My car, my guide
One look at a modern car’s dashboard is enough to show the amount of vehicle management and driving assistance features are there in it! Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are beginning to feature in many new-gen cars. A blanket term that covers everything from GPS-based navigation aids and traffic updates to adaptive cruise control (ACC), lane departure warning, blind spot detection, collision avoidance, speed adaptation and night vision, ADAS basically covers a growing number of tools that improve situational awareness and understand the driver’s temperament and automate routine tasks to make driving more convenient and safe.

Mahindra Reva solar charging
Mahindra Reva solar charging

“Automakers are trying hard to match consumer experience in cars to what they get using smartphones and tablets. This has resulted in high-end infotainment technologies getting integrated into today’s cars. The focus on driver and passenger safety is driving developments in ADAS, based on radar and vision, super data fusion technologies to name a few,” says Sanjay Gupta, director—Automotive MCU Group, India Design Centre, Freescale Semiconductors India Pvt Ltd. He cites some interesting examples, such as Volvo’s City Safety, a low-speed crash avoidance system available with its XC60 crossover SUV. The detection system uses LIDAR, a cross between laser and radar, to prevent fender-benders below 14.5 kmph.

ACC is also emerging strong. Toyota, Ford, Mercedes and Jaguar already offer this facility on some vehicles. It tracks the car ahead, slowing down and speeding up automatically to maintain a safe distance in variable highway traffic.

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“Our 77GHz radar systems support ACC, pre-crash protection and collision warning systems with and without automatic steering and braking intervention. In a collision warning system, the radar chipset can detect and track objects, automatically adjusting the vehicle’s speed and distance in response to the traffic ahead and triggering a driver warning of an imminent collision and initiate emergency braking intervention,” explains Gupta.

The connected car (Courtesy: Broadcom)
The connected car (Courtesy: Broadcom)

Although still expensive, today we also have technologies that sense when the driver is too tired to drive or has had too much to drink. Volvo, for instance, uses available lane departure sensing technology to detect when sleepy drivers make jerky, telltale steering wheel corrections. The system then audibly suggests that the driver pull over and take rest.

Ford has an interesting emergency assist feature that connects vehicle occupants with emergency services in the misfortune of an accident, providing vehicle location and an open line for communication. “Ford India is the first auto manufacturer and EcoSport is the only vehicle in its segment to offer a potentially life-saving emergency assistance system. This is a vehicle-based, no-cost, non-subscription call-for-help system that is already available in more than five million Ford vehicles globally. The service is provided free of charge for the ownership cycle of the vehicle,” says Vinay Piparsania, executive director, Marketing, Sales and Service, Ford India.

“The ability to determine an available parking space along a roadway, and back in automatically, with no more effort from the driver than the push of a button is being demonstrated by OEMs today,” says Tim Lau, associate product line director, Automotive, Broadcom.

Mahindra Reva’s new cars feature another interesting aspect called Feedback Orientation. “Since the car is not an isolated object but a part of a system, we are able to get feedback on its performance. The car is able to tell the driver how he is driving, and compare the performances over a period of time, so that the driver can tweak his driving style for efficiency,” says Chetan Maini, chief executive officer, Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles Pvt Ltd.

As ADAS gets more advanced and reliable, it has started to induce some amount of autonomy in cars. Whilst it is still not possible to put a car on auto-drive mode and sit back, next-gen cars will surely let the driver relax and chat while driving. “Automated driving technology, being demonstrated now, will be available as an option on actual models within a few years. It takes control of cars for brief periods.

The technology, which uses a series of camera, radar, laser and ultrasonic sensors ‘to become aware of its surroundings,’ will relieve drivers of certain tasks—such as keeping a car in lane while rolling down a highway at a steady speed. Ultimately, the technology could take over for the driver in stop-and-go traffic including total control of steering, braking and accelerating. Industry analysts have forecast that 75 per cent of cars on the road will be autonomous by 2035,” explains Lau.

More updates.

  • Audi’s new Traffic Light Assist system combines the car’s GPS navigation system with a city’s traffic light information system to let the driver know in advance simply how much time he has to zip past an approaching signal on his route before it turns red. The car maker is testing the system in certain developed nations.
  • BMW aims to bring autonomous driving assistance into production by end of the decade. In January, they demonstrated a car with advanced computing and GPS technology used in guided missile systems, which is capable of freeing the driver by operating the accelerator, steering and brakes. Its intelligence, supported by a new ultrasonic radar and 360-degree stereo camera technology, enables the car to change lanes to overtake slower vehicles and then pull back in without any assistance from the driver.

