From connected cars to connected services

Automotive World talks to Harman about navigating the automotive software market as the connected car comes to prominence. By Xavier Boucherat and Martin Kahl

Harman made assertive strides into the field of automotive connectivity in January 2015, when it officially announced it would acquire the Israel-based Red Bend Software, which specialises in mobile software management, and Symphony Teleca (STC), a privately held global software services company. Where Red Bend brought new technology, and specifically, over-the-air (OTA) update capability, STC brought the scale and size that would help Harman to realise its connected car vision.

This marked the creation of the Harman Connected Services Group, which combines the efforts of Red Bend and STC with Harman’s previous developments in the connected sphere. This included work in infotainment and analytics, such as Aha Radio. The acquisition also gave Harman access to OEM and Tier 1 customers it previously didn’t have. Around 1,300 of the group’s 8,000 staff work within the automotive vertical, developing service applications such as maps, content provision, analytics and over-the-air technologies. The other two verticals cover software-enabled businesses, and mobile and connected.

Dean Miles, Senior Vice President and Head of Automotive Sales in the Connected Services division, explains that the aim of the acquisitions was not to bring in engineers for Harman’s pre-existing projects. Instead, they would function as a service arm for customers, with a focus on external rather than internal and existing business.

This has reshaped STC and Red Bend’s focus, says Miles. Tier 1s working to acquire customers within automotive connectivity are far more focused on what their software could deliver – in other words, product is king.

“Customer acquisition depends on the quality of your software,” he says. “The manufacturing has become sort of secondary. If you look at what the Connected Car group is offering today, it’s all around what the user is doing in the vehicle and how they are touching the outside world. It’s less about us trying create silicon that’s 100% more efficient, or has a lower warranty.”

To a certain extent, he adds, this trend is also visible in the way OEMs market cars. The message consumers now frequently encounter is connectivity-based, heavily pushing a vehicle’s driving experience. “Clearly the engine still needs to work,” he says, “and in the same way, Harman still needs to produce high quality silicon and hardware. But really, the future’s about the software that sits on top of it.”

We see the seamless utilisation and integration of Cloud solutions and connected car solutions as critical going forward

For this reason, Harman is cautious in the way it markets its automotive offerings, preferring to avoid using terms such as Internet of Things (IoT). The focus, says Miles, is on the specific products and services available, and not the wider concepts around them. IoT is instead more appropriate for Harman Connected Services’ other verticals, such as mobile.

“What does an automotive customer want to talk about?” asks Miles. “The connectivity in the Internet of Things, and bringing cars to the Internet? No, they want to talk about the benefits and the services that they can deploy to their customers.”

The avoidance of the term IoT is intentional, agrees Phil Eyler, Harman’s Executive Vice President and President of the company’s Connected Car division. “Obviously we see the seamless utilisation and integration of Cloud solutions and connected car solutions as critical going forward, and that’s why we’re rolling out our next-generation Harman LIVS platform.”

LIVS, or Life-Enhancing Intelligent Vehicle Solution, is a platform developed by Harman to accommodate previously separate or standalone connectivity solutions. LIVS was unveiled on the Rinspeed Etos concept car, which had a prime spot in the Harman booth at CES 2016. LIVS, says Eyler, can be tailored to an individual OEM customer’s requirements. It is scalable and ready for mainstream use.

Automotive customers want to talk about the benefits and the services that they can deploy to their customers

Nonetheless, it is the IoT that makes Harman’s services possible. As one of the world’s leading suppliers to the connected car software market, how is it going to mitigate the looming cyber security risks?
Security? Who cares?

In recent years, OEMs have been fairly quiet on the matter of automotive cyber security. Does this amount to them burying their heads in the sand? Miles suggests that part of the reason why few definitive statements on the subject have emerged from the industry is the low interest from consumers, many of whom assume the cyber security is perfectly adequate, much as they might expect their car to come equipped with airbags.

