In-Vehicle Communications a Moving Target

Carl Weinschenk

The good news in the world of advanced vehicular communications is that new and exciting tools are rapidly emerging. The bad news is that consumers don’t seem to think that they are working very well.

In-vehicle communications, which partially overlap with traditional fleet management, though more weighted toward consumers, are important for mobile workforces for obvious reasons. There are two faces of in-vehicle communications: entertainment and safety. The substantial progress that is being made on both is deeply tied to advances in more general wireless technology.

The bad news is that there are significant growing pains. Last week, various sites, including The Washington Post, reported that a J.D. Powers survey of new vehicle owners showed that the biggest problems new vehicle owners find have little to do with pickup and turning radius. They relate to communications technology:

Brands that bore the brunt of owner dissatisfaction often had the newest gadgetry. Cadillac’s new ATS sedan is equipped with the CUE touch screen infotainment system, which has been panned by critics who say it doesn’t always respond to the touch. Cadillac fell 10 places in the rankings. Nissan, which dropped 17 spots, was hurt by problems with features in its new Altima. Car owners have complained in online forums that the Altima’s voice recognition system doesn’t always understand them, and the car’s Bluetooth system has trouble connecting to their phones.

Electronics Weekly’s Richard Wilson offers a piece looking at the complexities of in-vehicle communications from the perspective of the user interface. The UIs, of course, are far different and more sophisticated than those aimed at stationary people. The piece is enlightening. This paragraph suggests how deeply communications technology has penetrated vehicles:

One common aspect of the systems now emerging is that the touch screen head unit represents the nexus of an ever-growing diversity of input signals such as television and DVD, live video and graphics from advanced driver assistance systems, status information from various vehicle sensors, Bluetooth communications, GPS and mapping, and Internet content such as traffic updates, news feeds and social media notifications.

It’s interesting and perhaps significant that the co-chief executive of General Motors, Dan Akerson, has worked for MCI, Nextel and XO Communications. In a speech to the Chief Executives’ Club of Boston, Akerson said that in-car technology is vital to attract tech-savvy younger buyers. He said that two facts – the amount of time people spend on mobile devices and the amount of time they spend in vehicles – make it obvious that this is a major opportunity. Indeed, the company is teaming up with AT&T to offer LTE broadband in vehicles next year, and GM may eventually sell advertising in-vehicle, a Reuters story said.

BBC reports that Frankfurt, Germany-based Safe Intelligent Mobility Testfield is developing what it calls “car-to-x” technology that can alert drivers to emergencies just beyond eyeshot, such as vehicles that have made an emergency stop in the road or obstructions just around a mountain turn. Daimler, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Ford and Opel are participating in the project.

Several weeks ago, the AA Foundation for Traffic Safety released interesting information on the dangers of mixing communications and driving – even hands-free communications. Clearly, it is an area that shows great promise for vendors, automobile companies and consumers. The key is to take great care to implement this technology in a way that improves safety.

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