Picture the car of the future and the words ‘autonomous’ and ‘connected’ spring instantly to mind. On the inside, the cabin resembles something straight out of a sci-fi movie – highly futuristic, with flat screens, intuitive lighting to match the user’s mood and a whole host of features that ease the pain of a morning commute.
This vision is some way off, however, and according to Marques McCammon, General Manager of Connected Vehicle Solutions at Wind River, there are several focus areas that must be addressed before it can be made possible.
First things first
“Our Connected Vehicles business unit represents about 400 people worldwide and we provide software development and integration services as well as software products to enable and accelerate connected vehicle solutions,” McCammon explained to Megatrends. “So, we look at practically all use cases from Cloud connectivity in the cabin, to telematics, to wherever the future of the connected vehicle will go next.”
Every time a driver selects an option for music or radio, algorithms and AI could be used to ensure that the vehicle learns and provides recommendations at a later date
Most new vehicles on the market today include some form of connectivity, regardless of segment or price point, and certain features that were previously exclusive to high-end luxury vehicles are now being introduced to cheaper models. The Suzuki Ignis, for example, costs around US$13,500 and comes with an array of technologies. A small touchscreen mounted on the dashboard allows the user to access navigation, digital radio and music streaming. It even displays the image obtained by a rear-facing camera to aid reversing.
“The industry has been focusing on bringing these infotainment systems into the cabin for several years,” McCammon noted. “The work now is focusing on anticipating the experiences that are needed inside the cabin, and paying close attention to improving the user interface.”
This will lead to the introduction of more connected car technologies, along with a growing array of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Another key focus area for OEMs when it comes to introducing features that enhance user experience is artificial intelligence (AI).
Using the brain
There’s a common theme shared by the technology companies that have succeeded with their user interfaces, namely that “they have all deployed some level of AI or machine learning,” McCammon observed. “Algorithms are used to drive a more efficient and more interesting experience for the consumer.”
He cited Google’s PageRank (PR) algorithm as an example; this works by counting the number of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is, and how useful it will be to the consumer based on the search. Google uses other algorithms, but this was the first to be adopted by the company.
The industry has been focusing on bringing these infotainment systems into the cabin for several years. The work now is focusing on anticipating the experiences that are needed inside the cabin, and paying close attention to improving the user interface
Deploying such algorithms in a vehicle cabin could change the user experience, McCammon suggested. “Every time a driver selects an option for music or radio, algorithms and AI could be used to ensure that the vehicle learns and provides recommendations at a later date. This is a very simple example, but the general idea is that the cabin is intuitive and creates a unique, customised environment to suit the user. This kind of added value is an absolute must for the automotive industry.”
There will be other uses for AI, such as identifying the current driver and returning to his or her preferred seating position. The addition of new connected car features, ADAS, autonomous driving technologies and AI could add much more value for the consumer, but may also require a considerable increase in computing power.
The power game
“Sophisticated computers need the ability to deal with information and data that not only lives embedded in the vehicle but also lives in the Cloud,” McCammon continued. “With the advent of 5G we will talk about fall computing, where we have the ability to compute back and forth from the vehicle domain into elements of the Cloud domain, making the computing environment more elastic.”
This could help support the rollout of many new features, but looking further ahead, McCammon sees the need for a new approach to organising this computing power: “We’re going to have to look at virtualised computing, because the ability to put numerous, highly powerful compute platforms into a vehicle and keep adding features upon features is just not sustainable from a business standpoint.”
By using these virtual computing platforms, OEMs can consolidate features, bundling them into packages that can be offered to consumers. Wind River has developed Helix Cockpit, which was built using a virtual computing platform.
If the cockpit of the future is allowed to adapt and evolve over time, consumers will retain vehicles for longer
“It can hold multiple dissimilar guests, like Android for user experience applications or Linux for rear cabin features, for example,” McCammon noted. “It can also be used to monitor functions, making sure they are performing properly and that no threats have been introduced.”
Cyber security is vital when considering the introduction of connected car technologies. “I tend to disagree with those who say that the real security threat will be the invasion of autonomous driving or ADAS technologies,” McCammon stated. “I think that the more likely point of attack is the consumer-orientated features, before the hacker enters the ADAS or autonomous driving technologies.”
The automotive industry is already taking measures to ensure that conventional control systems, such as the electronic steering wheel, the brakes or throttle are safeguarded from hacking. But McCammon thinks that one of the worrying areas is connectivity between infotainment systems and mobile devices.
Every time a new occupant enters a vehicle with a handheld device, there is a new threat, he warned. “If the future is to enable interaction between the vehicle and mobile devices, which is very logical, then we must consider potential threats coming via USB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and satellite connectivity. I really believe that the focus on securing the cabin will be a major topic of discussion for the foreseeable future.”
Vehicle lifecycle is a key consideration, and here too the cabin has a role to play. According to a study carried out by Michael Sivak, Research Professor at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, both car ownership and the average distance driven have declined in the US. Both reached their peak in 2006, while car ownership is down 4.4% and miles driven are down 7.8%. Figures also show that the average lifecycle of vehicles has risen from around nine years in 2008 to 11 in 2017.
With the advent of 5G we will talk about fall computing, where we have the ability to compute back and forth from the vehicle domain into elements of the Cloud domain, making the computing environment more elastic
“If the cockpit of the future is allowed to adapt and evolve over time, consumers will retain vehicles for longer,” McCammon predicted.
This could be enabled through over-the-air (OTA) software updates. McCammon referred to a ten-year-old iPad, which even today is capable of accessing almost all apps in the Apple store. “Even though it may have limited functionality in comparison to a modern iPad Pro, it still provides a reasonable user experience.”
The same could happen with vehicles, he concluded. This would see OTA-updated vehicles remaining in use for much longer – an intriguing thought, and a fascinating by-product of connected vehicle technology.
This article appeared in the Q4 2017 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine.