Smart drivers

The computer technology going into our road vehicles is close to delivering everything we expect from desktops and home entertainment systems. E&T looks at what's on offer.

Although computerised vehicle-control mechanisms remain largely closed to infiltration by more mainstream technologies, in-vehicle systems that mediate driving, and dashboard infotainment systems, are increasingly built on the kinds of interfaces that resemble drivers' personal computers, mobile devices, and home entertainment electricals.

The trend is, in part, being shaped by drivers' desire to have vehicle control and navigation systems that have a common - or quasi-common - interface with other electronic devices that they use regularly, like mobile phones, PDAs, and portable computers. The fact that these systems are customarily designed and supplied for vehicle manufacturers by specialist partners plugged into the ICT mainstream, is also a decisive factor.

Last year, E&T reported on how the Open Source software ideal was making inroads into the automotive sector. The in-vehicle operating system platform space has been dominated by Microsoft Auto OS, QNX's RTOS, and other proprietary solutions - but it is still being challenged by Linux-based initiatives that could bring to the car and truck the same flexibility enjoyed by home and office.

Last March, Microsoft announced the next release of Microsoft Auto, which expands its hardware support to include Intel Architecture processors. The chipmaker itself is keen to get its Atom-class processors on the road, and, with a group of automotive industry companies, has formed an industry body to drive adoption of an Open Source reference model called GENIVI for in-vehicle infotainment technology.

"The automotive industry is at an inflection point, where software plus services will redefine the future of the in-vehicle experience," comments Microsoft Automotive Business Unit general manager Tom Phillips. "[In this market] innovation is the new currency, and the challenge facing car manufacturers is how to quickly - and affordably - [introduce] innovative in-car solutions and services."

But other vendors are chasing the same niche. Hughes Telematics is one such. Its in-vehicle solutions for cars revolve around five service categories: safety/security, navigation, diagnostics, convenience, and infotainment. Supporting this is the company's offering, a personalised Web portal that enables customers to interact with and use their vehicle. Directions and media can be pushed to the car from, and customers can set emergency contact preferences and diagnostics overview of their vehicle's well-bring. They can also download directions to the vehicle, or even unlock the doors.

Driveconnected also uses natural language voice recognition, so that the driver can speak to the vehicle in normal vernacular without having to memorise set commands.

Hughes Telematics has entered into technology relationships with IBM and Oracle to factor technological elements into its product range. Hughes is working with IBM to build in-car telematics systems for Mercedes Benz and Chrysler.

According to Thilo Koslowski, vice-president automotive at analyst Gartner: "Telematics and vehicle ICT are moving from the conceptual phase to strategic execution." Partnerships between telematics providers and IT vendors are "critical… in realising the connected vehicle", he adds.

Embedded automotive operating system and middleware specialist QNX is steering a similar path. In February, QNX Software Systems announced QNX CAR, a methodology that seeks to unify the way automotive OEMs and their tier one supplier's prototype, develop, and deploy in-vehicle infotainment, telematics, and navigation systems.

QNX CAR comprises a connected application platform, sample applications, reference implementations, and a mechanism for delivering software updates and features to vehicles. The initial application platform integrates with consumer devices, Bluetooth, music management, Internet radio, and other third-party technologies. It supports a range of processor architectures and Atom processors. Such integration reduces the initial-stage engineering requires for prototyping program, QNX claims.

Although cars tend to attract the most attention in respect to the implementation of in-vehicle IT, the vans, trucks and lorries represent important receptacles for such emerging technologies. Advances in telematics "have had a profound impact on the transportation and logistics industry", believes Motorola's Enterprise Mobility Division's VP of mobile computing Brian Viscount.

"It enables providers to automate the collection and creation of required documentation for compliance with government regulations, control fuel and maintenance costs, and gain visibility into the driving habits of drivers."

Motorola's VC6096 WWAN In-Vehicle/Fixed Mount Mobile Computer is an industry standards-based platform designed to support transportation and logistics providers with a multifunction in-cab platform that offers simultaneous support for 3.5G HSDPA wireless LAN/WAN, Bluetooth, GPS, and telematics support. Bar-code scanning and image capture can enable the automatic data collection in the back of the truck, and at the loading dock.

Personal productivity applications that enable drivers to send and receive email to stay in touch with the office - as well as friends and family - receive updates from dispatch and obtain real-time weather and traffic updates.

Further information

GENIVI Alliance [new window]

IET Technical & Professional Networks

Automotive and Road Transport Systems Network [new window]

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