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There have been several recent developments in the area of automobile telematics (everything from cell phones to GPS to OnStar).


In-car computers--headed for a dead end?

DETROIT--If the automobile industry proceeds with current business plans, the car of the future will include an outdated, malfunctioning jumble of incompatible electronic gadgets.

That's the pessimistic prediction of some experts at Telematics Detroit 2002, a trade show for people who engineer and manufacture dashboard electronics such as wireless devices, navigation tools and passenger entertainment systems--an emerging industry known as telematics. The two-day conference, which concludes Thursday, has so far been a stark contrast to the euphoria that surrounded in-vehicle computing just one year ago....

Many experts urged automakers--especially General Motors and its 7-year-old OnStar division--to cede the young market to wireless providers and technology start-ups, lest they lose focus on their core business of designing and manufacturing vehicles...

"We believe that the current attempt by automakers to become service providers must go away. The wireless manufacturers will be the deliverers, and the automakers will be the enablers, based on the irrefutable view that the cell phone is king". ...

Criticism is even coming from within the ranks of the auto industry. Several automakers, including Stuttgart, Germany-based DaimlerChrysler, have decided to surrender to technology companies some of the $20 billion in worldwide telematics revenue expected in 2010. Executives who have crunched the numbers say no automaker sees profits in the sector anytime soon.

"We had some hubris and thought we could figure out a business model for the industry six or seven years ago," said Jim Geschke, vice president of electronics integration for Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls, which partners with DaimlerChrysler and plans to launch wireless electronics in vehicles in mid-2003. "But we couldn't. So we recoiled and reinvented our approach. "...

"We have to build upon our foundation," said Scott Kubicki, vice president of OnStar Core Services, who noted in an interview that OnStar is not yet profitable as a standalone division and would not say when it would move into the black. " ...

In Detroit, engineers need at least 18 months to take a vehicle from concept to execution.... The so-called cycle time is at least three times longer than in the electronics industry, where products flow in six-month cycles. ...

Because of that imbalance, automakers that insist on embedded telematics will produce vehicles that have outdated technology just a half-year after they roll off the assembly line. Or, customers will have to bring their vehicles back to the dealership or to an after-market shop for hardware and software upgrades as long as they own the car.....

"What are the chances we'll manage telematics well?" asked Jack Withrow, director of telematics for Chrysler, the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based division of DaimlerChrysler. "The odds are against us."...

"There is no doubt the hype of telematics has exceeded what's been delivered," said Mike Finley, vice president of enterprise business for Ford's mobile division, Wingcast. "If the customer's airbag never deploys, it will be a tough sell to get them to re-up."

Ford, Qualcomm Halt Venture
To Offer In-Car Communications - WSJ June 3, 2002

Ford Motor Co. and wireless technology provider Qualcomm Inc. shut down their Wingcast LLC joint venture, established in October 2000 to pursue the market for in-car telecommunications.

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It wasn't immediately clear what would become of Wingcast's commitment to provide services for Nissan Motor Co.'s Infiniti unit, beginning this fall. Wingcast was expected to begin providing in-car communications for certain Ford models later this year.
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The failure of Wingcast marks another milestone in the auto industry's retreat from its late 1990s foray into e-commerce and mobile communications, known as telematics . Once auto-industry executives envisioned billions in potential new revenue from motorists using wireless-communications technology embedded in cars to enable on-board e-mail, hands-free phone calls and other information and entertainment services.

The reality has proved more sobering. General Motors Corp.'s Onstar service continues to expand its subscriber base as GM makes the service available on more vehicles. But it remains unclear how many consumers will be willing to pay more than a small monthly fee for basic safety and security functions that Onstar offers. And there is increasing skepticism among auto makers that consumers will pay for expensive on-board communications hardware in their cars when most already have cellphones that offer wireless communications services.

Now aren't you glad Acura DOESN'T offer OnStar on the MDX ;)
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Re: Mostly accurate...

renov8r said:
But onstar is more aservice than a true "telematic device".
Right, but many of those "services", beyond those that require integration of the telematic device with the car operation (e.g. unlocking car doors by phone), can be obtained through wireless carriers. You can buy additional services like concierge, travel directions, etc., and emergency help (911) is free ;) .

To Cringely's points - I do not believe the the roadblock is the local storage. Many OEM GPS systems rely on (and apparently work well with) lowly CD-ROM (650MB) disk. And obviously, the additional pit density of DVD-ROMs (i.e. Acura) are not overly susceptible to in-car vibration.

Yes, these are not re-writable media, but I can buy a 256MB Compact flash memory module for < $99, and a 1GB Compact flash or 5GB PCCard hard drive for < $399 (with these operating specs:

Operating/Non Operating
Ambient temperature:0 to 65ºC / -40 to 65ºC
Relative humidity: 8 to 90%/ 5 to 95%
Shock: 175 G (2 ms) / 1500 G (1 ms)
Vibration: 1 G 0-peak (5 to 500 Hz) / 5G 0-peak (10 to 500 Hz)

These specs are more than adequate for in-car use (these drives are designed for use in PDAs, digital cameras and other 'harsh' environments).

IMHO, the *real* problem is the lack of a universal interface. This is the only way to prevent the "design for obsolesence" that is inherent in the dichotomy of new car development times, and electronics development times. If the car manufacturers and the electronics vendors would simply agree on a common physical/protocol based interface, then (in theory) any device would be able to connect to any car (think USB ports on PCs). This would be similiar to the industry standard OBD-II interface and in many ways could simply be an extension of that standard.

The way it would/(should?) work would be that each car manufacturer is free to design into the car any sensor or activator that they wish (GPS signal, gyro signal, road speed, engine speed, throttle position, door lock, air-bag signal, emergency button, help button, headliner microphone, NAV/Cell phone speaker, etc. etc.) and they would all be multiplexed on the universal interface (again, similiar to USB which allows up to 127 unique devices to communicate independently with the hub controller). Then ANY head unit or external device, from ANY manufacturer (that is OBD-III?) certified, could be simply plugged into the interface and *voila*, you have instant NAV/Cell Phone/Emergency/Entertainment/Engine Monitoring system of your choosing.

To upgrade to a new feature you simply swap out the head unit for a newer model, (or re-flash its software). If the car you wish to intall the head unit in doesn't have a particular sensor or actuator, it would simply be "grayed" out of the menus of the head unit. If the head unit (say in an extreme example, it is only a cell phone - yes, that would require that there be some "universal" connector for cell phones) then you could only display or control those things that the cell phone could control. The signals from the "extra" in-car sensors would simply be ignored.

Yes, I believe that this is all quite possible to do now if only the industry would pursue an enhanced standard instead of trying to use these features as a competitive advantage (the problem with that, as outlined in both articles, is that the car manufacturers don't realize WHO their competitors are - Verizon, Sprint, etc.)
 
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