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The Fully Networked Car@Geneva Motor Show
Christoph Huss
photo credit: FISITA
Christoph Huss,
Vice President of BMW and President of the International Federation of Automotive Engineering Societies (FISITA), was the keynote speaker at “The Fully Networked Car@Geneva Motor Show”

A fully networked car can talk to other cars, receive reports of traffic data, warn the driver about upcoming hazards, suggest the best route to conserve fuel, and even access e-mail, stock prices, Facebook and Twitter. A few years ago, that would have sounded like science fiction. Now, the prospect of a fully networked car seems much nearer.

Keeping in touch with traffic information

In 1996, BMW was the first car manufacturer to introduce the radio data systemtraffic message channel (RDS-TMC) as part of its GPS navigation system. This offers real-time traffic information — supplied by government agencies — to drivers using the FM sub channel.

Today, RDS-TMC is still a very successful transmission method for traffic information throughout Europe and North America. It is successful because, first, it was created to address one of the driver’s most basic needs: to get from A to B in the fastest way possible, or at least to know about disruptions ahead. This feature is one that a driver uses and appreciates on every single trip.

Second, RDS-TMC relies on FM broadcasts, a transmission technology that is already paid for. No additional infrastructure or operational costs are involved, and there are no problems with limited network coverage. Third, RDS-TMC is a well-established standard, making it easy for suppliers to implement and market the product in large quantities.

What other types of information do drivers need?

Will the technology and the potential applications that are being researched today have the same success as RDS-TMC? The fundamental question is not how to make a fully networked car, but why. Except for a few individuals who are savvy about technology, it will not be the fully networked car itself that customers will be willing to pay for. In my view, customers are looking for mobility, safety, efficiency and convenience.

Traffic information and related mobility applications are probably still the primary uses that will attract customers. Drivers want to take the quickest route through rush-hour traffic. This means getting as much information as possible about what is going on: not only on traffic flow, but also data on such matters as traffic signal timings, closed roads, and roads that are temporarily blocked.

Just as important are applications that increase safety. And as with mobility applications, having access to vital pieces of information is the key. Most situations only turn out to be dangerous because they happen unexpectedly. Early warning takes out the risk. The emphasis here is on precise and reliable information.

With rising oil prices and increasing environmental awareness, fuel efficiency has become an important field of innovation. Consumers are willing to invest in technology that uses resources wisely and more efficiently. Because traffic flow and driving style are two of the largest variables in fuel consumption, precise information about what is happening ahead is vital in increasing fuel efficiency. Selecting routes where traffic signal timings are coordinated, so as to reduce unnecessary stop-and-go driving, is another way of increasing fuel efficiency

Consumers would like to simplify their lives. Having everyday information at hand, such as parking availability or public transport schedules, reduces stress and makes life easier. Customers are willing to pay for this convenience.

What will it take to bring us these applications?

All of these applications have one thing in common: they rely on the availability of precise and up-todate information. But might there be a reluctance to allow access to data? For example, city districts giving access to traffic management data expose their systems to public scrutiny. In such a case, government policy affects data availability far more than any technical factors.

Deployment of the applications is another essential component. Taking a technological leap forward might seem to be the thing to do. But realistically, deployment is likely to happen in much more gradual steps. The business case and the return on investment may impose constraints that make large leaps impossible in real life.

Putting the fully networked car on the road

This brings me to my last point: where is the profit? To be honest, the networked car will not exist in the long term unless it is supported by a solid business case and the prospect of a quick return on investment. We may talk about the good things that we envisage for humankind: mobility, safety, efficiency and convenience. But at the end of the day, the spur to action for a manufacturer may be all about making a profit. How much must I invest in new technology and what extra amount is the customer willing to pay? How can I create a unique selling point so that customers do not defect to the competition?

Like car manufacturers, other players in this field have their own ways of staying profitable or achieving their goals. For content and service providers, the method is creating valuable information out of raw data. For a network provider, it is about selling network bandwidth. For universities, it is about attracting research and students. For consultants, it is acquiring jobs. For government, it is about responding to public needs and winning elections. If we can find a scenario where all these goals and objectives can be met, the fully networked car will become a reality.

From a technical standpoint, the fully networked car has come a long way. Standardization bodies have done tremendous work in creating standards to promote interoperability and keep implementation costs to a minimum. What is needed now is a strong focus on real-life deployment and business development.


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