Issue: Nov 2011

Meeting the connectivity challenge – differentiation on a common standard platform

It is vital to provide flexibility, so that it is possible for customers to be standards compliant, yet to differentiate and enhance their offerings

by Alan Tran

Providing motorists with the same mobile access to information and applications they enjoy while at home or in the office is one of the challenges facing OEMs. 

Industry bodies such as the Car Connectivity Consortium are working to ensure that the content is provided in-vehicle as a seamless and safe experience for the driver. One of the core members of the organization is Cambridge UK-based RealVNC. 

Automotive Industries (AI) asked Tom Blackie, Vice President Mobile RealVNC, whether the open source standard was the best route for integrating mobile devices and vehicles. 

Blackie: Open standards are essential for sharing best practice and ensuring wide adoption. But, it is vital to provide flexibility, so that it is possible for customers to be standards compliant, yet to differentiate and enhance their offerings. More often than not, the actual implementation of open source software that Tier 1s and OEMs use is a commercial solution, because they want to know that someone is on the hook when problems come up. They will pay for support and maintenance, for protection of the IP they add, and for warranty back up. The MirrorLink connectivity protocol is based on our original VNC open standard RFB 3.8 protocol, we support this standard within VNC Automotive, as well as our own more advanced version RFB 4.1 and iPod Out. 

AI: What differentiates VNC Automotive?

Blackie: It allows real time display and control of a mobile device from a vehicle infotainment system. The real differentiator, say as opposed to a MirrorLink type protocol, is that VNC Automotive is device agnostic, and is available on the widest range of handsets and as an aftermarket mobile solution. The mobile software doesn’t need to be embedded at the point of manufacture. 

From the driver’s perspective, this is a real innovation. Our technology replicates the screen of the mobile device on the head unit, giving them access to all of their mobile content, such as navigation applications, traffic updates, music libraries and internet radio stations whilst on the move. The driver can control their mobile directly from the infotainment system touch screen, vehicle bezel keys, steering wheel switches and by voice command. This is a massive change to the driving experience. 

The technology also enables the head unit to maintain a connection with a remote desktop PC, enterprise system or cloud-based application. We believe this functionality is not only ground-breaking, but a real benefit in the ever-connected world. Whilst there’s lots of talk about the cloud, we’re providing systems that actually deliver this connectivity. For example, Google’s Chrome has our technology in it. 

AI: What are the benefits to automotive OEMs of integrating VNC into their products? 

Blackie: It is available as two embedded software components - a VNC Server installed on the mobile device, and a VNC Viewer on the head unit. This allows seamless integration between mobile and vehicle head unit systems. It also opens up a wealth of opportunities, such as branding, additional revenue generation, and the ability to offer a superior driving experience. Highly important is that we guarantee the two ends will work well together when using this combination. There is none of the interoperability issues the automotive industry has historically faced when integrating technologies such as Bluetooth. 

Take the example of branding. Whilst VNC Automotive replicates the mobile device UI on the infotainment system, the customer is not forced to use this standard look and feel. The technology is flexible enough that they can adapt the replicated UI to their own requirements, incorporating additional branding and design features if desired.
This flexibility also provides extension capabilities. An example is driver distraction mechanisms, such as linking vehicle speed with access to mobile applications. In short we’re about embracing standards, yet providing the Auto OEMs and Tier 1s with the flexibility to do what they need to, rather than forcing them to accept whatever a handset vendor or applications developer deems to be acceptable. We’re putting the control back in the hands of those that matter. 

AI: How are your partners are implementing the technology? 

Blackie: Jaguar Land Rover is a good example of an automotive manufacturer which is right at the forefront of reinventing the driving experience through implementing our technology. Their execution is called Connect and View, and will be incorporated into the production cycles of Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles in 2012, which is really exciting for us. Prior to this implementation, JLR worked with our team and Denso to build in anti-driver distraction mechanisms. The Connect and View system only allows approved apps to be displayed and controlled, and utilizes data from the vehicle systems to ascertain vehicle speed. Other partners include RIM, Clarion, Wipro, Cybercom, Visteon and QNX, to name a few. We are in talks with almost all automotive manufacturers and Tier 1s and we expect to be able to make some more exciting announcements in the coming months. 

AI: What are some of the challenges in providing a single common HMI solution? 

Blackie: The greatest challenge is trying to bridge the dramatic gap between the product life cycles of the mobile and automotive industries. At one extreme, mobile phone manufacturers release new phones every week, and they’re superseded in nine months. Yet the very nature of the automotive industry is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Traditionally, four or five years can be spent in development, and then the model is expected to stay in manufacturing for seven or 10 years - and then anticipated to stay viable on the road for easily a further 10 years or more. This means the industry needs to find a way to ensure technology being designed in now is still relevant in 20 years time to whatever mobile and connectivity technology might be around then. This is a huge ask. But, fortunately, at RealVNC we’ve been around long enough to have experienced just this kind of evolution. We invented VNC in 1994, so it’s now 17 years old, and remains as relevant today as it was then. 

AI: What is the future for automotive infotainment? 

Blackie: We can expect to see both the global mobile and automotive industries grow in technological sophistication. Really, the opportunities are limitless as the application of the technology is limited only by the vehicle and infotainment manufacturers’ imagination. 

Communication between mobile and infotainment system will go beyond mobile UI replication and manipulation from the head unit to a true interaction between vehicle and mobile device. Mobile apps tailored to the in-vehicle experience will become common. For example, a mobile app could be monitoring the driver’s fuel consumption and be set to detect the best priced gas stations, alerting the driver and providing directions on a map when gas gets low. 

Field sales forces and road warriors will frequently “connect out” of the vehicle to access a remote computer or cloud systems from the vehicle head unit. This is something that is already possible, but inevitably widespread adoption may take some time. 

The opportunity - or indeed challenge - is for the automotive manufacturers and Tier 1s to not only keep pace with these advancements, but drive them. We’ve seen the battle for the dominance of the screen move from the work place to the home, then the phone. The next logical step is the vehicle screen. Perhaps more importantly, the future is no longer islands of disparate screens, but is moving rapidly to a highly converged world where apps and content are instantly available and appropriately configured for contextually aware use. It is those vehicle marques that embrace this and differentiate their offerings by adding value that will increasingly influence drivers purchase decisions. 

VNC® and RFB® are registered trademarks of RealVNC Limited. Connect and View™ is a registered trademark of Jaguar Land Rover. MirrorLink™ is a registered trademark of the Car Connectivity Consortium.

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