Connectivity – What’s Behind the Technology

Mar 20, 2019

We’ve become used to being constantly connected – even on holidays we can’t seem to put away our phones, checking one last email, posting one last Instagram selfie, inducing FOMO one last time. But how does connectivity transfer to the automotive world? How is what is under the hood changing from pure horsepower to technological developments that have safety, not speed, at their centre? As one of the main topics of the NMW, here is a short introduction to Automotive Connectivity and the most important aspects that you can expect to hear about come September in Frankfurt.

The Role of Mobile Connectivity

Let’s zoom out for a second: Connectivity is not just something destined for your vehicle. Instead, it has become almost omnipresent. You are connected to your friends and family across the world. Remote workers are connected to their colleagues and bosses (and so are you on a precious home office day). Your Spotify account uses your Facebook account whilst your Netflix account is connected to that of your significant other, whose account status is dependent on being connected to his mom’s PayPal account. Some supermarkets even have electronic labels that adjust to the time of day.

This game can be played endlessly: Gartner, a global technology research firm, estimates that by 2020 there will be a whopping 50 billion IoT devices installed worldwide—many of them in our cars (via Wired). So, what are they and how are they getting there?

As Wired states, there are now more mobile phones than people on the planet. (Image via Wired)

What is Automotive Connectivity?

The car you were driven around in as a kid, and even the one you might have learnt to drive in is a vastly different one to the vehicles currently on the road. With rapid developments in technology, the last 25 years have seen increasing standardisation, platform sharing and computer-aided design in the automotive industry. From better fuel efficiency we’ve moved on to expecting GPS systems, cameras that help us park, and even keyless ignition in the vehicles we drive.

So what role does connectivity play? It is essential for both autonomous vehicles and smart cities. As the 2018 Automotive Product Development and Launch Cycles survey by Jabil shows, more than half of respondents believe that better connectivity was the primary driver of technology innovation in the industry. Connectivity is the central driver of what will move drivers into the metaphorical passenger seat: safety-centric technologies and the inevitability of autonomous vehicles will remove the human element from the operation of a vehicle.

Connectivity is not just a cool add-on to an already existing system. As McKinsey states, “vehicle data, spun off by surging vehicle connectivity, will be critical for generating revenue, reducing costs, and increasing safety and could represent a value pool of up to $750 billion by 2030”.

ITS: Intelligent Transport Systems

As defined global engineering firm WSP, ITS is a combination of leading-edge information and communication technologies used in transportation and traffic management systems to improve the safety, efficiency, and sustainability of transportation networks, to reduce traffic congestion and to enhance drivers’ experiences. If this sounds complicated, that is because it is, and the possibilities are endless – the application of ITS is based on data collection, analysis and using the results of the analysis in the operations, control and research concepts for traffic management where location plays an important role.

Application areas of ITS

Geospatial World offers up examples of where ITS is used: Sensors, information processors, communication systems, roadside messages, GPS updates and automated traffic prioritisation signals play an imperative role. This can be seen in six different application areas:

  • – Advanced Traffic Management System
  • – Advanced Traveler Information System
  • – Advanced Vehicle Control system
  • – Advanced Public Transportation System
  • – Advanced Rural Transportation Systems
  • – Advanced Commercial Vehicles Operations system

The influence of ITS in the coming years will be significant: Activities that were traditionally undertaken through human intervention will be automated; Road network performance will be monitored and adjusted in real-time; Data that was previously collected by costly physical infrastructure will be provided through new, richer data sources; Analysis that was undertaken from historic data will now be undertaken by systems delivering intelligence through real-time data analytics; and road users choices, previously influenced only through road signs, can be influenced through a wide array of publication channels such as mobile devices/in-car systems.

See below for a simulated city centre road system, complete with traffic signals by Toyota. The company opened a new proving ground to test and evaluate its Intelligent Transport System technology, with the site extending over 3.5 hectares at the Higashi-Fuji Technical Centre.

Real-time & Predictive Mapping

You already appreciate Google Maps indicating which side you should get out of the metro or which turn to take on the highway. For the connected or autonomous cars of the future, this predictive ability of maps in real-time will become even more important. AVs will need to connect to infrastructure (V2I), e-commerce platforms, as well as to other vehicles (V2V). But if you’ve ever struggled with cell service somewhere, you’ll know that always-on connectivity isn’t easy. Now imagine needing this connectivity in a vehicle weighing a few tonnes to ensure the safety of its passengers.

