Aftermarket challenged to develop OE-compatible car-to-car communications

  • 15-Nov-2011 08:01 EST

Paul Mascarenas, Ford VP of Research and Advanced Engineering, opened the 2011 SEMA convention by urging the aftermarket to be ready for inter-car communication systems to come.

Ford has challenged the automotive aftermarket to develop add-on content that can complement the car-to-car communication and related features it has been showing on its Evos concept car and plans to have on forthcoming production cars “sooner than you can imagine.” The challenge was issued by Paul Mascarenas, Ford Vice President of Research and Advanced Engineering, at an opening address for the annual meeting and show of SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) in Las Vegas.

This was the latest Ford proposal for cooperation with the independent aftermarket. Ford has been a participant in a technology initiative with SEMA for 11 years, which most recently has cited Ford’s help with a SEMA program to enable aftermarket suppliers of tires, suspension, and related parts to ensure their products comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 126. This regulation, which requires virtually all new vehicles to be equipped with electronic stability control by 2011, applies to aftermarket components by September 2012.

Personalization in automotive electronics is in its infancy, with Sync as Ford’s primary on-car example. Ford has an aggressive program of certifying aftermarket-developed Sync apps, and Sync has the potential for further expansion through even greater use of software and data maintained in “cloud” servers, Mascarenas said.

“Envision a world in which people no longer have to adjust to the generalized settings built into their cars, but have cars that are almost infinitely adjustable to them,” including engine controls, safety systems, and vehicle dynamics, he said. Further, using the Evos as an example, he suggested that the car can be seamlessly connected to the home and workplace.

As an example, the personalization could begin by checking the driving route to work, weather, traffic, etc. and adjusting the driver’s alarm clock to wake him earlier or let him sleep a little longer, Mascarenas said. And when the driver leaves home, the personal network would switch the house into energy-efficient mode. Further, cloud-based systems could issue commands to adapt braking, suspension, powertrain, and steering settings for the road conditions ahead, he added.

Add in the ability of vehicles to talk to each other via advanced WiFi, so they can “warn or display warnings of dangers or traffic congestion ahead,” Mascarenas continued. This would give such features as blind spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control the opportunity to overcome the limits of human vision and radar sensing, he told the convention.

Communication between cars and to the “cloud” is key to this, but as Mascarenas said, “even if we were to launch [intelligent vehicle] technology today, it would take years before there would be enough intelligent vehicles on the road to really make the concept work.”

Mascarenas therefore urged the aftermarket attendees to work on technologies that both fit this vision and could be adapted to vehicles already on the road. And he invited them to discuss ways they could collaborate with Ford.

He apparently didn’t have to provide much in the way of persuasion, for an AEI tour of the show the rest of the week made it clear that Mascarenas was preaching to a very large choir of SEMA exhibitors. Such in-car features as Internet hot spots and DVD players had been exhibited at this show before they began to appear as OE offerings, and in a few cases the supplying manufacturers were the same. The 2011 show was a leap ahead.

The aftermarket version of OnStar, replacing the rearview mirror, has been well-publicized, and it can provide automatic crash notification, driving directions, and “concierge” services. However, it cannot do vehicle diagnostics, door unlocking, etc., as it doesn’t connect to the vehicle data busses or even the under-dash OBD II connector. Other aftermarket companies with SEMA Show displays were offering more comprehensive on-vehicle-centered packages with GPS, including some that appeared to try to replicate the OE version of OnStar, using plug-ins to the under-dash OBD II connector to be able to do vehicle diagnostics.

ARS Global Guiding Inc. of Pasadena, CA, exhibited its safety, convenience, and entertainment combination, which includes driver facial recognition, remote unlock, vehicle diagnostics and satellite TV, in addition to virtually all the currently available OE infotainment features. Shenzhen (China) RoadRover Technology Ltd. showed a full-feature multimedia entertainment system with large touch screen.

Aftermarket suppliers even collaborate with some of the same Silicon Valley companies that are looking for OE business. PLX Devices, a manufacturer of gauges and Bluetooth devices, told AEI it is working with NeuroSky of San Jose, CA, a company with brainwave sensing technology, to develop a headset that not only can be used to select music (such as from an iPod) that is appropriate for the driver’s mood but also monitor driver health and medication level.

Aftermarket rearview cameras, lane departure warning systems, vehicle driving recorders, fingerprint ID-based anti-theft and GPS-based vehicle location monitors (with starter disabling) were among the basic “stand-alone” devices on display. By incorporating Bluetooth, infrared, and other short-range communications systems, the add-on devices can be installed without the need to route complex wiring harnesses through the car body, with the possible exception of a special antenna.

New apps appear as fast as someone can think of a use for them. Additionally, SEMA exhibitors certainly seemed ready to develop both in-car stand-alone systems and through-the-cloud WiFi communications systems that can participate in the inter-car road information systems soon to come from OEMs and their suppliers.

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