John Day

News and commentary on automotive EE trends and topics

18 February, 2014

Subaru of America recently announced that Harman’s Aha Radio will be a standard feature in all Subaru models and trims, starting with the 2015 Legacy. Smartphone-savvy vehicle owners can use Aha to access more than 100,000 channels of Web-based content.  

That led me to wonder about Pandora, but not for long. Within days, Subaru announced that Pandora smartphone integration will be part of the standard Subaru STARLINK™ infotainment connectivity feature, at least in the 2015 Legacy sedan and probably in other models going forward. Pandora lets users create and play their own radio stations based on artist or genre.

Aha has been available in Subaru vehicles for some time. It’s also available in cars from several other automakers, including Ford, Chrysler, Porsche, Acura, and Honda. It’s there for a reason:

“Our partnership with Harman and its Aha Radio service has helped Subaru offer safe and easy-to-use infotainment content to our customers,” says David Sullivan, marketing strategy & launch manager, Subaru of America. “In 2013, we had an all-time best sales year for the fifth consecutive time with 60% of our customers being new to the brand, so it is important for us to keep pace with technological change. We expect the expansion of our partnership with Aha Radio to have a positive impact on the Subaru brand and its future growth.”

Ken Lin, Subaru of America’s director of product planning, adds that nearly half of all radio listening takes place in the car,” and Pandora adds versatility. Subaru is also offering Gracenote software, which displays album art and can update the art via smartphone.

The new infotainment systems in Subarus and other cars include touch control screens as well as steering wheel control switches and voice operation.

Does anyone remember when having a cassette player in a car was a big deal?

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12 February, 2014

According to ABI Research, technology that allows drivers and passengers to use wearable smart devices in cars is the latest trend in automotive.

ABI estimates that wearable devices will interface with more than 90% of vehicles shipping globally in 2019, either directly or via smartphones. It’s a logical conclusion, according to VP and practice director, Dominique Bonte, considering the fast ramp-up of in-vehicle smartphone integration.

If phones are okay, why not watches, or Google Glass? The latter has stirred controversy, resulting in proposed legislation in several U.S. states, and in the U.K.

Bonte notes that it’s not the form-factor that should be banned; just certain use cases, like watching videos. He suggests that eyewear able to function as a dashboard camera, or to display blind spot or collision safety alerts, will contribute to safer driving.

“With in-car infotainment becoming a key customer proposition, the automotive industry is designing user interfaces both offering a rich and convenient experience and guaranteeing safety by preventing driver distraction,” Bonte says.

“While head unit proximity touch screens, heads up displays and speech recognition are now well established, the quest for next-generation automotive HMI is still on, with gesture recognition, eye control and augmented reality edging closer to implementation. At the same time, wearable form-factors are being explored bearing testimony to the automotive industry’s objective to keep up with consumer electronics innovation. But they also contribute to creating a seamless digital user experience inside and outside the vehicle.”

And it’s likely that wearables will kickstart an aftermarket connected car application ecosystem. Pebble Smartwatch, for example, has its own appstore, and Mercedes is interested in developing a Pebble app similar to its own Digital DriveStyle iPhone app. BMW and Nissan have also taken steps to integrate smart watches.

Do you own a smart watch? Are you planning to buy one? Are you using or looking forward to using Google Glass?

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7 February, 2014

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced this week that it will begin taking steps to enable vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology for light vehicles.

“Vehicle-to-vehicle technology represents the next generation of auto safety improvements, building on the life-saving achievements we’ve already seen with safety belts and air bags,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Even better, suggested Scott F. Belcher, president and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America), who called the DOT announcement “a safety leap exceeding even seat belts and air bags.”

NHTSA estimated last fall that 15,470 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes during the first half of 2013. By that estimate fatalities were down 4.2 percent from 16,150 in the first half of 2012.

DOT research indicates that safety applications using V2V technology can address a large majority of crashes involving two or more motor vehicles. With safety data such as speed and location flowing from nearby vehicles, vehicles can identify risks and provide drivers with warnings to avoid other vehicles in common crash types such as rear-end, lane change, and intersection crashes. DOT says these safety applications have been demonstrated with everyday drivers under both real-world and controlled test conditions.

But don’t expect a lot to happen quickly. NHTSA took some time to make its decision and promises to proceed carefully. It’s currently finalizing its analysis of the pilot study data and will publish a research report on V2V technology for public comment in the coming weeks.

NHTSA will then begin working on a regulatory proposal that would require V2V devices in new vehicles. Meanwhile, automakers will continue developing and promoting their own safety systems.

