Connected Cars: The Way of the Future, Today


At the Connected Cars World conference in Amsterdam, the European GNSS Agency (GSA) joined carmakers, automotive suppliers and public authorities to discuss how GNSS- and internet- enabled vehicles are making life easier for drivers, and the actions to be undertaken in the industry for a continuous integration of more accurate and robust GNSS in the coming years.

Major vehicle manufacturers are already delivering motor vehiclesA new GSA call for proposals for research in support of autonomous vehicle technologies is imminent – stay tuned for more information. with connected services for drivers, such as real time traffic and weather reports, and accident and road works warnings. Coupled with embedded GNSS technologies for precise localisation, and the connected car becomes a veritable mobility management system on wheels.

Speaking at the Connected Cars World conference, GSA Deputy Head of Market Development Fiammetta Diani stressed the crucial role of precise and reliable GNSS in connected vehicles: “With Galileo, we will have greater resistance to multipath interference, for example in urban canyons,” she continued. “And it will be a multi frequency service, so it will be more resistant to intentional interferences.” Finally, she explained, Galileo will also feature an authentication signal, to protect against spoofing attacks.

Research for a Single Road ‘GNSS Engine’

The GSA’s Alberto Fernandez-Wyttenbach took advantage of the first “European GNSS User Forum for Automotive Stakeholders” to announce more support for road-related satellite navigation research. Looking at the wider picture, he said, the GSA is now focusing on a number of key areas for research, including:

  • Safety-critical applications, including connected cars and autonomous vehicles
  • Liability and payment applications, such as road tolling and insurance apps

The GSA is making funding available for work in support of all of these areas through the EU’s Fundamental Elements Grant Plan on GNSS Receivers.

“We want OEMs to participate as well as auto suppliers and receiver makers,” said Wyttenbach. “Our objective is to see a single embedded ‘GNSS engine’ on board all vehicles, to cover all the necessary functionalities for all of the key road application areas, all in one technology package.”

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“We want to see a real prototype,” he concluded. “We want something that is near market-ready.”

Potential research participants should look for a new round of calls for proposals in July. Proposals will be evaluated quickly, with a deadline for submissions on September 30th and selections and contract negotiations to be completed before the end of the year.

The Corporate Perspective

Talking from the automotive manufacturer’s point-of-view, SEAT’s Roger Giralt talked about his company’s new ‘desktop’ for drivers. This ‘desktop’ comes with a variety of apps, such as one that can record trips, and a ‘me’ app giving direct access to social media – facebook, twitter, e-mails and the like. “With a voice-control system, you no longer have to miss messages while you’re driving,” said Giralt. “With smartphone integration, you can access Google maps to find your car in the parking lot, then get in your car, plug in your smartphone and you have all your apps and your multimedia with you.”

Giralt stressed that many of SEAT’s desktop functions are blocked while you are actually driving, thus minimising any driver distraction.

In the case of disruptive technologies such as automated and driverless cars, distraction will be just the thing former drivers are looking for. In a panel discussion on automation, Nissan Europe’s Richard Candler reminded participants of the goal of zero emissions and zero fatalities, a goal now nearer than many believed possible just a few short years ago. The fact that 90% of road accidents are the result of human error remains a strong argument in favour of further automation, Candler said.

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Nissan is taking a step-by-step approach towards more autonomous road vehicles, starting with a ‘traffic jam pilot’, and next introducing a ‘motorway pilot’ and, by 2020, a ‘city pilot’. At each step, the vehicle will take on more of the responsibility for actually driving the car, but in a way that allows drivers to get used the concept gradually.

Jan-Maarten de Vries of TomTom contrasted the approach being taken by established manufacturers such as Nissan with the one being taken in Silicon Valley, where ‘newcomers’ such as Google are going straight to the end-goal of completely autonomous, driverless cars. “Neither approach is right or wrong,” de Vries said. “But the traditional OEMs do have the advantage of knowing their customers.”

Show Me the Data!

A new and very exciting area opened up by connected cars is the generation of new kinds of ‘big data’. With more and more such cars out there not only using services, but also sending information about where they are, how fast they are going, what they are accessing online, and more, the potential for public good and private profit is enormous.

In a joint presentation on big data, Ford’s John Ellis and Greg Krueger of the US Department of Transport said the global market for road-related data – e.g. traffic conditions, travel time and road surface conditions – is worth five to six billion USD. “That’s how much governments are spending to collect this kind of data,” Ellis said.

Indeed, the kinds of information cited by Ellis are absolutely crucial to road operators and mobility authorities as they endeavour to create a more efficient, safer and greener transport system.

Traditionally, collecting such information has meant setting up roadside infrastructure – cameras, sensors and the like. But connected cars can provide that information effortlessly, if only the data they generate can be collected and accessed. As Roger Giralt pointed out, many carmakers are still getting their heads around digital concepts, being much more used to selling machines.

Privacy issues will also come into play here. Public opinion on this sticky subject varies from country to country around Europe, let alone around the world. On the question of privacy and who owns the data generated by internet- and GNSS-connected cars, BMW’s Michael Gruffke said, “Younger people are already used to giving up information about themselves and their activities, because they know they will get something back in return.”

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