Cars Talk - With the Outside World

Gary S. Vasilash

Telematics technology is advancing rapidly, so that communications both to and from vehicles can lead to safer, more efficient driving.

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In 1930, Galvin Manufacturing Corp. of Chicago introduced a car radio. It was named the “Motorola,” which, given the success of the product, became the name of the company.

In 2006, Motorola sold its auto-motive business—which went beyond radios to telematics systems and vehicle electronics to Continental AG.

Which brings us to Robert Gee, who has been in the networking industry for the past 25 years, the last 15 of which were in automotive.

Gee started at Motorola. Now he is head of Product Management, Software & Connected Solutions, Infotainment & Connectivity Group, Continental.

In other words, he pretty much works in the space that was started in 1930 and then transi-tioned through the years to the point at which the automobile has become, in effect, almost a node on a system.

While people say “telematics” on a regular basis, when we talk with Gee, it seems that it is probably good to get a simple baseline understanding of what that really means, particularly as he has a good perspective on the space as he is in it.

“Telematics started as being a way to allow people to communicate in vehicles,” he answers. “It then also became safety and security related, as well as providing remote vehicle services. It is becoming a gateway for information going into and out of vehicles. It even has the capability to improve fuel economy.”

And yes, Gee says, telematics also relates to infotainment—from radio to navigation. “It connects to the outside world, whether it is through an embedded cell phone, or Bluetooth, WiFi or USB to mobile devices.”

Gee explains of this outside connection: the norm has been for an embedded cellular chipset in a vehicle for communications. That is shifting to something of a hybrid system, whereby the smartphone brought into the vehicle can be used to connect to the head unit and thereby provide connectivity to the outside world.

Connectivity like LTE modules operating at 100 Mbps in a car.

Gee says that there is considerable work going on in terms of improving the embedded chips that are used for communications, adding features including GPS and WiFi. “There is a lot of systems integration going on. There are smaller parts, less material, and fewer components, which have a positive effect on quality and affordability. This can drive an increased take rate for connected vehicles, which can benefit highly automated driving, fuel efficiency and safety.”

While we can certainly understand how the embedded systems can lead to Pandora listening experience or text messages being automatically “read,” it is the second time that Gee mentions safety and fuel efficiency.

Which leads us to wonder how telematics can have an effect on them.

Gee points out that if you’re driving a car, you have line-of-sight ahead of you. If you have sensors embedded in the front of your vehicle, they, too, see what’s directly ahead. “The cellular network can look around corners,” he says.

That is, consider a number of vehicles on the road, all of which have telematics connectivity. These cars are automatically communicating to “the cloud.” Or more prosaically, they are communicating to a server—“There are companies like Verizon that purchased Hughes Telematics and Sirius XM that purchased Agero.” By keeping track of these cars in real time, it is possible, through Big Data analyses, to determine how traffic is flowing, even around corners.

“Say there are cars with telema-tics systems driving along, all of which are suddenly taking a jog in the road at a particular spot. They are probably avoiding something, like a pothole,” Gee says. Once that inference is made by the back-end systems running the analyses, it can be communicated to a driver well before he is going to encounter the pothole, accident, emergency vehicle, traffic jam, or whatever.

“By providing information about the immediate path ahead,” he notes, “the driver can drive more safely.”

As for fuel efficiency, he explains that this is based on a combina-tion of the information that is contained in the mapping characteristic of a navigation system and dynamic data. In the case of the first, Gee points out that topology tends to be consistent, so information related to curves and elevation changes is generally good; having real-time information about changes provides enhancement. What’s created is an “electronic horizon.”

Information about what’s ahead can be sent to the powertrain. So depending on the road ahead, this information can be used by the transmission controller to select the right gear (e.g., say automatically downshifting when a hill is encountered) and the engine control module to have the right amount of fuel injected. This means a direct improvement for fuel efficiency. Gee says Continental has developed a system that has been used in commercial trucks since 2012 that provide the electronic horizon capability and it is showing a fuel efficiency improvement on the order of 3%.

While connectivity, then, can improve performance, what about the cases when there is nothing to connect to? Think of the times when you check your smartphone for coverage and see that there aren’t any bars on the screen. What happens to the “connected car” when it is somewhere between Nowhere and Anywhere?

“The systems in the vehicles need to perform regardless of connectivity,” Gee says.