When Hyundai began the development of its Blue Link in-car connectivity system, introduced at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show and to the auto consumer at the 2011 Chicago Auto Show, it had two models to look at. One was the long-established General Motors OnStar, with the call button summoning a human at the other end but requiring an embedded module with a cellular phone connection and thousands of trained operators for almost all functions. The other was the low-cost Ford Sync approach, an interface linking to the smartphone in the driver’s pocket and access to virtually all functions from cloud servers, with voice activation and now a touch screen. However, with OnStar revamping its operation in response to the Sync cost advantage, it would seem that’s the way to go.
Hyundai, however, has chosen to build a hybrid system with three menus—with pricing to be announced when it goes on sale this summer—on Sonata and the forthcoming Veloster compact sport coupe. The brand has long been offering free roadside assistance through the ATX Group, so it wished to continue that with Blue Link. As a result, it will be embedding a Continental module on Sonata and an LG unit on Veloster. Both are functionally equivalent and contain a cellular modem that will connect to an Aeris/Sprint network plus roaming partners. The vehicles will have the familiar sharkfin antenna that provides a superior cell signal vs. the handheld phone plus GPS and satellite radio.
The human-staffed ATX response center handles all functions in the Blue Link Assurance package: roadside assistance, an emergency “SOS” signal, and transmitting the automatic crash notification (airbag deployment) to the appropriate 911 center. If any of these three functions is activated, Blue Link automatically transmits vehicle information and GPS-derived location to the response center, which can maintain human voice contact with car occupants.
An embedded cellular modem and human operators are somewhat more expensive than a pure “cloud” system. However, by setting these limits to the Aeris/Sprint cell calls, the Blue Link subscription can include conventional cellphone airtime through the Continental or LG module at modest cost. All other functions go from the module through cloud servers at the low cost of data transmissions.
What the motorist sees, however, is whatever is displayed on the screen and three buttons mounted on the rearview mirror frame. One has a red phone (“SOS”) symbol; pressing it completes a call to the ATX center, where an operator already has received the GPS data and will notify 911 and stay in contact with the car until assistance arrives. A second has a road icon (for roadside assistance); pressing it signals for transmission of GPS data and also completes a cell call to ATX, where the operator dispatches the request. The third button, with a BL symbol, is purely “through the cloud,” for the more than two dozen services on the Blue Link menu. This should get most of the “action,” although the driver also can link his smartphone via Bluetooth to the Blue Link module for hands-free voice-to-text messaging (with the cell provider charging only for text transmissions).
The voice recognition uses Vlingo, a popular cellphone text/voice translator, for point-of-interest (POI) searches and voice texting; Nuance (also a Sync choice) is used for other voice-recognition requirements. However, if Vlingo is unable to translate the driver’s POI request correctly, the system will transmit a voice wave file to a trained agent for an interpretation. The agent’s written interpretation of the POI will be read to the motorist as an electronic voice message for confirmation, although no human voice contact with the motorist will occur. If agent assist for a voice-to-text message is needed, the proposed message also will be read to the motorist for confirmation. The entire agent-assisted effort might take only as long as 15-20 s, explained Michael Deitz, National Manager for Hyundai’s Connected Car operation.
Blue Link has three "menus" or packages, each of which has its own list of services. Although the “basic” one, Assurance, uses the embedded cellular modem, it will carry a lowest possible price to encourage purchase, Deitz told AEI. Assurance is required to obtain the first upgrade to Essentials, and both must be purchased to subscribe to Guidance (navigation). The present intent is to offer free trials for all three menus, with a longer one for Assurance, Deitz added.
Essentials provides stolen-vehicle recovery assistance, vehicle slowdown, and vehicle immobilization. Although it requires a stolen vehicle report and the response center to assist the police, the signals come from the police. Other features are primarily in conjunction with a smartphone, including the voice-to-text messaging, as well as:
• Vehicle remote lock/unlock
• Remote activation of horn/headlights for locating the vehicle
• Remote start, and if climate control had been left on, cabin preconditioning
• Valet mode and “geo-fence,” which monitor vehicle movement beyond designated areas
• Panic alarm activated on keyfob, sending message to smartphone and indicating driver may be in trouble
• Message to smartphone if vehicle speed is being operated in excess of a preset
• Message to smartphone if vehicle is being used beyond curfew
Also part of Essentials are trouble-code posting and explanatory messages on the control stack display screen, with notification to dealer plus maintenance and vehicle-health alerts.
Guidance will provide turn-by-turn navigation with points of interest including restaurants with ratings (from Microsoft's Bing), weather (from Custom Weather), map and traffic data (from Navteq), and turn instructions produced by TeleCommunications Systems.
Blue Link will be compatible with Apple iPhones, Google Android devices, Microsoft Windows 7 phones, and on the RIM Blackberry. The connectivity system will be sold through Hyundai dealers with a new car, but it also can be purchased by the owner at a website where the upgrades also are available. The buyer of an eligible used Hyundai also may subscribe at the website. New features and feature improvements, wherever possible, will be made in the cloud rather than to the in-car module, so they can appear on vehicles already on the road, without modification.