However, Miles believes this is starting to change. Whilst the majority of floor-space at CES 2016 was given over to the traditional areas of consumer interest, such as infotainment and interface technologies, there was a notable cyber security presence.

“As the OEMs come through on connectivity, these are the guys getting the real questions,” he says. “How do you do it? How does that work? What’s going to change in the future? The press and the consumer generally don’t want to talk about it. It’s assumed that security is built in. But there is some definite interest there.”

Indeed, he adds, some OEMs may be deploying cyber security so tight that it may impede on the progress of the connected car. ECU security remains a point of concern for manufacturers. Miles predicts that some ECU functionality will be integrated into so-called mega ECUs, which would solve the problem of how to ensure ECUs communicate securely with each other.

Looking forward, it seems clear that security will rely on joint efforts. Harman’s acquisition of TowerSec Cyber Security, announced at CES 2016, brought additional expertise to the group. “We chased TowerSec for a good nine months,” Dinesh Paliwal, the company’s Chief Executive, tells Automotive World. “The company was in demand, with several American and European car companies about to invest in this company. So we’re lucky to have it.”

We’re migrating away from simply being an infotainment company into exploring the richer possibilities that we can bring with the connected car compute platform, including safety, cyber security solutions and telematics

Harman’s 5+1 security architecture combines five layers of security with over-the-air (OTA) technology, allowing for the continuous updates. This will prove essential with the spread of vehicle-to-x (V2X) infrastructure, as more and more networks are brought into play, along with more potential weak points for access. Consider, for example, a headlight: at the start of the decade, the average car had around six systems communicating with a headlight. Now there are more than 2,000. The US government has pledged US$4bn in research grants to areas involving autonomous driving and cyber security.

Also at CES 2016, Harman announced a strategic partnership with Microsoft that will enable drivers to use Microsoft productivity solutions whilst driving – or rather, given Harman’s anticipation of semi and fully autonomous vehicles, whilst being driven. Harman will enable the full suite of Microsoft Office 365 productivity tools to be used in cars, enhanced by Cortana, the digital personal assistant embedded in the software. The significance here is that the service is not delivered via a cell phone but through a seamless Cloud-enabled solution. “We are working with three first-rate car companies to bring it to production this year,” explains Paliwal. “This includes Skype audio and video conferencing, Microsoft Office, and machine learning, amongst other things.”

Paliwal’s reference to machine learning indicates that Harman, like many other companies in a variety of industries, is exploring the potential for the use of artificial intelligence, and how A.I. can be used specifically for personalisation; using a combination of machine learning and existing automotive sensor technology, the car recognises the driver, and adjusts personal vehicle and infotainment settings, prepares routing information and provides calendar-based information. “To be able to do all of that, you need a very powerful multi-core distributed process control in the car. We’re working with many of the silicon vendors to deliver a powerful hardware-software solution, with plenty of headroom.” Paliwal emphasises the importance of investing upfront in a powerful platform which not only fulfils current needs, but also has “50% headroom” left for updates.

Seeing round corners

At the 2016 Geneva Motor Show, Harman furthered its move into automotive connectivity when it revealed a co-operation with NXP Semiconductors on secure vehicle-to-x (V2X) communication technology. The wireless technology gives drivers visibility beyond what current sensors can see by alerting them to traffic incidents and other potentially dangerous situations, as well enabling them to ‘see’ around corners. The development combines Harman’s security architecture and firewall software with NXP’s V2X hardware security model.

Where 2015 was all about acquisitions to build the capabilities required to compete in the connected car, says Eyler, 2016 is all about combining that acquired power into an holistic end-to-end compute platform. “We’re migrating away from simply being an infotainment company into exploring the richer possibilities that we can bring with the connected car compute platform, including safety, cyber security solutions and telematics. We’re moving our navigation towards highly assisted driving and a future of autonomous driving.”

This article is part of an exclusive Automotive World report on connected cars. Follow this link to download a copy of ‘Special report: Connected cars