March 12, 2015

How to Refresh Your Car While You Sleep
By Upton Bowden

Considering the speed, savings and ease that digital communications have brought to consumers and businesses, it’s frustrating that the task of updating software in vehicles has been a slow, expensive and often difficult process for both the auto industry and drivers:
  1. Manufacturers mail notices to tens of thousands of vehicle owners.
  2. Owners schedule an appointment with dealers.
  3. Owners drive the vehicles to the dealership, leaving them for new software to be installed.
  4. A technician physically connects a server to the vehicle’s onboard diagnostics port to download the update.
  5. The auto manufacturer receives a warranty bill from its dealers.

For a few fixes, such as a navigation system map update, automakers have been able to provide USB drives containing software, but that’s typically only for infotainment systems, and owners have to install these software updates themselves.

Fixing and upgrading software would be simplified if those steps could be reduced to two:
  1. Vehicle updates are pushed from the vehicle manufacturer’s server and downloaded to appropriate vehicles.
  2. The vehicle owner selects a few on-screen buttons including “accepting the software update” and identifies a good time to perform the update.

Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) can do exactly that with LTE Multicast, a newly implemented feature of 4G wireless communications that uses Visteon’s Connected Vehicle Hub and Verizon LTE Multicast technology for automotive over-the-air software updates. LTE Multicast was initially intended to enable wireless carriers to broadcast video programming to millions of devices simultaneously over cellular networks.

Visteon looked at LTE Multicast with a different eye. We realized that LTE Multicast is an ideal distribution mechanism for vehicle software updates – critical for making the connected car a success. Each car or truck is essentially a listening device and LTE Multicast allows automakers to deliver over-the-air software updates, bug fixes and feature enhancements to all connected vehicles or a selection of vehicles concurrently. The simultaneous nature of Multicast means that network utilization is not impacted and the data cost is equivalent to a single data file.  Further, Multicast is uniquely suited for the automotive market since hardware activation is not a requirement to receive broadcast content.  A typical telematics control unit (TCU) requires wireless account activation before it can be utilized; such activation occurs when the consumer takes ownership of a vehicle.

Visteon invented the back end of this system—the Connected Vehicle Hub—which works in much the same way as iTunes for mobile phones. The Hub is a Web portal tool where an OEM representative manages the download for distribution. The OEM can decide when to send them and to which vehicles—by model year, trim level or even by VIN.

Until now, there has been no way to do this with the telematics control modules or wireless gateway modules in most vehicles. Updates through TCUs had to be performed one car at a time, and each of those downloads was an independent transaction on the OEM's wireless bill. Imagine sending a one-gigabyte update to 10,000 cars and being charged for every byte, 10,000 times! LTE Multicast sends that one-gigabyte of data to all the cars instantaneously, with a one-time charge by the carrier based on the actual broadcast file size.

LTE Multicast updates often will be delivered over the air while vehicle owners sleep. They’ll install automatically or at a convenient time, indicated by the driver. LTE Multicast is equally useful before a new vehicle even is delivered to the buyer. As each car rolls off the assembly line, its telematics module will receive an electronic program guide, similar to the scheduled-recordings menu on your home DVR. The guide can tell the car:  Every Thursday at 4 a.m. for the next three months, wake up and listen for a broadcast. If you hear it, accept the download. If it’s not there, go back to sleep.

For vehicles on the assembly plant’s or dealer’s lot that must be updated to fix a newly discovered issue, this simple, simultaneous updating replaces the current practice of going to each car and manually installing the software—a huge undertaking with thousands of hours for a large “Yard Campaign”. 

LTE Multicast also can reduce complexity. Instead of manufacturing multiple versions of a vehicle, each with different infotainment or powertrain calibrations, assembly plants can build them with the same hardware and then simply broadcast different software to each model segment. The same goes for emissions software. Using GPS, LTE Multicast can pick out the vehicles that require software to meet California’s emissions regulations and separately find and download different software for the high-altitude conditions in Colorado.

LTE Multicast can deliver substantial cost savings to manufacturers, increase brand loyalty for dealers and enable consumers to keep their vehicles current. It’s a prime example of finally bringing the best of digital communications to a process that until now has been stuck in the slow lane. 

This video shows how Visteon adapted LTE Multicast to demonstrate the benefits of sending software updates to an entire set of vehicles simultaneously.

Upton Bowden is an electronics marketing and portfolio planning manager at Visteon, responsible for identifying innovative concepts and developing compelling automotive applications.

February 20, 2015

Technology at Mobile World Congress Will Energize the Next-Generation Connected Car

By Martin Green

Now that most of us are comfortable with 4G LTE communications, which is no more than five years old, it’s time to start preparing for 5G – the fifth generation of wireless technology. It’s about to change our lives significantly, because it will allow us to interconnect nearly every electronic device we use, especially the technologies in our cars.

The capabilities of 5G will be a particularly exciting focal point of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona during the first week of March. This new generation of powerful wireless systems is designed to facilitate the Internet of Things (IoT) by furnishing multiple connections to distribute data, instead of relying on just the one connection at a time.

Innovations like connected cars will rely on 5G functionality, which is why we’ll be showcasing both Visteon’s traditional telematics interfaces and our vision for connectivity gateway solutions in Barcelona. Within that vision, we’re looking at innovations like Verizon’s LTE Multicast (applied in the automotive industry for the first time with the Visteon Connected Vehicle Hub), which lets mobile broadcasters send video, messages, software, firmware over-the-air (FOTA) updates, telematics content and other information to multiple vehicles or other receivers simultaneously.