My car, my connected world
Now everyone wants to add connectivity to the car to be able to support features such as a Wi-Fi hotspot, greater amounts of infotainment endpoints, infotainment data, more sensors and cameras, scalable in-vehicle networks, car-to-car communications and other types of applications, but what is the best technology to achieve this with best bandwidth and least cost?

Some of the options are CAN and LIN with a throughput in the range of 2kbps; FlexRay, which does about 10Mbps; and MOST, which offers 150 megabits of shared network bandwidth. But companies like Broadcom bet big on Ethernet. “Ethernet solves a real problem here in that we can address very high bandwidth network applications in a very cost-effective way, over a single pair unshielded twisted cable. It allows the automotive OEMs and Tier-1’s to implement very high-end features but at a very competitive price point,” adds Lau.

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Ethernet also offers benefits like ease of integration and availability from a standard, open and widely-deployed technology. Standardisation is essential as a major enabler for new and innovative in-vehicle applications, allowing automotive manufacturers to meet customer expectations and keep the bottom line in check. Standards-based solutions not only reduce time-to-market, they also ensure availability, lifecycle, upgradability and interoperability.

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“Ethernet is ubiquitous in the consumer, enterprise and service provider spaces and yet it has never really been used in an automotive environment, except for one very niche application, which is on-board diagnostics (OBD). The reason for that was, primarily because of the very strict EMC immunity and emission requirements for automotive in-vehicle networking,” he says. To overcome this, Broadcom has developed a technology called BroadR-Reach, which is essentially the ability to send and receive data simultaneously over a single pair of unshielded twisted pair cables, and to still be able to meet all of the automotive EMC quality and reliability standards.

“Wireless connectivity, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology, is being rapidly adopted for automotive applications. Industry analysts have forecast that 100 per cent of vehicles will be connected by 2025 and there will be a 41 per cent increase in automotive wireless demand from 2012 to 2018. Wireless solutions will enable Miracast (a peer-to-peer wireless screencasting standard) bandwidth for multiple in-car displays, smart remote and V2X connectivity and communication with biometric sensors and wearable technology,” says Lau.

“In recent years, we have seen the addition of 2D/3D navigation systems, 3G/LTE wireless access, USB and Bluetooth connectivity. These systems are constantly connected to the car, to external devices and to the Internet,” says Gupta of Freescale.

At this year’s CES, automotive electronics was a key focus and many OEMs and car manufacturers launched varied technologies that will change the way we see automotive today. One such technology was Visteon’s OASIS concept—an acronym for optimised, adaptable, secure, intelligent and seamless connectivity—that protects the vehicle communication network by providing a secure method to connect the vehicle to the user and cloud computing.

More updates.

  • After 3G, it is going to be 4G in cars. GM announced it would be building a 4G/LTE connection into ten of its models.
  • Audi also has similar plans for its A3 model, with AT&T as the data provider.
  • Ford demonstrated its innovative vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology at CES 2014. It uses 802.11p, a flavour of Wi-Fi specific to the auto industry, to broadcast information such as the car’s position, direction and speed to nearby cars, ten times per second. This information helps avoid collisions, amongst other benefits.

My car, my giant personal computer
What is connectivity without apps! Car makers are enabling users to make the most of the car’s connectivity through a deep integration with mobile phones, as well as by offering dozens of smart apps through their own infotainment platforms. Going one step ahead, car makers are also linking wearable technology and auto features! Suppliers such as Delphi, Harman, QNX and Garmin are also demonstrating high-end infotainment systems for cars with app integration.

According to trends sighted at CES 2014, HTML5 is the programming language of choice for these platforms, as HTML5 makes it easier for third-party developers to create interesting new apps for cars. Likewise, a recent report by IHS Automotive shows that Linux is growing to be the preferred automotive infotainment platform. Models of Buick, GMC, Chevrolet and Opel use or will soon be using Linux. The report states that other car makers such as BMW, PSA and Jaguar/Land Rover are also committed to using a version of Linux that is compatible with the GENIVI platform.

More updates.

