Cleantech Market Intelligence
Smartphone-Based Car Connectivity Is Likely Only an Interim Solution
I’ve been an advocate of smartphone projection infotainment solutions in cars ever since Ford introduced SYNC AppLink back in 2010. That appreciation has grown recently since the rollout of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Despite the vastly superior user experiences provided by Google and Apple compared to OEM designs, the coming of autonomous vehicle control systems means these almost certainly won’t be long-term solutions.
Since the debut of built-in GPS-navigation systems in the 1990s, they have been an expensive but useful option. Unfortunately, maps and especially the points-of-interest database can become rapidly outdated and typically only have one name for each entry in that database, so if a driver doesn’t get the spelling exactly right, they’ll be out of luck. The ability to draw information from the ever changing data stores of Google, Bing, and other search engines is a key advantage of smartphone navigation. Combined with cloud-based voice recognition that can provide more natural language search capabilities that recognize multiple name variations and you have a much more robust user experience.
Such reliable and detailed navigational data will be a crucial component of making self-driving vehicles work reliably, especially if they are moving around without occupants as they park themselves or go to pick up passengers. Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report projects that there could be as many as 85 million vehicles capable of some degree of autonomy on the world’s roads in the next 2 decades.
True self-driving vehicles, especially those that are operated as part of mobility as a service fleets, will need connectivity and built-in maps that don’t rely on the presence of an occupant’s phone. OEMs are rapidly increasing the deployment of telematics systems into new vehicles. Every vehicle built by General Motors (GM) for sale in most major markets comes with OnStar built in, and Ford will be offering SYNC Connect on most of its fleet beginning this year. Within the next few years, these cars will be capable of searching both embedded and cloud-based navigational databases for near real-time information.
When Ford recently began testing its prototype autonomous Fusion in winter weather conditions, one key to the car’s ability to get around on snow-covered roads was the detailed 3D maps that were available onboard. The car was able to find its way around using LIDAR scanning the surroundings for landmarks, something that wouldn’t be possible using smartphone projection.
Powertrain electrification can also benefit greatly from built-in 3D maps. In 2014, the Mercedes-Benz S500 plug-in hybrid was one of the first vehicles to use knowledge of the road topography ahead to manage the balance between using battery and internal combustion power. The Kia Niro and Hyundai Ioniq hybrids going on sale this year are utilizing a similar strategy to achieve fuel efficiency improvements of approximately 1%.
Smartphone projection systems can certainly utilize topographical data to provide more economical routing decisions for drivers of the hundreds of millions of existing cars that will continue to operate for decades to come, and they will likely play a major role in reaching critical mass for vehicles capable of V2X communications. CarPlay and Android Auto will also continue to play a part in delivering news and entertainment to drivers, but even this will likely be supplanted by the telematics systems.
This doesn’t mean Apple and Google won’t have a part to play in future vehicles. In addition to the autonomous control systems that Google is offering to existing OEMs, the technology companies will probably be pushing for greater integration of their software directly into vehicle infotainment without the need for a connected phone.