t happen just with OEMs or just with Tier 1 suppliers or technology providers – they must all come together.”

However, despite the need for collaboration, Agarwal thinks that connected car platforms must be specific to each and every OEM. “We have a base platform that has these connected car capabilities, but then there must be OEM-specific features. This is the key part – the connected vehicle platform must be customised for and owned by the OEM. When we look at things like in-car productivity, it will be different with BMW and for Daimler, for example. There will be aspects that will be very specific for certain OEMs.”

With numerous connected car features and business opportunities opening up due to ride-sharing and the potential deployment of autonomous vehicles, Agarwal is confident that OEMs will use customised platforms to differentiate from the competition and provide customers with unique features catered to their individual needs.