Challenges Galore for Connected Cars

Finding a nugget of data and making it useful for vehicle owners is a complex challenge, said OnStar's Timothy Nixon.

Developing a connected car involves a number of technical challenges that must be put together in a way that meets varied consumer demand. Technical issues associated with driver distraction, app integration, and a growing number of inputs must be made in ways that divine the needs of customers who want to carry their technology from the home to the car.

As more features and functions are integrated into cabins, there is a need to integrate them while maintaining ease of use without impacting safety. Myriad facets of these technical and social issues were examined in the “New Possibilities with the Connected Vehicle” panel at SAE 2014 World Congress on Tuesday morning.

“With satellite radio, AM and FM, cellular, telematics, Internet radio, you’re getting more pipelines into the vehicle, and they’re all getting faster,” said John Robb, Senior Manager, Electronic Systems Development at Hyundai American Technical Center. “They are more than connections; people expect the vehicle to be an extension of their living space.”

The growing role of social media and other consumer technologies is luring major corporations such as Apple and Google into the automotive space. For them, connectivity includes both infotainment and auto-related activities such as car shopping.

“The world’s largest auto dealership attracts 2 million people in a year, but it gets 10 million visitors online,” said Meredith Guerriero, Global Head of Automotive for Google Inc. “The new generation of car buyers has the largest purchasing power and influence since the Baby Boomers. There are new opportunities, but they bring new challenges for OEMs.”

Many panelists noted that systems must all work together to provide more benefits. It’s challenging to make use of data that’s relevant to vehicle owners.

“Finding a nugget of data on the vehicle’s communication bus and sending it to a network where systems can determine what needs to be done, then sending a note to the consumer requires a number of complex interactions,” said Timothy Nixon, Chief Technology Officer, OnStar. “When people see the check-engine light, they have a feeling of ‘oh, no.’ We have apps that help demystify this type of message.”

Keeping people connected is only part of the road map. Vehicle-to-vehicle communication is another technology that’s expected to gain acceptance over the next few years.

“Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication is an essential building block for autonomous driving,” Robb said.

When vehicles talk to each other and to infrastructure systems, it’s critical that messages come from authorized transmitters that haven’t been compromised by hackers or others. Security grows in importance when connected functions get into areas that involve safety.

“Security is an aspect of V2V that can’t be ignored,” said Bruce Belzowski, Director, Automotive Analysis, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). “The current tests show V2V security is robust, but we’re working as fast as possible to make it more secure.”

The nature of testing is being transformed as fields such as connectivity become more complex and interact with more systems. The role of modeling and simulation is expanding.

“Continual testing is necessary, you need to design and test, not design and then start testing later in the cycle,” said Stephan Tarnutzer, Chief Operating Officer, DGE Inc. “Testing and validation need to be brought upstream; you can’t have them only at the end of the process. Hardware in the loop is also important for testing complete systems.”

These systems can extend far beyond the vehicle. For example, personal communications can’t overload cellular networks in ways that could slow down an emergency call.

“One question is whether 911 calls will be dropped if there are too many signals on the network,” Robb said. “We have relationships with cellular carriers, and we’ve developed algorithms that ensure that a 911 call is taken at a higher priority on the network.”

Safety must be a central part of connectivity programs, panelists agreed. Like the cost of a feature, driver distraction is an issue that underlies all other aspects.

“You have to remember that everything must be integrated in a seamless, intuitive way so drivers keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel,” Nixon said.