Visions of Cars and Clouds: Part 2

Technology is driving the automotive industry forward, and Intel is at the forefront of the trend. This is part 2 of “Visions of Cars and Clouds”; check out part 1 here. [Disclosure: Intel is the sponsor of this content.]

Smart Parking
One perilous situation where the connected car leaps to the rescue is in the hunt for a rare city parking spot. The time we spend searching for a place to park in a busy town center, and the secondary effect of that in terms of overall traffic levels, can be significant. “Today the general statistic that you hear from a lot of big cities is that about 30 percent of the traffic is generated by people looking for parking places,” says Ton Steenman, VP of the Intel Intelligent Systems Group.

In the context of a major urban center, that’s an enormous amount, and anything that makes the process of parking easier will have the double benefit of reducing driving stress and traffic load. Once again, the connected car of tomorrow has the answer, thanks to its ability to communicate with the city infrastructure in a meaningful way.

“When there is communication between the in-vehicle system and the infrastructure, you can imagine parking solutions where you’re actually guided to an open parking location,” explains Steenman. “You can even reserve a parking location through your infotainment system.” The idea of never again being forced to crawl endlessly around a city center’s one-way grid searching for that one remaining parking spot is certainly very appealing.

Information Overload
The problem is that we can easily have too much data; if it’s not filtered and presented in an understandable way, the information becomes useless. With the car clearly being one of the most mass-marketed products, and with its use crossing every demographic boundary, the connected car must be able to create information that is usable, no matter who is at the wheel.

“The challenge is that a great deal of information is available that in effect never has to actually reach the driver, but today it does,” says Steenman. “Most of it might be contextually irrelevant, and as a result the critical information gets lost.”

“As more information becomes available, it’s critical that the industry process that data in an intelligent manner so the drivers are presented with data that’s relevant given the environment they are in,” continues Steenman. “Filtering and context are very important.”

Open Platform
Cars exist that are already equipped with sophisticated infotainment systems that allow a high level of connectivity; however, much of the existing hardware was developed using closed, proprietary technology. The best way to keep pace with technological innovations is through the use of a platform that is flexible and adaptable, and Intel is pushing for a more open approach that will let developers bring ideas and innovations to any connected car.

The relentless advances in hardware and software technology demand that every piece of technology we use be upgradable, from OS updates in our smartphones to invisible upgrades of the cloud-based services we use online. This ability to upgrade in order to keep pace with the raging torrent of new technology applies just as much to cars. Regardless of how clever it is, a closed, proprietary in-car system is of no use to the developer who wants to build a smartphone app that takes advantage of an emerging technology or idea, or to the automaker who wants to deliver seamless connectivity with the latest consumer device. To remove this obstacle, the platform needs to be open.

“We need to make sure that that middleware in the vehicle can be continuously upgraded, so as the consumer-device industry continues to evolve with different types of smartphones and upgrades to Bluetooth and USB standards, the middleware in the vehicle can be upgraded easily as well,” says Steenman. “Today this is very complex to do because the platform is closed. By making the platform more open there’s a better opportunity to create that upgradability.”

The Road Ahead
If Steenman has a vision for what Intel’s program will ultimately deliver, it is a situation where anyone can walk up to any car with any kind of connected device, and the car and the device will seamlessly integrate. “We believe that when the development environment for the connected car is more open, there’s an opportunity to do that and to let the car continue to evolve in parallel with consumer-device evolution,” he says.

“Everybody wants to get from point A to point B in an efficient and economical manner, and the many applications that will be invented and provided will soon unleash the power of the connected car,” continues Steenman. “We want to demonstrate commitment to the industry, and our investments show the industry that we are serious about automotive innovation.”

Intel’s work to develop open standards for connected cars, alongside the Intel Capital Connected Car Fund, automotive research programs, and Intel’s partnerships with the automotive industry, is creating interesting new opportunities for software developers.

“We are helping the industry transition to an open and a standardized platform that will allow application and services innovation both in the car and in the cloud,” concludes Steenman. “As this comes to market, the software community will have a tremendous opportunity to start participating by bringing new innovation to vehicles.”

Safety First
The desire to remain connected while on the road has had a major impact on the laws governing what we can do behind the wheel in direct response to the threat posed to road safety. Regardless of our driving expertise and the number of laws passed banning the use of mobile phones at the wheel, serious accidents caused by phone use are a significant blemish on our collective driving record.

According to World Health Organization statistics, more than 1.2 million people are killed on the world’s roads each year, with an additional 50 million injured. In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that driver error -- which includes such actions as driving under the influence of alcohol, careless lane changes, and driving while distracted by, for example, a mobile phone -- is a factor in upward of 60 percent of road fatalities.

“Many U.S. states and countries around the world have laws precluding the use of phones,” says Staci Palmer, general manager of Intel’s Automotive Solutions Division. “You shouldn’t have a phone in your hand while driving, but there is still the desire on the part of many consumers to be connected some other way. At Intel we believe that can be done in a driver-safe way, and the automakers are best placed to enable that.”

The use of smartphones at the wheel not only poses a significant safety risk, but also compromises usability. Intel wants to encourage the kind of innovations that let drivers keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road while enhancing ease-of-use and accessibility to devices.

By allowing seamless connectivity with personal devices and by shifting to gesture and voice control, the hope is that we can be weaned off the need to handle our phones at the wheel and have access to much more than relying on a few hasty taps at the traffic lights.

But the connected car is not just about preventing us from using phones while driving. Many cars are already equipped with distance sensors, and developers are exploring a number of different systems that will alert drivers to the proximity of other vehicles. Cars will also be able to sense when they are drifting out of the lane and alert the driver.

Eye tracking is another interesting technology that Intel has been actively involved in developing. Cameras mounted in the cabin can see where passengers are sitting in the car, and, more importantly, where they’re looking. If the driver takes his or her eyes off the road, the car would recognize that and could sound a warning.

From A to B in One Piece
One of the most obvious uses of connected cars is in making the task of reaching any destination more efficient and less stressful. That means developing advanced navigation with real-time contextual data to help drivers avoid snarl-ups and accidents.

There is vast potential for the entire transportation infrastructure to become more proactive, as connected cars become capable of connecting to the roadway, to safety systems, and to one another. Perhaps one of the most terrifying experiences behind the wheel is when fast-moving traffic ahead slows for no apparent reason, leaving us no choice but to hit the brakes as we rush toward the cars in front of us. One of the connectivity goals is to facilitate communication between cars so that, for example, a car that has suddenly been forced to slow down would transmit a warning to other vehicles in the vicinity, giving drivers a vital few extra seconds to respond.

Cars will also be able to proactively share live information on heavy traffic, road work, and other unpredictable hazards on the road ahead, offering information beyond what most current navigation systems are capable of delivering. “Everybody knows you get some sort of traffic information from your navigation system today, but it’s highly unreliable because it’s delayed and often out of date,” says Steenman. “If that information is real-time and reliable it becomes the foundation for getting you efficiently from point A to point B.”

Photo: Corbis Images

by John Tyrrell