The era of the connected car clearly has begun, but as original equipment (OE) manufacturers progress to more advanced technology, it both needs aftermarket participation and yet has to be concerned about still other participants entering the market, particularly at the retrofit level. For as car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication advances, there is a new set of problems.
The need exists because the vision of a connected car fleet can't work well unless every vehicle participates to some degree. If only some cars in a roadway area are talking to each other, the accuracy of the messaging and the electronic decisions that can be made are severely limited.
However, only about 15 million cars are sold each year, and the average age of cars on the road is about 11 years. Further, the number of registered vehicles in the U.S. is reportedly in excess of 250 million. So without the aftermarket on board, much of the benefit from connected cars may not be extended beyond special highway lanes and other restrictions for many years to come, unless a road-sharing technology is identified.
Entry-level "building blocks" for a national connected car fleet exist in millions of cars: transponders that signal the computers on toll-collection lanes of many main highways, the smartphones that most people carry, and the digital modems that are part of many cars' telematics systems. But they're not nearly capable enough to do the job. They will require generations of further development. And they may have to be combined with sophisticated camera systems at roadside to identify the unequipped vehicles.
SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) looked at the issues, in a forum led by John Waraniak, Vice President of Vehicle Technology, at its 2013 show.
Although many electronics companies are in the aftermarket, the powertrain performance parts companies are moving cautiously. As a forum attendee pointed out, no aftermarket engine system supplier uses an electronic throttle, although it's across the board at the OE level and the basic technology is mature.
Aftermarket approaches for connected cars
Forum panelists described their companies' aftermarket approaches for the dawn of the connected car era.
Pioneer Radio's Ted Cardenas, Vice President Car Electronics, noted his company has an ever-growing list of smartphone apps for its AppRadio 3, from Internet radio to Google maps and navigation, including the BestParking app, a search engine to locate a space in 100 cities and at 115 airports, along with streaming video when the car is parked. The radio features a 7-in capacitive touch screen, although as noted, it restricts use while driving as a safety feature. The AppRadio is one of 29 Pioneer audio systems for the connected car, Cardenas said.
David Anderson, Nvidia Design Manager, discussed his company's Tegra3, latest in a series of low-power-draw systems on a chip (SoC) for mobile devices. The new Audi MMI infotainment uses it to incorporate Google maps, including a touchpad feature to change the viewing angle (such as to street level) and other real time data into the car's display. The Tesla Model S uses two Tegra modules, one each for its 17-in infotainment touchscreen and 12.3-in digital instrument cluster. The Tegra SoC combines a quad-core ARM CPU with Linux support, graphics processor for two data channels (Northbridge and Southbridge), and a memory controller in one package.
Greg Krueger, Program Manager for Leidos, an electronic communications integration services company with expertise in the security field, looked at the 5.9-GHz spectrum that has been set aside for DSRC (dedicated short range communications). This is what the toll collection transponder systems use and is projected for the connected car future. He said the U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to enter the rule-making process for related technology by the end of this year and within five years have its first regulations, to ensure compatible technology is used nationwide. He told the forum the challenges for the industry would be both security (defense against attack) and ensuring a valid message reaches a vehicle's terminal.
No Federal safety standards yet
Although there are no U.S. Federal safety standards for connected vehicle technologies, collision-avoidance and lane-change technologies are being deployed at the OE level. An overview of the legal situation was provided by Paul Laurenza, Managing Member with the Washington, D.C. office of Dykema, a national law firm.
He told the SEMA audience that the automobile has been automating tasks for many years, adding different levels of driver assist, and that liability may differ depending on the driver's role, along with other factors. Product liability claims, he said, "generally are governed by state law," so they vary widely, and "claims, defenses, and evidentiary rules differ." Strict liability, he said, relies on the existence of a defect or negligence. Failure (of a system) to warn may be either a strict liability or negligence, and he pointed to the concept of the breach of an implied warranty that a system is fit or suitable for sale.
Even now, replacement parts suppliers have responsibility to the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), like the OEs and Tier 1 suppliers, to report noncompliance with safety standards and safety-related defects both for vehicles and parts.
Liability from advanced technologies, therefore, will not be sorted out in advance. "The technologies will move forward," Laurenza said, "and courts will work through the questions." As installations are made, "there will be insurance claims experience and case law developments, with guidance from other transportation sectors. Few if any accident scenarios are without precedent in other sectors such as aviation, maritime, and rail-transit."
Advanced warning and assist systems heighten the issue of "information failures," Laurenza continued, pointing to the possibilities of misinformation and misdirection. "Is pure information a product..and what is the operator role/control—the ability to ignore and correct," vs. mechanical and/or electrical failures. Other questions for aftermarket suppliers include "warnings only, crash avoidance, and even non-safety devices if they have an impact on driver distraction," he concluded.
Pure Internet radio might be low-liability, but the future includes vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-home, and vehicle-to-traffic management. A messaging failure, perhaps because of transmitter-receiver incompatibility, could lead to unintended consequences, from a traffic incident to remotely opening a homeowner's garage door.
Connected-car products displayed
At this early stage, the aftermarket is demonstrating an intent to participate in the connected car technology explosion. SEMA show aisles were filled with examples of retrofit kits for rear view and front (collision-warning system) cameras, blind-spot detection systems, and lane-departure warning. There were even multi-function modules that plug into a vehicle's CAN (controller area network) bus and serve as an interface for additional feature content (parking sensors, trip computers, outside air temperature, Bluetooth, etc.).
One manufacturer, Access2 Communications, featured its TextBuster, a module which sends out a blocking signal (via Bluetooth) to prevent smartphone texting or Internet access while in a running car. Also exhibited was a retrofit version of the Gentex HomeLink, the wireless control system for home lighting and garage door operation, sold as an OE option in about 35% of new cars.
An impressive introduction was MSD Performance Brain Wave, a vehicle management network that uses proprietary connectors to plug into all powertrain, body, and chassis data buses so it can access all sensor and module outputs, and via a Bluetooth-equipped module allow a smartphone to adjust air suspension, control door locks and HVAC, and program dash lights for additional warnings. If the car has performance hardware or a convenience accessory added, it also could be controlled through this system if it is electronically compatible. MSD will be supplying its proprietary connectors to approved suppliers.
The forum panel saw a generally accepted need for open platforms and more standards. IEEE and SAE International have committees working in these areas. SAE J2735 and J2945 cover 5.9-GHz DSRC for wireless car-to-car-to-infrastructure.