  • BMW’s iRemote App allows users to access vehicle information and control features from their mobile device and smart watch.
  • Mercedes-Benz also recently showed how owners can use a smart watch to remotely unlock doors, check fuel levels, plan the car’s trip or blow the horn.
  • GM demonstrated its App Shop at CES 2014, providing the means for Chevrolet owners to download and install GM-approved apps right into their cars’ dashboards.
  • Audi’s next-gen cars will feature an in-built Android tablet, the 26cm (10.2-inch) Audi Smart Display. Powered by an NVIDIA Tegra 4 chip, the tab is extremely rugged with notably high resistance to temperature and physical damage. It uses the in-car Wi-Fi to provide Web access for entertainment, navigation and remote vehicle control.
  • Mahindra e2o, the new electric car in India, has remote heating, ventilation, air-conditioning system (HVAC) activation via smartphone, a first in India. It also features telematics-based remote diagnostics, a first in India, and one of only four cars in the world and a best-in-class touch-screen-based infotainment unit with navigation, CAN bus integration, iPod integration, Bluetooth and EV status information.

My car, my silicon
Understandably, a smart car is packed with a myriad of electronics that implement everything from drive safety and engine management to car security and infotainment. This means big opportunity for the semiconductor industry.

“Semiconductor growth in the automotive market will be very significant. We are seeing a lot of growth, not just infotainment and ADAS, but also in powertrain, body control and safety electronics. All of those markets will see significant growth. There are a lot of different sectors that will be able to take a leading role in this market. Semiconductor providers who offer microcontrollers, communications technology and sensor technologies—all of those will take a leading role. At the same time, we believe that the Tier-1’s, the resellers, developers, partners, all of them will take a leading role because the connected car ecosystem is going to require a lot more support in terms of software development, application development, hardware engineering, wiring suppliers, cabling suppliers, who will take a leadership role to help take that technology forward,” says Lau.

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The auto industry consumes microcontrollers, microprocessors, analogue ICs, discrete electronics, logic circuits, sensors and memory for electronic control systems. The current trend is to use field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and system-on-chip (SoC) or system-on-module (SoM) solutions that combine several components into one small form factor.

Freescale, NXP Semiconductors, Bosch, Infineon, ST Microelectronics and Renesas are amongst some of the key suppliers to the auto industry, offering a horde of solutions for sensing, in-vehicle networking, automotive lighting, car radio and audio to automotive power and telematics on-board units to access and immobilisation. Most of these companies also offer associated design tools.

More updates.

  • Nvidia announced the Tegra K1 processor at CES 2014. With 192 cores, it claims to be the hardware that can fully enable the future autonomous car. Audi will be using the K1 chip in production cars in the near future.
  • Bosch offers single-chip airbag system ICs that combine power supply, sensor interfaces, I/O functions, firing loop drivers and safing engine on one single chip. The semiconductor industry offers several SoCs, such as angular rate sensors for vehicle dynamics control (VDC), and combined inertial sensors for VDC and active suspension.
  • The intensive developments in ADAS and infotainment have led to far greater semiconductor requirements, which the semiconductor world is quickly gearing up to meet. Freescale, for example, offers the i.MX6 family, which provides up to four high-performance ARM Cortex-A9 cores, advanced graphics and video accelerators for processing of up to five 1-megapixel video streams at 30 fps for surround view part assist system.
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My car, my pal
Most people love their car like it is their family member. So, would they not like to communicate with their car using more natural communication techniques such as speech or gestures? This is nice, not only from a personalisation aspect, but also from the perspective of safety.

SYNC, an in-car voice-interactive technology featured by Ford helps drivers to pay attention to the road without having to use their hands for making phone calls, browse phone contacts, read texts and browse music. “It helps keep things simple and safe, while on the move,” says Piparsania.

Ford also recently announced another technology at the Mobile Developer Summit 2013 in Bangalore—the SYNC AppLink, a technology that allows greater communication between smartphone apps and AppLink-equipped vehicles through voice commands. It will be launched in India in 2014. “This technology will allow greater integration with a range of smartphone apps. AppLink is a Ford-created software technology and the industry’s only system that can control smartphone apps via voice control. The platform is planned to be introduced in India with ESPN cricinfo, MapmyIndia, burrp!, Glympse and TuneIn Radio while encouraging app developers to come up and add new applications,” says Piparsania.