DOT stressed in its announcement that V2V technology does not involve exchanging or recording personal information or tracking vehicle movements. The information sent between vehicles doesn’t identify the vehicles, it just contains basic safety data. The system as contemplated contains several layers of security and privacy protection.

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30 January, 2014

It’s comforting to know that sometimes things are just what you think they are. I noticed, for example, that Audi recently updated its phone box to include Qi wireless charging, and I wondered, what’s a phone box? Turns out it’s a box in a car where you put a phone when you’re driving. Just as I thought.

Presuming it works, wireless charging in a car sounds like a great idea. The less stuff to have to plug in the better, and when you want to use a smartphone you want it to be charged and ready. One less thing to worry about.

According to the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC), which is promoting Qi as a wireless charging standard, the electricity in the bottom of the phone box flows via induction to a receiver coil in the smartphone. The WPC adds that in the future, the phone box will provide perfect cell reception and ensure that a user’s smartphone is fully charged at all times.

Qi is said to work with more than 200 smartphones and tablets sold by carriers including AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, E-Plus, NTT DoCoMo, O2, Sprint, T-Mobile, Telefonica, and Verizon. Besides Audis, Qi is available in cars including the 2014 Jeep Cherokee, the Ssangyong Chairman, and the Toyota Avalon, Prius, and Harrier.

The CE4A (Consumer Electronics for Automotive) made Qi their wireless charging choice for Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volkswagen, and Porsche, as well as Audi. It’s reasonable to expect that cooperation among carmakers in consortiums like the CE4A will bring useful new technologies to cars much faster than possible otherwise.

Have you benefited from in-vehicle wireless charging?

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27 January, 2014

Awards, agreements and upgrades made January a busy month for Hyundai Motor America, connected car-wise.

TechHive and PCWorld both selected the 2015 Hyundai Genesis as one of the top products their editors saw at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and Hyundai’s next-generation Blue Link infotainment system received one of LAPTOP Magazine’s Best of CES 2014 awards.

Verizon Connected Services

Hyundai selected Verizon Enterprise Solutions to provide connected services including safety, security, diagnostics and infotainment to Hyundai vehicles starting in 2014.

“We selected Verizon to provide the wireless network service for ‘Next-generation Blue Link’ because both customer opinion and various data sources indicate that Verizon provides the best solution to our customers for both coverage and quality,” said Woo-Young Kwak, executive vice president, Vehicle IT Service Division/Vehicle IT Development Center, Hyundai Motor Group.

SoundHound

Hyundai also announced plans to embed the SoundHound music and sound recognition app into select Hyundai & Kia vehicles, including the 2015 Genesis. Starting this spring, drivers will be able to identify songs and access SoundHound features directly through their vehicle’s head unit.

Google Search

Hyundai announced that it is enhancing Blue Link with Google-powered destination search and navigation display; remote start with an engine timer, remote stop, remote climate control, and remote defrost, and automatic collision notification and SOS emergency service with emergency contact notification.

“Customers told us they want Blue Link to work like their smartphone and we’ve worked with Google, Covisint and Station Digital Media to deliver this level of functionality,” said Barry Ratzlaff, executive director, Customer Connect and Service Business Development, Hyundai Motor America. “Blue Link subscribers now have access to Google’s accuracy and massive database when they search for destinations. Plus our engineers have developed a variety of new features aimed at delighting our customers.”’

Genesis Intelligent Assistant

For example, the new Genesis Intelligent Assistant app combines Blue Link features with data from the vehicle, the owner’s smartphone and the Internet with multiple layers of intelligence. The app sends proactive notifications and recommendations to the Genesis owner in preparation for their drive. It can remind owners to start their car remotely on a hot or cold day; provide commute information, including appropriate departure times, and send reminders for upcoming appointments that require a drive.

Hyundai considers the Genesis Intelligent Assistant app to be ”a framework for the future,” so presumably its will soon be available on other Hyundai vehicles.

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20 January, 2014

The tier one supplier Continental Automotive and HERE, formerly known as Nokia Maps, recently announced that they will intensify their Connected Car collaboration (they’ve been working together for a long time).

The firms will focus on leveraging Continental’s Electronic Horizon platform, future automated driving innovations, and intelligent transportation systems.

They’ll start by working on map technology for Electronic Horizon that will enable a vehicle to determine its position on the road within as little as 10 centimeters, or three inches. With such precise information, cars will potentially be able to react automatically to lane markings, road signs, and more. “Shifting circumstances,” as the firms describe it.

The technology is expected to enable enhanced anticipatory driving and lead to improvements for drivers in comfort, efficiency and safety.

Continental says it will be able to provide a complete end-to-end connected Electronic Horizon solution based on HERE data and cloud services to vehicle manufacturers worldwide. Its solution will also be the basis for Highly Automated Driving functionality, which Continental wants to have ready for production vehicles by 2020 – the not very far distant future.

