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Automotive electronics: safety, security, and ... entertainment

Posted: 23 May 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:car? automotives? gps?

By Charles J. Murray

EE Times

My car was stolen. If the car had been equipped with a GPS device, the police might have been able to track it and the thief. As I sit here frustrated by my inability to find my car, however, I realize I am proving the points made by every industry analyst who spoke with us for this supplement.

While I was writing this editorial, my car was stolen. It was snatched from a parking lot in broad daylight, and I knew about it within minutes of the theft. Unfortunately, there wasn't much I could do. If the car had been equipped with a GPS device, and maybe a telematics service such as OnStar, the police might have been able to track it and the thief.

As I sit here frustrated by my inability to find my car, however, I realize I am proving the points made by every industry analyst who spoke with us for this supplement. They told us that telematics services are struggling because consumers are hesitant to spend money to deal with a one-time security event, such as a breakdown or a theft. Like me, most consumers believe it will never happen to them.

Analysts contend that consumers are far more interested in in-vehicle entertainment than in the security benefits of telematics, which seems incredibly simple-minded to me, until I realize that I'm one of those consumers. My minivan has a rear-seat video screen, but no telematics security system. Maybe I should tell the police to look for the vehicle with the Lord of the Rings DVD in the back seat.

My point here is that if I reflect the habits of the average consumer, then the automotive electronics industry may be on the right track. In this supplement, we examine the industry's effort to deal with the consumer demand for entertainment. Automakers and suppliers are doing that because they believe entertainment is the key to pumping up the struggling telematics market.

"Entertainment is the real 'killer app' in telematics," noted Bob Schumacher of Delphi Automotive Systems. "With a WiFi connection in the car, users will be able to download rich forms of entertainment, including music, movies, and game software."

While telematics security is failing to sell, however, safety is not. Automakers are pursuing safety technology as never before, says author Joe Lemieux in his article, "Anatomy of a vehicle safety cocoon." In the article, Lemieux notes that "surveys indicate that the desire for safer vehicles has moved up to the number one (consumer) preference in some countries." He examines how the proliferation of airbags, as well as the development of new sensors and by-wire systems, will affect vehicle design.

Lemieux also raises a good point that's relevant to every type of automotive electronics system: Sales of airbags were so dismal at first, he reminds us, that General Motors pulled the devices off the market in the 1980s. Later, when costs came down and consumer demand changed, they took off. Now, virtually every vehicle has them.

Hopefully, the same will one day be said of telematics security systems.




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