To show you a glimpse of the future, mapping company HERE Technologies partnered with Continual, a leading provider of connected car and subscriber analytics to developed a new map data set called HERE Cellular Signals, which includes the strength of cellular networks around the world. In-vehicle systems for connected cars, including GPS and other cloud-based technology, will rely upon the signal strength of 4G or 5G networks to support the transfer data to and from a vehicle.

Another example is Israeli company Cortica’s Autonomous AI platform, which enables the car to predict and react to any situation ensuring a safe, intelligent and efficient driverless driving experience (see the video below for a sample of their prediction module).

User Interfaces (UI) & infotainment

As Nick Ismail writes for Information Age, in-car connectivity has seen significant growth over the past decade, and the capabilities of the connected car are only set to increase and evolve. We’re no longer happy with an ordinary dashboard that shows us our speed and how far our vehicle can still take us.

Now, in the era of the connected car, the question will be how the user interface will adapt, and what effect this will have on the user experience. Points to think of here are infotainment and the potential for manufacturers to offer a richer and more comprehensive experience to drivers and passengers. Already we are barraged with adverts and product placement, why not also in your vehicle?

Here the influence of AI on human-machine communication will become imperative. How will the machine understand our natural language? And will it do as we say?

Additionally, in the case of AVs windows could be changed into screens: A new technology that improves image definition and colour saturation called Quantum Dot is showing promising signs that this concept may soon be a reality.

This area of connectivity is ever expanding. There are even various events that focus solely on the user interfaces in vehicles: The 11th International ACM Conference on Automotive User Interfaces and Interactive Vehicular Applications in the Netherlands later this year is one such event. Here over 200 researchers and practitioners interested in both the technical and the human aspects of in-vehicle user interfaces and applications come together to talk about the exchange of technical information concerning research (and practice) and educational activities for motor vehicle user interface development.

Cloud and Edge Computing

Edge computing is the ability to provide execution resources (specifically compute and storage) with adequate connectivity at close proximity to the data sources. Other examples include AR or machine learning for industrial applications.

At the Autotech Council Autonomous Cars event in 2018, it was revealed that the rise of edge computing has made cars more capable of processing and finding patterns in sensor data. As a result, keeping sensor data closer to autonomous vehicles means less time spent waiting for data to make a driving decision. And with 0.75 GB of data produced by autonomous vehicles each second, edge computing means faster storage and transfer of data.

As with mapping, real-time data transfers are needed to help the AV make decisions. To get there, it’ll take seamless communication between smart sensors, embedded storage solutions, and car driving components. Those future services will need a much larger data transfer capacity than used by connected cars at the moment. Thus the current network architectures and computing infrastructures need to evolve to accommodate this. Already the automotive industry with connected vehicles is one of the fastest growing industries demanding distributed cloud.

Networks such as the Automotive Edge Computing Consortium are at the forefront in order to deliver on “a future where all connected vehicles can deliver the full benefits of big data spanning intelligent driving, improved safety, increased efficiency and greater reliability”.

In a forecast, the team at Ericsson agrees that edge computing will play a key enabling role in the fourth industrial revolution. The automotive industry and other manufacturing industries already have use cases that make them very likely to be early adopters of distributed cloud technology. AR and Machine Learning (ML) will play a key role.

Market forecasts of connected vehicles indicates that the global number of connected vehicles will grow to approximately 700 million by 2025 and that the data volume transmitted between vehicles and the cloud will be around 100 petabytes per month according to Ericsson forecasts.

If you’d like to know more about the applications of edge computing for AVs, check out vXchnge’s list of five use cases.

Data & Transmission Standards

Will all the new technologies influencing automotive connectivity in future, there are some ethical aspects that also need to be considered. The data at the core of creating connectivity and networks also needs to be encrypted and protected. How does one securely handle transmission and transfer of vehicle-generated data to third parties?

Additionally, in the case of ITS these possibilities can only happen if road administrations have a clear and considered strategy for bringing existing disparate systems, services, and operational approaches together over time.

These are points that we look forward to discussing at the NMW19 in Frankfurt with you!

Photo by Jonas Von Werne on Unsplash