“With precise map data from HERE and the connected Electronic Horizon, we will achieve advancements across all areas of today’s vehicle-based individual mobility,” says Continental’s Ralf Lenninger, Head of Interior Electronics Solutions.

For one thing, Lenninger says, “With the connected Electronic Horizon, vehicle manufacturers will be able to reduce their vehicles’ CO2-footprint by at least two grams per kilometer. In addition, exact map data will make the driving experience more enjoyable and safe by providing useful information about road congestion so that drivers can predetermine alternate routes, as well as a way to adapt future LED headlight functions to the road ahead.”

Ogi Redzic, HERE’s VP, Connected Driving, adds that providing an accurate, precise, and timely representation of the roads and the vehicle environment is essential for all areas of advanced driving solutions, not just for automated driving.

I’m thinking about that 10 cm precision – enough to distinguish between flavors in a doughnut rack. It will be interesting to see how they make that degree of precision useful to drivers.

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15 January, 2014

Mentor Graphics’ Embedded Software division has released a new version of its Automotive Technology Platform (ATP) for developing Linux-based in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems.

Embedded division general manager Glenn Perry notes that the new release has achieved GENIVI 5.0-compliance with leading IVI systems-on-chips (SoCs) such as Freescale’s i.MX6, Texas Instruments’ OMAP5 and Renesas’ Marzen H1. Mentor’s ATP is also fully compliant with version 1.5 of the Linux Foundation’s Yocto Project. This has to make life easier for IVI system developers.

When the new ATP is combined with Mentor’s recently announced hypervisor, automakers can integrate device connectivity and other additional functionality on IVI SoC architectures while maintaining separation for critical systems – another critical issue for developers.

New graphics development and optimization functionality in the ATP can speed the development of rich and responsive human machine interfaces (HMIs) similar to those seen in consumer electronics devices. The latest ATP release can also work with the Mentor Embedded Sourcery™ Analyzer to profile an entire embedded IVI system, including use cases such as fast boot and graphics performance.

“The latest ATP release supports leading IVI SoCs and adds unique instrumentation and profiling from the kernel to graphics layers,” says Perry. “Our experience working with Tier One suppliers drove us to simplify profiling of Linux based IVI systems and the identification of bottlenecks by developing instrumentation in the kernel and graphics layers.”

Other features in the new release include a Virtual BSP (Board Support Package) for host-based development and testing, graphics framework support for X11 and Wayland protocols, GPU (graphics processing unit) support, and an instrumented package for Qt 5.0 that includes the visual and interactive analysis of UI smoothness, start-up time, latency, and QML (Qt Modeling Language) activity.

SoC suppliers are pleased with Mentor’s platform. “The Automotive Technology Platform provides a robust GENIVI-compliant solution for automotive tier one suppliers and OEMs and includes innovate instrumentation and analysis to make the most effective use of the OMAP 5 platform,” says Matt Watson, general manager of Audio and Infotainment at Texas Instruments.

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10 January, 2014

High-speed connectivity; specifically, 4G LTE – via AT&T, as it happens – was one of the more significant automotive-related themes at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Audi of America announced a partnership with AT&T that offers U.S. Audi drivers in-vehicle 4G LTE data connectivity. Audi is starting with the 2015 A3 family but plans to extend the capability to its entire lineup.

Chevrolet also announced a high-speed data capability via an OnStar 4G LTE connection in the vehicle running on AT&T’s network, as will Audi’s connection.

Audi said its 4G LTE service on Audi connect will allow faster Google Earth™ and Google Street View enhancements to Audi MMI navigation plus. High-speed connectivity will also provide faster downloads and high-definition video streaming for up to eight devices used by passengers over the in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot.

Audi will offer a Mobile Share data plan option to AT&T wireless customers who want to add their car to their existing smartphone or tablet data plan.

An Audi mobile app will allow advanced functionality between the MMI system and smartphones to reduce the need for drivers to handle their devices when accessing some smartphone-based features.

And speaking of smartphone apps in the car, Chevrolet introduced AppShop, which allows a driver or front seat passenger to view all apps available from and for MyLink through an icon displayed on the MyLink screen, then they can download the apps they want directly to the vehicle and organize, update or delete them – just as they could on a smartphone.

Chevrolet notes that AppShop has the potential to the temptation to use a smartphone while driving, though features that require a lot of attention, or require a keyboard, are unavailable while the vehicle is moving.

AppShop will be available this summer on some 2015 models in the U.S. and Canada with MyLink, including the Corvette, Equinox, Impala, Malibu, Volt, Silverado and Silverado HD.