“Enhanced gesture control is a strongly emerging trend,” says Gupta of Freescale. Audi recently introduced the MMI operating system that enables drivers to control various in-car functions using the MMI interface, touchpad to voice. With this tech, one can easily change and use various controls in the car just by a gesture. “Imagine how easy it is going to be to change your radio station or turn on the AC, all by just a gesture,” says Gupta. He also speaks of Visteon’s HMeye cockpit concept, presented for the first time at CES, which features a unique user interface controlled by eye gaze and head direction data, coupled with image attribute tracking.

More updates.

  • In the last quarter of 2013, Google applied for a patent for a technology that helps control your car with hand motions. The system uses a ceiling-mounted depth camera and a laser scanner to understand the user’s gestures and hand movements and initiate actions accordingly. For example, you could swipe near the window to roll down the glass, or wave your hand up to raise the volume on the radio.

My car, my safe haven
While navigation, driver assistance and entertainment are all wonderful, it is the safety and security aspects of today’s cars that are most intense. Actually speaking, the telematics systems like car-to-car connectivity and most new features do have a positive impact on safety, except, perhaps the on-board entertainment and features such as hands-free texting, which could distract drivers.

Features introduced by GM in its cars, in association with OnStar, have gained quite some repute in this segment. Advanced telematics has been used to implement a comprehensive automatic crash notification and security system with features like remote vehicle diagnostics, turn-by-turn navigation, the ability to slow down stolen vehicles and the ability to call a helpline when in danger.

More updates.

  • BMW has an interesting feature called run-flat tires, which helps you get to the nearest service centre when your tire is about to go flat. Sensors help predict such a situation, an indicator glows in the dashboard and the tire’s special structure allows you to drive around 80 km at 80 km/hr to get help before the boom!

My car, my mechanic
From the tires and door to the powertrain, most parts of the car are fitted with sensors and electronic control units (ECUs) today.

Apart from better control and management of the vehicle, the electronics also help in online diagnostics. “We connect to the heartbeat of the car every day to check how it is doing and with that we are not only talking about diagnostics but also prognostics, or knowing the problem even before it happens. This creates a paradigm shift in the relationship between the customer and the manufacturer, creating a new ecosystem of convenience for the customers,” says Maini.

GM’s OnStar and Hyundai’s BlueLink are much appreciated remote diagnostic tools. Toolmakers such as Delphi and LandAirSea Systems provide plug-in remote diagnostic solutions, which connect to your car and to a cloud (through a wireless network) to provide a host of online diagnostic solutions to any car produced post 1996.

More updates.

  • The number of ECUs in a car also means that these modern vehicles are at risk from hackers! In order to allay the fears of car users, Harman International Industries is busy developing a software security system that will protect at least the vital ECUs, such as the engine management system, from hackers, if not the infotainment aspects. The solution is expected to be in cars in the 2016-17 timeframe.
  • Bosch recently demonstrated advanced MEMS sensors for applications such as skid detection, adaptive cruise control (ACC) and softer gear changing of automatic gearboxes. According to a presentation at CES, a modern car has at least 50 such MEMS sensors, which in turn are supplying data to the automotive cloud that supports drive assistance systems and telediagnostics.

My vehicle, my conscience
The number of vehicles in the world is growing far too fast, leading not just to a depletion of oil reserves but scary levels of pollution as well. Car makers, with a due share of eco-responsibility, are introducing several energy management technologies in all new cars, as well as launching electric or hybrid models for a cleaner and sustainable future.

“In the last few years, there has been a significant focus towards advanced engine control systems to offer higher fuel efficiency (including hybrid technology) and near-zero emissions. The start-stop technology, which is still in a nascent stage, is one step in this direction,” says Gupta. “Another interesting thing that needs to be done to ensure we get greater mileage and lower emissions than we are capable of today, is to make the cars lighter in weight. Experts suggest that one solution is to make body components of lighter materials such as carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) or polymer. CFRP works much like fibreglass; the carbon fibre is spun into long strands and then arranged in a cloth-like weave for strength. The Z06 version of the Chevrolet Corvette already makes limited use of carbon fibre right from the factory.”

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Electric and hybrid vehicles are becoming quite popular, with Ford, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Mahindra Reva and Renault being significant players in the market here. “Availability of higher capacity, 48-volt batteries, adoption of fuel cell vehicles and natural gas cutting into the electric truck market are some notable trends in this space,” says Gupta.

