Mobile phone on four wheels

Vehicle makers and mobile communications providers are hard at work on making cars active users of the World Wide Web. That goes well beyond the mere exchange of music files between a smartphone and a car stereo system. Networking cars will enable completely new applications, of which the European emergency call system eCall is only one example.

Today’s modern people are always online. Social networks are becoming indispensable, and the use of apps is an essential aspect of life in the digital world. Smartphones, home PCs, TVs – nowadays all these devices allow the use of Web services. And even the car is increasingly becoming a device that can be used to surf the Web. Market analysts from SBD, a British consultancy, expect that most, if not all, cars will be equipped with some form of networking capability by 2025.
Generally, the distinction is made between two forms of networking: either the SIM technology will be increasingly embedded directly into the vehicle, or mobile devices such as smartphones will serve as the interface to the global network.

Cars with their own SIM cards

In the first form, the SIM card used by mobile phone users to identify themselves to their network providers will become part of the vehicle – the car becomes a mobile phone, so to speak. This solution is expected to enable a wide range of mobile-phone-based services encompassing safety, entertainment, navigation and vehicle diagnostics. “Embedding mobile technology in cars will not only save lives, but also drive a range of new services and provide a significant revenue opportunity for the mobile and automotive industries,” said Michael O’Hara, Chief Marketing Officer, GSMA. “The rapid growth of this market will be driven in part by positive regulatory action, particularly in Europe and in emerging markets such as Russia and Brazil.” An example of this is eCall, the automatic emergency call system for cars developed by the European Union. From 2015, all new vehicles in EU countries must be equipped with this system. In the event of an accident, eCall establishes contact between the car and an emergency call centre, automatically transmits the vehicle’s exact position and makes it possible to speak with its occupants to acquire further information about the accident’s severity. In addition, required rescue information (rescue sheet) can be retrieved and transmitted to the rescuers. “We are in the midst of a connected car revolution and it is vital that the mobile and automotive industries work together to deliver scalable and pervasive connected experiences and ensure this market reaches its potential,” said O’Hara. To this end, the GSMA has launched the Connected Car Forum, in which leading mobile communications providers and car manufacturers cooperate on telematics and infotainment services. It is expected that in 2018, around one-third of the approximately 100 million vehicles newly registered worldwide will be equipped with such embedded mobile technologies.

The smartphone as a network interface

On the other hand, 21 million vehicles are expected to be networked via smartphones. Today, Bluetooth technology is already almost the standard for connecting mobile devices with a car’s infotainment system. Bluetooth is a wireless technology for data transfer between devices over short distances. With this system, the driver can use his car’s hands-free system with the contacts from his smartphone. The music stored on a mobile device can be played through the vehicle’s speakers via Bluetooth, and text messages and e-mails can be sent and received via the car’s infotainment system. In this way, telematics services such as transmitting current traffic information into a vehicle’s navigation system can also be used via smartphone.

Universal language HTML5

To ensure that the wide variety of devices and vehicle brands will be able to communicate with each other, a standardised application platform will be needed. It is becoming apparent that browsers such as Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome will be the foundation of such a platform, on which documents and information can be exchanged by means of open standards regardless of the devices involved. This development was initiated by HTML5, the language of “Web 2.0”. HTML5 extends the existing HTML with “rich Web content”. For example, videos can be embedded more easily. It also provides more possibilities for Web applications.
“Since vehicles are becoming ever more connected to each other, it is important to the automotive industry to use Web standards that have been adapted for vehicles to simplify data exchange with the Cloud and enhance the end user’s digital life in the vehicle,” said Philippe Gicquel, General Manager for Cockpit, Safety, Infotainment EE Modules at PSA Peugeot Citroën. For example, the GENIVI Alliance, an association of the automotive and consumer electronics industries, is using HTML5 to develop an open reference platform for in-vehicle infotainment (IVI). Together they intend to specify programming interfaces (APIs) for HTML5 Web applications to link with vehicle hardware or vehicle bus interfaces. “The HTML5 Auto API is imperative to enable the open source IVI community to rapidly and easily prototype, test and produce innovative user experience concepts,” said Matt Jones, senior technical specialist at Jaguar Land Rover.
A broad range of vehicle data can be made available by means of these APIs. Besides access to parking sensors, average values for speed and fuel consumption, and light and wiper settings, the transfer of information about the current gear is also possible. In a possible application, this link could be used by the customer to display his vehicle’s current fuel level on the smartphone or the TV. On the other hand, it would also be possible to access the media library on the smartphone or PC from the vehicle.

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