AppShop will benefit from the embedded 4G LTE connection. What possibilities or problems, if any, do you foresee with high-speed connectivity in cars?

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27 December, 2013

The research firm IHS attributes much of the growth in the silicon powertrain sensors market to the need for emissions reduction worldwide. Stricter emission standards in the United States and Europe are projected to drive the market forward, according to a new IHS report.

The global market for powertrain silicon sensors is expected to reach $1.03 billion in 2013, an increase of 7% from $964.5 million in 2012. IHS predicts that the market will grow at rates ranging from 5 to 7 percent in the next four years and will reach $1.28 billion by 2017.

“Although vehicles today produce considerably less pollution than 20 years ago, significant advancements continue to be made by car manufacturers in engine-out emissions and exhaust after-treatment technologies,” says Richard Dixon, IHS senior principal analyst for MEMS & sensors.

“These improvements have been carried out as a result of mandated legislation in areas like the U.S., Japan and Western Europe, aimed at lowering carbon emissions in vehicles to help reduce global warming.”

While emission-reduction systems are used on all types of vehicles in mature markets, Dixon notes that legislation is especially targeting diesel engines, which make up 50 percent of the European market.

The high fuel efficiency of diesel engines explains their popularity, but diesel engines also require the most treatment due to a combination of poisonous nitrogen oxide gases and particle matter (soot) produced during the combustion process.

Methods to reduce these pollutants, like cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), diesel particle filters, and selective catalytic reduction systems, require sensors for control and also to monitor their performance, according to Dixon.

Stop-start systems and gasoline particle filters (GPFs) can also help meet tougher emission control standards.

Stop-start systems use a combination of wheel-speed sensors to ascertain if the vehicle has stopped, and switches that determine if the clutch or brake has been actuated and the gear is in neutral position. Pressure sensors measure the vacuum generated in the braking system under a stopped engine condition, and a current sensor is used to determine if the battery condition is sufficient to handle the restart of the car.

GPFs are effective at removing soot particles from a gasoline direct-injection engine in the same manner as a filter in a diesel engine.

Other sensors used to help reduce emissions include in-cylinder pressure sensors, oil pressure sensors and evaporative fuel sensors. Overall, sensors are critical to emissions reduction and fuel economy – the two most significant drivers of automotive technology.

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24 December, 2013

NXP Semiconductors and Datang Telecom Technology Co. Ltd., in a joint venture (JV), formed Datang NXP Semiconductors Co. Ltd., a fabless firm considered to be the first automotive semiconductor company in China.

Datang NXP is focused on automotive ASICs (application specific integrated circuits) based on mixed signal technology, which Drue Freeman, NXP senior vice president, global automotive sales & marketing, notes is one of NXP’s key strengths and core differentiators.

“The applications we’re targeting, around electric vehicles, are applications that call for converting voltages or currents or monitoring battery health, and those are especially well-suited to analog mixed-signal technology. It’s just a good fit.”

Freeman notes that China is a market in which most businesses are joint ventures. “The government tends to prefer it that way,” he says. “We wanted to be part of a truly Chinese company within which we would have significant influence, and this (JV with Datang) was the outcome.”

The joint venture is an interesting move, according to Chris Webber, vice president of the automotive practice at Strategy Analytics. “Given the appalling air quality in China’s cities, zero-emission electrified powertrains are a good long term bet, though car volumes will remain relatively low for at least the mid-term relative to overall sales and are reliant to a degree on the strength of government policy,” Webber says.

As the world’s largest manufacturing center, China has experienced rapidly increasing air pollution from greenhouse gas emissions. It also suffers from a scarcity of oil reserves. NXP estimates that crude oil imports account for 54% of China’s total oil usage and cars account for 40% of national oil consumption. The Chinese government has good reason to want more hybrid and electric vehicles on its roads.

“In the West, outside of China, there is still a lot to be gained in efficiencies going after conventional technology,” says Freeman. “The momentum around electric and hybrid electric vehicles has cooled down in the last couple of years.

“The need for electrification in China is still really great,” Freeman continues. “The car penetration rate is low and pollution is getting pretty bad so if they are going to reach the same level of cars per-capita as Japan, or the U.S., there is going to be a real strain on the environment if there isn’t a transition toward electrification, and the government there is really promoting innovation toward the electrification of the drivetrain.

“They also see it as an opportunity to compete against the developed economies. That’s what’s driving this push in China. It’s the largest and fastest growing automotive market in the world, and if the electrification market is going to take off there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to happen in China, and it’s going to happen with a strong preference toward domestic suppliers. Rather than fighting this trend, why not become a part of it and ultimately leverage that technology outside of China.”

This sounds something worth watching.

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