The Connected Vehicle Is The ‘MODEL T’ Of Our Generation

Sensors Insights by Alan Amici

Since the modern automobile was invented, its basic functionality and shape has remained essentially the same. However, the environment in which vehicles operate, and the data to which they connect in order to improve or enhance the driving experience, are changing dramatically.

The connected car has the power to shake up the auto industry as profoundly as the first Model T. The implications for the connected car revolution – and the outlook for its growth – are strongly positive. IHS Automotive predicts that sales of connected cars will grow by six-fold globally through 20201; by that year, says Gartner, 250 million connected vehicles will be on roadways, "making connected cars a major element of the Internet of Things (IoT)."

But if connected cars – equipped with internet connectivity and sensor capabilities that can share information with many sources inside and outside the vehicle – are to become as feature-rich and reliable as forecasted, automakers and OEMs must develop the quality connectors and sensors that make connectivity possible. Especially as information is increasingly exchanged both inside and outside the vehicle.

Internally, for example, sensors provide feedback that can control how and when a vehicle takes an action. These actions include everything from braking, steering and throttle control, to warnings and route guidance. Externally, information is sensed and transmitted to help vehicles determine position, speed, fuel level, diagnostics and a wide array of other functions.

Propelling Connectivity

Safety

Cars, while remarkable inventions, can also be dangerous, when driven unsafely. More than 1 million people die every year in automotive accidents globally; car accidents are the most common killer of people ages 10-24. More than 2.3 million people in the U.S. were injured in car crashes in 2013, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Even though cars have become much safer than they were some 50 years ago, their drivers are still a weak link in the safety continuum: research shows that 90 percent of crashes are caused by human error. U.S. Federal agencies that govern automotive safety are recognizing that smarter vehicles can help reduce traffic fatalities and injuries. The New Car Assessment Program, created globally and aligned with the NHTSA, measures collision safety for car occupants, and is now focusing on advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) technology as a way to manufacture cars that will help drivers better avoid collisions.

Environment

As with safety, automakers, working with government regulators, have made tremendous strides in reducing polluting emissions from cars. The auto industry is currently working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, with a focus on vehicle weight, fuel consumption, and improved electrical efficiency. However, inefficient driving habits and traffic congestion are counterproductive to the efforts to make cars more environmentally friendly.

Better driving habits can be enabled by data-awareness of both car performance and the environment in which you are driving through. Traffic delays and congestion increase carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and drive up costs, causing more money to be spent combating pollution. In the European Union, €80 billion euros is spent annually due to congestion.

Car manufacturers are heeding the calls to reduce CO2 emissions. In the EU, by 2021, the fleet average to be achieved by all new cars is 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer. This target is a 40 percent reduction from the fleet average in 2007. A key link between connected cars and greener cars is more efficient routing from point A to point B. When cars are more connected, including to infrastructure, they use less fuel (and pollute less) because there will be less time waiting in traffic (or even non-traffic). For example, technology can aid route optimization to avoid traffic delays and idling.

Lifestyle

Consumers who are used to connectivity everywhere they go – at cafes, hotels, home or office – are reluctant to give up this information access when they are on the road and in their cars. As they build greater connectivity into their homes – for example, adding thermostats and kitchen appliances that share data and can be controlled via apps – they not only expect the same convenience and access in their cars, they anticipate their connected homes will also sync with their connected cars. These consumers are comfortable with their mobile devices and rely on them to stay connected and access data, and they look to their cars for the same functionality.

Arguably, more connected cars can help people drive more efficiently and better avoid hazards. For example, access to the Internet brings information to drivers about weather and traffic conditions so they can steer clear of congestion, or choose safer routes in case of weather issues. Car consumers will seek out tools that connect them to more precise information about traffic and routing, carpooling and how many miles they can drive before they reach the next service or charging station.

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OEM Criteria

As automakers shift resources toward technology inside the car, they must focus on all of the market drivers above: safety, environmental requirements, and lifestyle expectations. Meeting these requirements requires a far more complex combination of hardware, software, and connectivity and sensor solutions – for example:

  • Robust and reliable connectivity and sensor technologies
  • Core connectivity – essential, seamless power signal and data
  • Reliable performance in harsh environments, such as extreme temperature variations, and vibrations in rugged terrain
  • Miniaturization – ever smaller, lighter, and modular components
  • Effective, safe, and efficient power management
  • Faster data transmission, which consumers have come to expect in their connected homes
  • Sensing for improved performance and monitoring

Connected For Safety

An increasing level of automation means a growing need for more networking of all onboard systems, as well as sensors. Innovators in this field continue to break ground with technologies that support ADAS, such as:

  • Headlamps that help drivers better see the road
  • Collision avoidance systems that automatically apply the brakes
  • A shift in focus from passive safety to active safety, and from warning systems to avoidance systems
  • The evolution of parallel parking and chassis control – requiring sensor solutions for fully automated control

As consumers push for the availability of real-time data in their cars, car makers, and technology providers need to guarantee data speeds and availability. For example, vehicles must respond immediately when a signal is transmitted that requires a response. Systems cannot suffer resets or delays – reaction time must be in a fraction of a second. Connected car systems must be capable of transmitting a full gigabyte of information per second under high-vibration conditions if they are to be considered reliable.