Maini of Mahindra Reva points out that apart from the light-weighting efforts explained by Gupta earlier, another key development in the electric car space is related to battery technology. “A suitable way of storing energy with the space constraints in mind was the biggest challenge. If the weight of the battery is really high, most of the power generated will be used to carry the car’s battery alone, hence considerably affecting the car’s performance. However, the growth in the smartphone industry has caused battery technology to hit its peak on the learning curve. A lithium-ion battery pack can store energy for moving the car and at the same time be carried around on the car, tipping the balance at only 830kg for the entire car (Mahindra e2o); now this is a feat achieved,” he explains delightfully.

Apart from ongoing research on battery chemistries and battery management systems, Mahindra Reva is also working with CECRI, Karaikudi (a CSIR lab) to research on lithium-ion batteries that will help maximise battery life, optimise battery systems design, predict failures, etc.

Gupta, however, feels that despite EVs emerging as a major trend in the smart vehicles space, these are yet to be widely accepted due to dependence on infrastructure and policies around the same.

“Infrastructure has always been a chicken and egg problem for us. But, as we progressed along the learning curve, we have been able to solve the complicated equation by coming up with our own charging points at strategic locations. We are now at a point that we are working on a network of fast-charging stations so you can charge over a cup of coffee and move on,” answers Maini. He also explains that EVs are for people with fixed and predictable travel patterns, so they can comfortably charge at home or office and sail through their needs.

“To reduce the anxiety in the EV users, we are already partnering with malls and retailers to build EV charging ports into their parking lots, but government support is important to build a critical mass of users and suppliers and smooth out current regulatory roadblocks in this space,” he adds. For instance, we already have over 300 charge ports all over the country and are planning to extend it to other cities. We are hopeful that the new National Mission for Electric Mobility will help drive this. We can envision a not-so-distant future (it already exists in other parts of the world) where you can take your EV to a fast-charging station, get an 80 per cent charge in 15 minutes, and be off to your next destination.”

More updates.

  • A start-stop system is one that can automatically shut down and restart the internal combustion engine to reduce engine idling time and thereby fuel consumption too. Whilst this was initially popular only in cars with a hybrid electric powertrain, now it is being adopted in non-electric cars too.
  • Recently, Toyota launched its FCV hydrogen electric vehicle, expected to come to market next year. In this innovative car, hydrogen and oxygen combine to create electricity and water so that a zero emission target can be achieved.
  • Ford and Georgia Tech have together developed the Ford C-MAX Energi Solar, a hybrid vehicle that can charge its battery using a solar panel fitted on its roof. The car includes autonomous features (such as that used for parking) to follow the sun’s movements and adjust the panel direction throughout the day. Ford claimed at the demo that a day’s worth of sunlight will provide the same amount of power and performance as the plug-in variant of C-MAX Energi, able to return a fuel efficiency of 2.4 litres per 100km and a range of almost 1000km.
  • Honda, the first to put a fuel cell vehicle (FCX Clarity) in the hands of consumers, recently unveiled its new Honda FCEV Concept sketch, a futuristic and aerodynamic design of its next-generation fuel-cell EV launching in 2015. This will be a step towards a zero-emission future. Honda’s alternate energy range includes Accord Hybrid, Accord Plug-In Sedan, Honda Fit EV and the Civic Natural Gas.
  • Another rather off-beat step towards environment-friendly technology is Honda Motor’s agreement with TDK Corporation and Japan Metals & Chemicals to work towards the reuse of a rare earth metal extracted from nickel-metal hydride batteries in hybrid vehicles for magnets of new hybrid vehicle motors. This will reduce the environmental footprint of mobility.

My car, my future
Technologies abound, for easier, safer and more sustainable mobility. However, everything is not good. As scientists always believe, a technology is to be evaluated more by its impact on society than the technological merits. Cars are easier to drive, good news! But, I live next door to a school and am startled by the increase in the number of moms dropping individual kids in cars, because they are easier to drive and park than two-wheelers! Where are the days when most kids used to travel by bus or cycle to school? How are we going to manage fuel availability and pollution in the near future? By the time hybrid and electric cars hit a mass-market pricing and are widely adopted, will not greater harm be done than good?

Hands-free messaging, complete integration of wearable tech and smartphone apps with car dashboards and in-car media centres are all very snazzy, but a recent Scientific American article shows that hands-free texting is still not safe as it distracts the driver. Will driver assistance features be powerful enough to avoid accidents caused due to distraction?

Tech is a good thing, but for it to be sustainable, users need to exercise their prudence too, than being carried away by all that seems good!


The author is a technically-qualified freelance writer, editor and hands-on mom based in Chennai

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