Issue: Nov 2012


Building the Connected Cars of the Future



by Nick Palmen

“To date, PSA Peugeot Citroën has shipped more than one million eCall-equipped cars, all using Sierra Wireless modules, and more than 5,000 people have used the lifesaving service.”
We all know about smartphones, but consumers rarely seem to talk about “smartcars” (yet). Just as mobile data services changed the experience of using a phone— indeed, changed the very idea of what a “phone” is— cellular connectivity is poised to transform the modern driving experience.
With the number of connected vehicles growing every day, cellular connectivity is becoming an increasingly vital part of the auto industry, both for auto manufacturers and their customers. Connected vehicles offer a number of important benefits, giving drivers more information and entertainment options than ever before, improving overall road safety and offering auto manufacturers new opportunities to connect with their customers and differentiate their vehicles. To take advantage of all of this, however, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) need to make sure they are working with partners that can meet the unique demands of automotive connectivity.
The Rise of the Connected Vehicle
In some parts of the world, especially in Europe, regulatory requirements are driving adoption of connected car technologies. The European Commission’s eCall program, for example, seeks to equip vehicles with technology that can automatically detect a crash and call emergency services even if the driver is incapacitated. The commission claims that eCall can cut emergency response times in half, and hopes to eventually have the technology required for all vehicles sold in Europe.
While similar mandates do not currently apply in North America, many parts of the United States and Canada have already outlawed the use of smartphones and cellphones while driving. In these areas, cellular-connected vehicles with in-dash “infotainment” systems can provide a much better option for delivering the connectivity and information services users want.
In addition to regulatory factors, auto manufacturers are finding in-car connectivity to be an increasingly important competitive differentiator. Cellular-connected vehicles can provide a number of useful services, including in-dash navigation, weather and traffic information. OEMs around the world have found that these services up the “cool” factor of the driving experience and the features have become an important selling point for dealers.
Supporting Connected Cars
It is essential to use solid wireless solutions that meet the unique demands of in-vehicle environments. It is not enough to take a cellular module designed for other applications, and fine-tune and market it as an auto solution. The reality is that a cellular module deployed in a vehicle must withstand extreme temperature swings, thermal shocks, constant vibration and humidity, and will need to operate in the field for many years. A basic wireless module—even one designed for industrial applications—simply cannot be relied on to meet all of these requirements.
One of the leaders in the development of purpose-designed in-car connectivity is Sierra Wireless, which was the first wireless provider to field a dedicated automotive team, and the first to create a wireless module designed from day one to meet automotive specifications. As a result of this early and sustained focus on the auto industry, the 12-year-old company is now the worldwide leader in automotive wireless solutions. It has sold more than two million wireless modules to automotive customers, in dozens of countries around the world.
Sierra Wireless worked with PSA Peugeot Citroën to bring to market one of the first eCall solutions. To date, PSA Peugeot Citroën has shipped more than one million eCall-equipped cars, all using Sierra Wireless modules, and more than 5,000 people have used the lifesaving service. Sierra Wireless also enables one of the most advanced in-vehicle infotainment systems in the world, the Carminat TomTom LIVE system, offered by Renault and Mazda in vehicles across Europe. The integrated system provides comprehensive navigation services, as well as local search for nearby services and points of interest, mobile safety camera reporting and sharing, weather information and more.
Recently, PSA Peugeot Citroën announced a next-generation in-vehicle infotainment solution, also built with Sierra Wireless cellular technology. The Peugeot Connect Apps service, which will be available in 17 European countries this year, uses a custom Sierra Wireless 3G key that plugs into the USB port in the vehicles’ touchscreen navigation system. Users can then access a variety of applications and services, including real-time traffic and weather, local gas station locations and pricing, local business directories, parking information, and Michelin guides to local restaurants, hotels and attractions.
A New Generation of High-Speed Connectivity
While infotainment services are already transforming the driving experience, it is important to remember that we are still in the very early stages of this technology. The next step: high-speed broadband services to the vehicle using 4G/LTE wireless technology. With data speeds up to 100 times faster than conventional wireless solutions, LTE will open the door to amazing new in-car services. This could include more advanced video, conferencing and entertainment options, and other applications we cannot even imagine yet. For example, the extremely low latency of LTE connections could support real-time communication between cars, and enable new kinds of safety systems. Theoretically, the connected vehicle could become the next smartphone —a versatile platform for virtually unlimited new mobile applications, services and business models.
Auto manufacturers are already beginning to explore LTE. Audi is working with Sierra Wireless to test a next-generation LTE-enabled infotainment system. Sierra Wireless is also a world leader in LTE, having helped numerous wireless network operators and OEMs launch their first mobile computing solutions for new LTE networks.
Moving Ahead
While LTE will unlock amazing new capabilities, LTE adds new complexity, requiring specialized antennas, support for a dizzying combination of cellular modes and frequencies, and sophisticated intelligence to maintain the best possible connection at all times. Sierra Wireless is at the leading edge of this technology. The company is investing what it calls “significant resources in research and development to create new LTE solutions that meet the unique requirements of the automotive industry.
“The future is bright. No matter what challenges lay ahead, Sierra Wireless will be working hand-in-hand with auto companies and OEMs to meet them,” says the company.


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