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Connected Cars – The Road to the Future

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Tech Mahindra, an industry leader in Integrated Engineering Solutions looks at the future challenges and opportunities of integrated technology in connected cars.

In today’s digital age the consumer is continually bombarded by the unlimited potential of connected technologies.

Technology has become so engrained in our daily lives that even a few hours of ‘disconnectivity’ for some people is likened (could be replaced with some word such as ‘feel’/’seem’) being stranded on a remote island. We even have a new syndrome named after this condition called Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO for short!

Until recently the car has represented such a ‘remote island’ with little or no access to social media or online applications but this is now changing as smart devices become increasingly integrated into car entertainment and navigation systems.

As this trend becomes the norm, the global automotive industry is now faced with very similar challenges that the consumer electronics industry has been going through during the past decade. Questions that automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are now grappling with include: whether a common industry software platform will evolve; whether software will feature more prominently than the actual hardware; how will safety concerns be met; and, will a related business model that supports such new value-add services for the consumer emerge as a new industry standard?

The connected car industry is still in a nascent stage and for now these questions remain unanswered. Nonetheless, the contribution of electronics and software to the total value of the car has grown irrevocably and will undoubtedly become a key competitive differentiator for automotive manufacturers. Case in point it is predicted that automotive infotainment systems will constitute 40% of the total value of a car by 2025, up from 20% (It has been mentioned widely by industry experts that the electronics content in automotive has been growing at a CAGR of 6-10%).

Unlike other parts of the electronics community however the automotive industry doesn’t have the flexibility or luxury of launching beta versions or being able to continually tweak their product based on real-time ‘trial and error’ consumer feedback. The stringent quality norms that must necessarily be built into a new vehicle range typically requires a launch cycle of anywhere between three to five years, making it tough to predict and meet future consumer technology demands that will be commercially ‘in vogue’ and determine future sales cycles.

Delivering The Right Solutions At The Right Point

Considering these challenges, there are a number of steps which the automotive industry can adopt to ensure that they are delivering the right solutions at the right point of the customer demand cycle.

Synergise on diverse capabilities – The connected car is a complex value chain and it would require the concerted efforts of multiple players to build a sustainable solution. A common software platform across OEMs could ensure an ecosystem which would deliver out multiple applications to support the wider industry and also meet the time-to-market requirements. Consolidation and aggregation is the key to building scale.

User experience as the core of product evolution – This is one space where we can and must learn from the broader consumer electronics industry. The key here is to build a multi-modal user experience incorporating multiple input options such a touch, gestures, voice, eye-ball tracking and so on. Only an intuitive user experience can ensure that user has unlimited access to content whilst putting to rest safety concerns.

Build for the future – OEMs are using existing smartphone connectivity as a quick-fix to overcome the concerns on technological obsolescence. This is one approach, but perhaps a better way of addressing the challenge would be to build a scalable solution that can be continuously upgraded throughout the vehicle’s lifecycle, therefore also encouraging a longer and more engaging relationship between manufacturer and customer.

Designing For Different Markets

Comparative vehicle manufacturing in western and emerging markets is driven by vastly different end user needs that engineers need to try and understand and accommodate.

For example, western markets are moving into connected car ‘back-end’ systems that integrate vehicle diagnostics, the health and awareness of the driver, as well as preventing and in some cases predicting accidents. In this case the role of cloud technology, with a lot of predictive analytics and big data, will continue to play a significant role.

However if western markets are being driven by data, emerging markets are being driven ‘front-end’ systems such as voice. In these markets, where driving doesn't get much above 60 km per hour, voice technology such as speech-to-text is driving connected car advancements right now.

Interestingly the emerging manufacturers in regional markets are evolving faster than their more established Western market counterparts. For example two out of the five Indian automotive OEMs have stopped putting CD players in their vehicles, opting instead to leverage smart phones and other connected devices. 

Innovation regardless of market however comes at a cost.

“Connected Vehicle” Concept

Recognising all of the above challenges, Tech Mahindra last year created a strategy to provide the automotive sector with an end-to-end service which moves away from traditional distribution of bringing standalone products to the market.

The “Connected Vehicle” concept, a new vehicle infotainment and telematics service that allows users to connect smart phones to their vehicles and then leverage phone applications, such as navigation, through the car. The second phase, which is currently being rolled out, will add cloud services with an integrated app store, voice recognition and text to speech.

In phase three, research and development will focus on gesture recognition, medical gateway and smart grid gateway concepts.

We are some way off this more advanced phase, but an end-to-end service would mean providing the entire gamut of connected car value-added services, including key features such as the inclusion of a health module, a vehicle diagnostics system and seamless integration with an app store.

Partnership adds confidence

This is an exciting time for those designing the cars of tomorrow, but there is no doubt that being able to extract some of the ‘unknown’ by being able to leverage custom made embedded system solutions, standalone reusable modules, components and systems integration will not hinder innovation, but actively accelerate it.

As an Integrated Engineering Solutions company Tech Mahindra offers solutions and services for both high and low end markets. The high-end service provides superior safety features through the service delivery platform, while the low-end offer includes the infotainment capabilities for a competitive price, subsequently meeting the particular interest of both markets.

The future of technology integration will continue to be an ongoing and exciting challenge for the global automotive industry, particularly as key players strive to meet the very diverse needs of developed and emerging markets. As such an outsourced integrated engineering solution model may afford the most practical entry point into both markets.

Karthikeyan Natarajan is Senior Vice President & Head of Integrated Engineering Solutions at Tech Mahindra

Image: hothardware.com


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