At MWC we’ll be eager to move beyond traditional telematics control units to demonstrate the Visteon Wireless Gateway, which is designed to manage and connect with multiple external wireless carriers such as cellular, Wi-Fi, global positioning systems (GPS) and dedicated short-range communications (DSRC).  It does so while providing a high-integrity connection to the car and services to its occupants as the vehicle drives through an ever-changing external wireless environment.

The Wireless Gateway is designed to function as an integral part of the map to the IoT and is crucial to supporting the multiple interfaces that 5G enables – including the distribution of data from vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) and within vehicles.

One of the interesting connected car dilemmas emerging from multi-path data distribution involves basic account management for consumers. With the neighbor’s kids in the back seat sharing data with your spouse in the front, and with passing cars using bandwidth to communicate with your vehicle, how do we determine who pays for which data? We’re likely to see more industry alliances forming to lay out easier-to-manage billing plans.

MWC participants will also be debating how more spectrums for wireless can best be obtained from the “digital dividend” provided by channels once dedicated to analogue television and the use of white space between TV and radio channels. Any way you look at it, the demand for data on the move is insatiable, and we’ll need to provide more room for it.

Automakers and Tier 1 suppliers will be challenged in the years ahead to collaborate ever more closely with the mobile network industry for solutions that are both backward and forward compatible. This will help ensure that next generation of connected vehicles will remain capable and current as the wireless environment evolves. 

During his 22- year career in the automotive industry, Martin Green has held a number of positions including roles in advanced systems engineering with a focus on hybrid and fuel economy technologies and marketing manager for Visteon electronics. In his current role as a technology planning manager, Martin is responsible for analyzing global technology trends and customer needs to identify and bring to market next-generation connectivity solutions.

February 11, 2015

High-Tech Companies and Automakers Redefine “Making Connections” at Trade Shows

By Richard Vaughan

Not so long ago, the International CES® (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas was something that most attendees of Detroit’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) had only vaguely heard about. Both shows occur in January, but the auto show traditionally held the full attention of the automotive world at the start of the year. The shows attracted entirely different audiences and had different purposes. Today, that situation is entirely different.

The two events are converging in terms of their products and attendees. CES has become more of an automotive technology showcase, and NAIAS the place where automakers show off their latest mobile devices, also known as cars. A wide variety of automakers had large booths at CES, and many of their displays were as elaborate as those normally seen at a major auto show. One automaker actually designed and developed a concept car for debut at CES—a true first in car “reveals.”

The one theme that most connected the two shows was connectivity itself. Wireless capability in cars was a big deal at CES, as it was at NAIAS, but for a different purpose. The ultimate connected device—the driverless car—made a huge splash at CES, where issues like safety, security, industry standards and information accuracy were also raised. At NAIAS, the overall experience of passengers in autonomous vehicles was a main topic of conversation, with an emphasis on ways to keep occupants engaged through entertainment as they travel.

At Visteon, we have been focusing on bringing it all together. At CES, our large connectivity gallery had several vehicles, each equipped with connected services technologies. One example of our integration efforts is our work with Verizon’s LTE Multicast technology, which allows an automaker to send software updates to one small batch or to all cars in a fleet simultaneously. Not only does Multicast allow automakers to update cars without requiring a customer to visit a dealership, it also allows consumers to download the latest apps, interfaces or graphics, which can improve the ownership experience and help keep the vehicle relevant over time.

While the consumer-electronics giants that traditionally have been prominent at CES are focused more than ever on integration with cars and trucks, the automotive world is picking up on a common technique from the high-tech computing arena: open source development. NAIAS was a launch pad for automakers to begin talking about making their patents openly available as a way to jointly advance the industry in ways that no single company could do on its own. In fact, a non-profit industry alliance, called GENIVI® (Visteon is a founding member) is driving the broad adoption of an in-vehicle information (IVI) open-source development platform. 

One further connection between these two worlds (which some jokingly call the convergence of  “geeks” and “grease”) that I’m watching for is the translation of Big Data to the connected automotive world. The ability to accumulate data on how, when and where drivers use their cars provides unprecedented opportunities to improve the driving experience through vehicles that can recognize the preferences and habits of drivers. The potential ramifications of knowing every stop, destination, song selection and phone number input by vehicle occupants is staggering, allowing vehicles to become smart, integrated and personalized companions for drivers of the future.

By next January, I anticipate that the differences between these two enormously influential shows will take a backseat to intricately connected plans by contenders from both the high-tech side and the automotive sector – even if the specifics of what they share at each show remain slightly different. That ever-stronger connection will continue to make January the start of something much bigger than simply a new year.

Richard Vaughan is manager, design experience, and is responsible for leading the design team dedicated to turning consumer insights into next-generation, in-vehicle experiences. As the leader of Visteon's global consumer-perceived quality program, he has traveled the globe interviewing consumers from different cultures to gain a full understanding of what drives consumer perceptions. Vaughan was educated at Detroit's College for Creative Studies and is a lifelong car enthusiast. He has been a car judge at both the Concours of America at St. Johns and the Eyes on Design, is involved with several automobile clubs, and helped organize a car and bike show among Visteon employees.