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From MWC2013: Visions of cars and clouds – the Intel experience and the Ford experience

March 24th, 2013 |  Published in Mobile World Congress 2013

Cars and clouds 1


24 March 2013 – Ever since the first nineteenth-century steam-powered automobiles terrified a public accustomed to the less vigorous progress of horses and carts, humankind has been obsessed with the motor cars of the future. Today, a glance at the legions of car-and-driver magazines lining newsstand shelves is enough to prove our obsession with sleeker, faster, more powerful and smarter cars, that for most of us seem to remain perennially and tantalizingly just out of reach.

However, surprising and exciting technological innovations are a lot closer than we might realize. At MWC we spent at lot of time with the folks from Ford and Intel.  Intel had several displays/booths throughout the MWC complex but the one where the “cool” folks hung out was in the Intel “Software Adrenaline” complex in the  software developer zone of MWC.  It there we met scores of software developers and got a deep understanding of the global mobile landscape. And with DJs blasting out music, food and drinks galore, and the chance to “talk code” it was a great hang-out:

MWC Intel 1

MWC Intel 2

MWC Intel 3

Core aspects of the mobile ecosystem run on Intel architecture, and Intel platforms are essential in driving the mobile experience from device to datacenter. As Intel moves forward in playing a larger role in the mobile stage, we’re seeing the mobile system move to adopt technologies and platforms that Intel is already providing. Intel hosted several different training events at MWC specifically for developers, including:

  • Ultrabooks and Tablets: App Development in Windows*8 Using Touch, Sensors, and More
  • Intel HTML5 App Porter Tool Beta: A Jump Start on Migrating iOS Apps
  • Cross-Platform Development with HTML5

In addition to the developer-specific trainings detailed above, Intel offered wide variety of demos and showcases at the Intel booth.

Yes, the hover cars of Hollywood may still be a distant and frankly impractical dream, but what’s in store in the coming years is going to transform our relationship with the car in much the same way that the Internet has revolutionized the way we interact with technology and each other. Intel is determined to be at the forefront of this evolutionary process, leading with its vision of an always-connected car bristling with intelligence.

At last years’s MWC, Intel announced a variety of product development, research, academic and capital investments in the automotive industry, including a $100 million Intel Capital Connected Car fund. The sole aim of these investments is to drive technological innovations in the global automotive industry and bring the connected cars of the future to a driveway near you. In April, Intel also announced that it is working closely with Japanese car manufacturer Nissan Motor Company to power its next generation of in-vehicle infotainment systems, which appeared in selected production models this year.  The partnership is just one of many that Intel is currently forging within the automotive industry.

For more from the Intel Software Adrenaline magazine click here.

Car Evolution

It’s certainly true that cars are already hives of impressive technology designed to serve their drivers and passengers in a variety of useful ways. The last three decades have seen in-car media systems evolve from removable cassette radios with manual tuning to all-singing, all-dancing multimedia systems capable of delivering audio visual entertainment from almost any imaginable source. At the same time, in-car navigation has itself taken an impressive journey from unwieldy and impossible-to-fold roadmaps obscuring the view of the road ahead, to electronic dashboard navigation systems replete with automatically updated maps of every road and byway, and a calming voice to soothe the brow of even the most hopelessly adrift motorist.

But these advances only hint at what cars are going to offer in the very near future. Imagine walking up to a rental car armed with only your phone and being able to instantly stream all your music using the in-car infotainment system, fire up your phone’s navigation app on the car’s dashboard, be told how far away your friends are that you’re planning to meet later, and reserve in advance a parking spot at your destination. Not only is the experience seamless and effortless, but it’s also done safely using voice and gesture controls, with the information you need (no more, no less) presented using an unobtrusive head-up display on the windshield, ensuring your hands are on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times. Sound like science fiction? It’s closer than you think.

Standard Problems

Recently car manufacturers have been hearing increasingly loud consumer voices asking for the kind of in-car always-on connectivity and access to remote cloud-based services that they take for granted outside of the car, with their own devices. To make this happen, the industry needs to develop common connectivity standards, the lack of which has been one of the major hurdles to delivering seamless connectivity in cars.

The car industry is traditionally vertically integrated, which has resulted in everyone essentially doing their own thing, producing closed ecosystems and hardware that work in their own idiosyncratic ways, however state-of-the-art the technology may be. This means that while one make of car may allow you to stream music from your phone using Bluetooth, another requires that you plug in your phone using an often unreliable mini-jack or even stereo RCA plugs, something we’re normally only exposed to when fiddling with wires in the dusty darkness at the back of an amplifier at home.

As someone who travels a great deal and drives a lot of rental cars, Ton Steenman, VP of the Intel Intelligent Systems Group, highlights another standards problem: “Every time I get in another rental car I have to re-learn a navigation system and how to enter the street address.” Common standards for in-car infotainment systems coupled with smartphone apps could eliminate both of these problems, allowing Steenman to use the same navigation system he always uses and listen to music without worrying about having the right connector, regardless of the car he finds himself driving.