To contribute to safety, connected cars must also share supplementary information from WLAN or mobile telecommunication channels between the onboard electronic devices and the infrastructure (V2I) or other vehicles in the vicinity (V2V), which will boost the decision confidence level of the ADAS.

Connected cars can enhance driver and passenger safety even further. For instance, they can feature alerts when children are mistakenly locked inside of an overheated car; they can offer panic alarms in case of accidents or other unsafe situations; or they can include geo-fencing options that send car owners a text if the vehicle travels beyond a set boundary (such as when children drive a parent's car).

Connected For Green

Regulators and scientists agree: If we are committed to improving air quality, we must improve driving efficiency. This means innovating ways to reduce the time cars are on the road, and also requiring less fuel to operate effectively.

For example, it is estimated that 25 percent of city driving typically involves simply searching for parking spaces. By building parking availability data into navigation systems, drivers can park and turn off cars much faster. In addition, power management technologies and new architectures can also deliver efficiency improvements. All such systems are closed-loop control, and require sensors.

Environmentally friendly driving can also be a result of advanced manufacturing techniques. A vehicle's weight can be reduced by using lighter or less material, thus improving fuel efficiency and therefore reducing C02 emissions. One tactic for using less material in a vehicle is to miniaturize its components. In addition, the use of aluminum and connectivity solutions in vehicles can reduce weight.

As automakers go lighter, they must give extra consideration to areas of the vehicle such as the body, drive systems, chassis, and on-board electrical systems. Higher temperatures and vibrational loads require improved and innovative terminal and connector systems.

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Connected For Lifestyle

To bring car owners the features and functions that optimize driver comfort, improve navigation and guidance, and deliver entertainment, automakers must work with technology vendors to create in-dashboard applications that supply drivers and passengers with cloud-connected information and services. These systems often are referred to as "telematics," and provide two-way communications – to the vehicle and from the vehicle.

These lifestyle and convenience features not only keep car occupants better informed and entertained, they can help boost productivity. When connected cars eventually make the leap to self-driving vehicles, drivers can become more productive, using the time spent in the car for something other than paying attention to traffic conditions. In addition, if improved traffic management technologies reduce time spent in the car, drivers and passengers gain more time for other activities.

Potential Roadblocks

While the technologies and capabilities are in place (and are evolving) to deliver on the connected car in the future, other factors must be addressed in this ecosystem:

  • Security and privacy: The exchange of data among applications in the vehicle and other systems, such as over Wi-Fi and to connected home systems, raises issues about how this data is protected. OEMs and automakers must include safeguards by making the connected applications and devices less vulnerable to hacking.
  • Internet access: There is currently a limitation as liability for accessing data across geographies is not clarified and various countries have different regulations. While this may not be an issue for countries like the U.S., Brazil, Japan, Korea or China (as cars are not likely to leave the country), it may be in places like Europe, where there are many countries within a relatively small geographical area.
  • Infrastructure: Building safer and more fuel-efficient vehicles means little if roadways deteriorate. Traffic management efforts must take roadway investments into account.
  • Autonomous driving buy-in: To embrace the idea of self-driving cars, consumers need assurance that they are safer than driving the cars themselves. Automakers must demonstrate proof that autonomous vehicles operate with near 100 percent reliability.
  • Economics: Connected car advances must make good economic sense for car buyers – or connected cars will be seen as a luxury innovation, available to only a select few. Connectivity should be affordable – industry-standard components will further the affordability cause.

Sources For Further Reading:

1 IHS Automotive, "Big Data in the Driver's Seat of Connected Car Technological Advances," November 19, 2013: http://press.ihs.com/press-release/country-industry-forecasting/big-data-drivers-seat-connected-car-technological-advance
2 Gartner, "Gartner Says By 2020, a Quarter Billion Connected Vehicles Will Enable New In-Vehicle Services and Automated Driving Capabilities," January 26, 2015: http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2970017
3 Association for Safe International Road Travel: http://asirt.org/Initiatives/Informing-Road-Users/Road-Safety-Facts/Road-Crash-Statistics
4 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "2013 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview," December 2014: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/812101.pdf
5 European Commission, Mobility and Transport: http://ec.europa.eu/transport/newsletters/2013/12-20/articles/urban-mobility_en.htm
6, 7 European Commission Climate Action: http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/transport/vehicles/cars/index_en.htm

About the Author

Alan Amici is Vice President, Engineering for Automotive Americas. Alan is responsible for product and process development of TE Connectivity's automotive portfolio of components and connection systems. He also is the Technical Manager for TE's partnership with Andretti Technologies and is active in emerging talent acquisition and development as a University Relations Executive Champion.

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