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Connected car technology: India shifts from consumer to contributor

Regardless of the demands of Indian consumers, Indian companies can play a global role in connected car developments, writes Megan Lampinen

There is plenty of enthusiasm around connected car innovation and potential use cases, but the regional developments vary considerably. In India, for example, the number of connected cars remains miniscule. Panel participants at the recent Connected Car Pune conference explored the potential developments on this front for both Indian consumers and Indian companies in the near future.

Connected car experience

Visteon estimates that just 1.4% of cars on the road in India today are connected. This is expected to grow to 4% in the next five years, thanks in part to the country’s large population of young people. “Look at the buying habits of Indians – they want fancy things not just in their houses but also on their mobiles, in their cars and in all aspects of life,” commented Visteon’s Sheetal Patil, Global Product Manager, Infotainment. “We have so much scope to bring these features to the market.”

While the official rate of cars with embedded connectivity is clearly low, the definition of ‘connected’ is flexible. Many individuals bring their smart phones into the car and access connectivity that way. “Through mobile phones many cars are in fact connected. Drivers are using CarPlay or Android Auto with seven- or eight-inch displays,” observed K Srinivasan, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of software specialist AllGo. “The apps will come in. Google Maps will be possible on the centre stack. The connected car experience will come to India through the mobile phone.”

AllGo

Visteon acquired AllGo in 2016

Standing out

The Indian market also stands out from many other major car markets by its price sensitivity. “Low-cost innovation is our strength,” said Srinivasan.  This was echoed by others.

“We tend to be frugal and understand value of money,” noted Kaushik Mukherjee, Senior Director of Engineering at Ola. “We need to figure out how to make innovations through frugal hardware. Can we have reduced computing power but end up with the same sort of results?”

India also breaks with tradition in that many car owners employ personal drivers, meaning they will be sitting in the back seat. For software developers, the focus needs to physically shift to a new part of the car. “Most innovations have been directed at the driver but with Ola Play we are looking to provide an immersive experience for passengers in the back seat. This is something very specific to the Indian market. The question now is whether we can bring this construct in a global market,” Mukherjee added.

India’s contribution

Regardless of the demands of Indian consumers, Indian companies can play a global role in connected car developments. The country has emerged as a global IT hub already and could duplicate that with connected technology. At AllGo, for example, 95% of its business comes from outside of India. “We are a technology creator and licensor. Essentially we specialise in technology creation for connectivity and mobility,” said Srinivasan. “This is an area in which India is a strong contributor.”

Visteon’s Patil believes India is starting to shift from a consumer of technology to a contributor, pointing specifically to the rise of start-up companies like AllGo, now part of Visteon. “The start-up culture has been growing. It’s all about providing technology for a frugal market –  how how many features can we get for the money we pay?” she noted. “It is now all about apps and everyone is looking to bring apps into the car. Today they are coming into the car through the smartphone but eventually they will be on the infotainment system.”

Some Tier 1s like Visteon are building platforms and providing software development kits (SDKs) to build apps. Visteon has come out with the Phoenix SDK to help create apps based on open web standards. “I see us bringing out many apps. The technology will come from India, where we have many developers,” Patil added.

Ola plans to offer its Ola Play connected car platform to OEMs

Data security

With connected and autonomous vehicles comes the risk of malicious hacking. From thieves looking to extort money or from terrorists intending to wreak havoc on the roads, the potential dangers are real. “Security is a huge problem and will be one of the key challenges after the car starts driving itself,” said Srinivasan.

India could play a pivotal role in securing the connected car. “The market can use its classical IT competence in data protection,” suggested Delphi’s Krishna Prasad, Director, Delphi Technical Center India. “Many people can perform technology analysis, cryptography, methods of mitigating this risk, etc. Embedded vehicle cyber security is a bit different, but we have smart young engineers who can adapt from a typical IT cyber security approach to a vehicle-specific approach.”

The system verification requirements of highly connected and eventually autonomous vehicles are huge, but performing that in India could prove a real cost saver.