Fostering Innovation

Intel is not an obvious stakeholder in the car world — a situation that plays strongly to its advantage. “Intel is viewed as a neutral player in this industry, which puts us in a unique position to help foster innovation,” says Steenman. It seems evident that while it’s difficult for an auto manufacturer to propose an industry-wide standard and expect its competitors to take heed, when the rallying cry comes from Intel, it’s more likely to be heard. One of the ways Intel capitalizes on its position is to help auto manufacturers face technological challenges that may be entirely new to them.

As Staci Palmer, general manager of Intel’s Automotive Solutions Division, explains, “In terms of their competencies, automakers have historically focused their differentiation around engine-related technologies, fuel efficiency, aesthetics and safety. Understanding consumer trends around information delivery and usability in the vehicle is still a relatively new concept to the automakers.”

Intel and the Connected Car

Despite the recent flurry of announcements from Intel around the connected car, it’s a strategy that the company has been developing for a number of years. “We’ve been working in this industry, focused on in-vehicle infotainment, since around 2007,” confirms Palmer. “During this time we’ve worked with automakers and their top-tier suppliers to help them understand the benefits of deploying their solutions around Intel® architecture.”

“We’ve also taken a leadership role in promoting the use of open architectures and standards in the automotive industry,” continues Palmer. “For example, we were a co-founder of the Genivi consortia, a nonprofit industry alliance with the objective of driving the broad adoption of an open-source in-vehicle infotainment development platform. The initiative was launched in 2009 with eight members, including Intel, Wind River, BMW Group, PSA-Peugeot Citroën, GM, Visteon, Delphi, and Magneti-Marelli. Now there are more than 160 member companies.”

The Intel Capital Connected Car Fund is the latest investment in Intel’s pursuit of connected-car innovation. “The idea is that this fund can help foster and grow innovation in the industry,” says Palmer.

Meanwhile over at Ford ….

Yes, automakers, not smartphone and tablet manufacturers, were trying to steal the spotlight at MWC this year with a series of pronouncements about the future of the “connected car.” Ford … not to be undone … brought 17 kitted-out cars, pick-ups, and vans to show off what the new models were capable of; options included an in-dash Spotify app to stream 20 million songs and, for the safety conscious, “Active Stop” sensors built into the windshield that scan the road ahead for hazards and slow the engine automatically to avoid collisions. Their booth stayed packed the entire show.  We even got to Tweet via their mock-up dashboard:

MWC Ford 1

MWC Ford 2

Oh, and General Motors announced an alliance with AT&T Wireless to bring high-speed 4G LTE connectivity to 2015 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac models for sale beginning next autumn.

There’s a lot riding on the bet that consumers want car tech that functions like a smartphone and offers safety and diagnostic features. By 2015, 20 percent of all new vehicle sales will be what the industry calls connected cars, according to the telecoms trade group GSMA, which could provide a much needed boost for a foundering industry.

But even automakers and mobile operators have their doubts. “A car is a car,” says Nathalie Leboucher, head of Smart Cities program, at the French mobile operator Orange. “It is not a smartphone on wheels.”

Before the connected car becomes a success, the industry will have to solve five big problems:

Dated software. Don’t be fooled by that new car smell. The in-dash operating system of the most sophisticated new cars runs on a “software kernel” that is at least five years old, says Derek Kuhn, vice president for sales and marketing at auto software developer QNX, which has provided software for Mercedes-Benz,Audi, and BMW. That makes the technology about as old as that second-generation iPhone sitting unused in your bottom drawer.

Reliability is important—and boring. Swapping out your car’s OS every 18 months for a new one is not a business carmakers want to be in. There’s a reason for that: Automakers need reliability more than they need to satisfy consumer demand for the latest tech features. Yes, software updates can be downloaded onto the car’s OS, even over the air. But during the typical seven-year life span of a car, automakers fear, a major bug might knock out the software that controls everything from diagnostics to apps. “We cannot have a scenario where 300,000 cars have to go back to the dealership at once to have the SIM card replaced,” says Marcus Keith, head of project at Audi Connect.

Roaming? Or no roaming? International roaming agreements among countries are still a patchwork, concede mobile operators and automakers. In Europe, at least, that’s problematic. If you travel from, say, your home country of France into neighboring Spain and get into an accident, it’s still unclear where the emergency response phone call from your in-dash control unit will be routed—to local Spanish police or to the French back home?

The $15 app. If you’ve already racked up a big iPhone or Android apps bill, you’ll love what automakers are charging for their apps. Toyota, for example, showed off its Touch & Go European app store at MWC. It charges €5.99 ($7.83) for an app that points out nearby parking options and €11.99 for one that lists fuel prices at nearby gas stations. (You could get the latter for free on a traffic-planning app like Waze or on GasBuddy.

For the major “connected car” announcements at MWC this year click here. 

For our full Mobile World Congress 2013 coverage click here.

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