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Automakers look to new vision for telematics

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

Keywords:car? automotives? gps?

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Automakers look to new vision for telematics

From a design perspective, one significant difference in the Aviator is its use of a more flexible, more comprehensive, computing platform. Simonds says that Ford has employed a variety of CPUsincluding PowerPC, Intel Xscale, and Hitachi SH4but in all cases the new platform had more computing power than typical dashboard platforms have had in the past.

"This platform is more like what you would see in a PC," Simonds says. "It has a real-time OS that allows us to develop new applications and features."

That's a dramatic departure from traditional automotive computing platforms, which employ exactly what's needed at the moment, and not a bit more. Simonds argues that cost-conscious automakers have had good reason for doing it that way in the past, mainly because they've been bound by fiscal necessities.

Still, Simonds and others say that there may be good reason for manufacturers of high-end and luxury vehicles to incorporate more powerful platforms in the future. "Once you have a more flexible architecture in place, you can add features down the road," he says. "That way, when more gas stations and drive-through restaurants begin offering WiFi capabilities, the electronics platform can enable the vehicle to take advantage of those kinds of services."

Industry analysts say that the consumer appetite for entertainment will also be met through other channels. One such avenue is the incorporation of on-board vehicle interfaces that would allow consumers to carry their personal MP3 players and handheld DVD players into vehicles, and play them back through onboard audio systems. With that in mind, tier-one suppliers are developing radios with common, open-standard audio plugs, so consumers can connect their devices into their vehicles.

"It's important for the suppliers to do that," notes Koslowski of Gartner G2, "because future consumers might not want fully-integrated and embedded DVD players in their vehicles."

Many in the industry believe that such entertainment-driven offerings are the key to telematics success.

"It's been proven that people are willing to pay for entertainment content," Simonds says. "They've paid big money for rear-seat entertainment and advanced audio systems. We think that WiFi radio will be another one of those high-demand features." In-car Internet still kicking

Most suppliers believe that very little of their original vision for telematics is dead. Even the "Internet on wheels" idea still lives, they contend, albeit in a different form.

The new tack for the Internet in the vehicle is one of "invisible integration." In such scenarios, the Internet could silently aid by providing dynamic traffic information to the once-static feature of on-board navigation.

Delphi, for example, is working with Honda on a system called the Honda Information Platform (HIP), which would combine the car radio, navigation system, and digital data from XM Satellite Radio to create "dynamic navigation." Using a specially-developed decoder, the system decodes a digital information bit stream from XM and provides traffic information from 20 metropolitan areas.

"It's an alternative to using cellular, which is the worst way to do telematics because the air time is so expensive," says Schumacher of Delphi. "In its place, it uses XM Radio to create a navigation system that will not only find the shortest distance between two points, but will take into account the traffic along the way."

Semiconductor makers say they're already supplying microcontrollers into similar applications. Freescale Semiconductor, Inc. has put its MPC 5200 microcontroller into applications with Siemens VDO, as well as with automakers in Europe, Asia, and North America. Such design wins are expected to continue as the lines between telematics and infotainment blur over the next few years. In such "line-blurring" scenarios, radios will offer low-end navigation capabilities and Bluetooth phones will integrate entertainment features.

"One of the initial visions was that people would be doing e-mail in their cars," notes Bill Pffaf, vice president and general manager for Digital Audio, Radio and Telematics at Freescale. "And while drivers won't actively use the Internet for web surfing and e-mail, the Internet will still be there. It's just going to be a little more invisible to the driver than we initially thought it would be."

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