Will sat navs all be cloud-based by 2020?

24th Sep 2010 | 15:49

Will sat navs all be cloud-based by 2020?

Integrated mobile apps mean a new dawn in automotive design

In car tech: Moving towards apps

A leading automotive analyst says that by the end of the decade all navigation will be cloud-based. Phil Magney, vice president of Automotive Research at analyst iSuppli, spoke about how mobile apps and the cloud are revolutionising the design of in-car HMI (Human Machine Interface) design.

"What do I use? I use my Android phone. The content is just more relevant. In five years half the navigation users will be cloud-based... by the end of the decade everything will be cloud-based. The general telematics trend is moving [towards having] open platforms and app stores."

"On-board resources are going out in favour of cloud-based resources. No matter what you say, it's all moving to the cloud."

Magney was speaking about the changing times in HMI design at the SVOX Forum in Zurich. SVOX is a provider for text-to-speech systems and has been working on more natural speech recognition for in-car use – its partners include Clarion, Microsoft Auto and the Open Handset Alliance (Android).

"TTS (Text To Speech) is very, very important with the emphasis on bringing messaging and email into the car", said Magney. "This heightens the need for TTS."

Mobile apps running on smartphones can provide information or even a skin which runs on the head unit. Mini Connected is an iPhone app which enables you to listen to internet radio through your iPhone but using the controls of your Mini's HMI.

Mini connected

The stage on from that is to have apps running on the head unit itself, with a smartphone OS like Android inside the car – however, iSuppli warns that would require work on how the apps can be distributed and who gets a share in the revenue.

Connectivity and bandwidth will, however, surely be a major stumbling block with any of these systems. Magney was vague as to how this would be paid for. "I presume they'll go to a tiered pricing plan," he tamely suggested.

Likewise, Magney was also questioned about the quality of service on mobile networks while driving. "I guess it's my belief that LTE comes along and takes care of the issues with regard to bandwidth."

In another talk, BMW's Alexandre Saad said that mobile apps have to be well designed to succeed in-car, not least because of the cycle of car design. "A head unit could be four years old... the apps are not known at the design stage. Applications should be developed independently from car production cycles and other car technology."

Phil Magney also talked about the example of the BMW Station – pictured above – which enables an iPhone to effectively be embedded into the dashboard and - via a BMW app due in early 2011 – control in-car systems. We've also previously seen Audi's Google-based system at CES while Mercedes Benz has also shown a cloud-based head unit.

In car tech: Potential for distraction

Potential for distraction

However, one of the big questions of in-car apps remains over driver safety. "You still have safety and security to worry about. Driver distraction is going to be the biggest issue. Governments will come down hard on automakers because of the distractive nature of mobile apps."

Magney suggested that one idea was that some intelligence could be supplied to how HMIs are used, perhaps depending on the time of day or the conditions but – perhaps unsurprisingly – many of the other speakers at the SVOX Forum were focused on better, more natural speech solutions as the key method to reduce driver distraction.

Thomas Scheerbarth, senior expert in Voice & Multimodal Solutions at Deutsche Telekom said that studies carried out using a PTT (Push to Talk) button had reduced eye dwell time on the in-car system to around two per cent. However, a demo video of a in-car scenario with a touch-interface where emails were being read out revealed eye dwell time as significantly more.

There's also the question of how smartphone apps will sit alongside the embedded model – systems like BMW iDrive and the Microsoft Auto-based Ford Sync. "These things will coexist. We do believe long term that you'll have embedded for the driver's sake and mobile apps for the passenger's sake."

"Unfortunately people aren't going to pay for traditional telematics. But mobile apps... that's what will drive them into the showrooms to buy those cars."

Doing open source properly

With many in-car systems moving to open source operating systems like Android, Andrew Till, head of solutions marketing at mobile software provider Teleca, warned that using open source isn't a ticket to cheaper design.

"Open source is not free. Yes, you can get the code, but everybody else you're competing with can get the same code. [Those who have] reduced their R&D budget, are less competitive.

Till warned that those designing using open source software should design for platforms and portability not lead devices. He said that the initial outlay is not inconsiderable, with the first device being 150 per cent of the cost of using a closed platform, but the second 75 per cent and so on.

Till also warned that the licensing in open source was very important to think about. "MeeGo is distributed under the GNU license – it's important to understand where you need to contribute code back. Android however is under the Apache2 licence and doesn't require you to contribute anything back."

"We'll end up in a strong multi-OS world. That said, some will disappear, it's too fragmented."


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