Communications, congestion may drive unconventional partnerships

  • 30-Oct-2012 04:24 EDT

Ford’s Mascarenas wants more interaction with non-automotive groups as well as increased harmonization of standards.

The growing number of vehicles, coupled with the trend to connected cars, is likely to force automakers to forge partnerships that go beyond normal auto-industry boundaries. These links will have to include regulators, universities, and companies from consumer markets and other commercial fields.

Partnerships with a range of suppliers have become the norm over the past few years as automakers strive to gain an edge with customers who have grown accustomed to the rapid advances in consumer electronics. At the recent 2012 SAE Convergence conference in Detroit, the chief technical officers of some of America’s largest companies detailed a future in which automakers will have to forge associations with many new groups.

Driving factors are as diverse as automotive sales in emerging countries and the shift to communications such as telematics and vehicle-to-vehicle connections. During a panel entitled “Influencing the Future of the Automotive Industry,” they said that one of the big challenges will be to move people efficiently as populations soar and more cars fill limited roadways.

“There are one billion cars on the road today. That’s expected to grow to nine billion by the middle of the century, especially in the 50 cities that have populations of 10 million or more. That means gridlock. Is that an issue or an opportunity?” asked Paul Mascarenas, CTO at Ford Research and Innovation.

Automakers can benefit by working with regional transportation agencies by helping people determine whether it’s more effective to take public transportation or drive, reducing congestion, he added. The CTOs also noted that communications can help reduce congestion by helping drivers get to destinations quickly. That will also require collaboration with new companies.

“Location-based services are possible with convergence. But to fully access the technology, we need to leverage all the services available,” said Jon Lauckner, CTO at General Motors. “That will increasingly lead us to work with non-automotive companies so we can unlock new technology for customers.”

Telematics is only one of the communications technologies that may transform driving. Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) links can also help reduce congestion, reduce accidents, and let vehicles move in convoys at higher speeds than when humans are in full control.

However, standards must be set before V2V and telematic functions like emergency calling can start making an impact. Though many standards exist, aspects such as security haven’t been fully addressed. Some panelists said that industry needs to lead the way on standards so that regulators don’t come in and set requirements that involve more politics than technology.

“In information technology, we’ve found that industry can have tremendous influence over governments, which can often take excursions off the standards path,” said Justin R. Rattner, Intel Corp.’s CTO. “The connected car is a reasonable place to do this; regulations are largely not written yet.”

Panelists agreed that industry regulations can provide a single worldwide approach, eliminating the variations that arise when regulators in different geographies each create their own rules. If automakers drive these developments, they can get better results than in fields such as radio, where the shift to digital technologies varied in key market areas.

“Different regulations in different regions bring unnecessary costs for technology that meets a single goal,” Mascarenas said. “We’re always asking for more harmonization.”

These standards must include security functions so that safety and privacy aren’t impacted by hackers and others. Automakers must address this topic before other companies or industries step in and start providing secure communications that favor their interests instead helping drivers and automakers.

“We’ve got to work together on this,” Mascarenas said. “If we don’t get this done, someone else will do it for us. The world is moving faster than our industry; others may make advances that challenge our business model.”

All these technologies are moving the industry toward autonomous vehicles. For driverless cars to be successful, significant advances in technology and standards must occur. Panelists noted that it will take a combined force for the autonomous vehicle market to emerge.

“Autonomous vehicles have challenges involving standards and harmonization,” Lauckner said. “To resolve these, we’ll need to collaborate with other OEMs, suppliers, universities, and governments.”

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