In April 2016, IT solutions company Cisco Systems and car manufacturer Hyundai Motor Company entered into a connected car partnership. With a shared goal of moving toward marketplace proactivity in terms of fulfilling customer demand, the partnership will allow the companies to cater to — and possibly even shape — drivers’ desires before they arise.
When the Cisco-Hyundai partnership began, Hyundai’s main focus was on bringing smartphone connectivity and smart home services to vehicles. The partnership expanded in November with the two firms signing on to develop connected car solutions for the Chinese market. The first step included collecting car information and social data in China.
Now, the mega-firms are making news by developing a hardware platform to support the types of solutions connected cars are designed to make possible. That platform, notes Paul Choo, research and development director at Hyundai, has focused largely on the addition of Ethernet-connected, high-speed internet connectivity and end-to-end security implementation.
“We’re seeing a higher demand for more sophisticated network architecture infrastructure in vehicles,” said Choo. He also noted that the firms are working “shoulder to shoulder” in bringing their vision of a connected car platform and internal architecture to fruition. “The partnership with Cisco will definitely help us accelerate the adoption of technology.”
According to Choo, while development of the smart technology itself is great and exciting, implementation is equally so. Technologists in Silicon Valley, he said, have a tendency to become so enamored with smart technology and its development that they risk losing sight of the bigger picture. That picture, Choo said, is not about what can be developed so much as about what can be put into actual adoption and production.
“Whenever a new tech is validated, [our research and development strategy is to] immediately transition that into a production phase and get that out into the market,” said Choo.
So, what are the tech items preparing to make their way to the auto industry market?
The Infrastructure Upgrades
Among Hyundai’s first issues on the agenda was removing Bluetooth smartphone-to-car connectivity. This is a minor-seeming issue, perhaps, but one actually causing a real safety hazard for drivers who find themselves frequently looking at their phones to better use them. Choo noted the irony here, as Bluetooth connectivity was conceived to keep people’s eyes off their phones while driving.
Hyundai has been working cooperatively with Google and Apple to develop a solution for the issue — a more efficient way to integrate smartphones with cars. Information from a phone screen is projected on the car’s screen, but filtered so distractions are hidden and only essential features are made visible. Choo said the features have already received good reviews from consumers.
But in the Cisco partnership, Hyundai is thinking much bigger — starting with powering higher-speed, Ethernet connectivity rather than any other connected car features.
“We’re working on probably more infrastructure things right now … trying to get that full connectivity so that we could start to move the traffic around more efficiently,” said James Peters, vice president of connected cars at Cisco, in a recent interview with ZDNet. “We’ll be able to get the telemetry data, lock that down with security, tie it end-to-end through the vehicle, [we’re] really trying to open up the vehicle so we can start to take the share processing and create more central computing.”
The goal, said Peters, is not just to build cars that work for customers today, but to build ones that are also “future proofed.” Connected cars are not like computers: The average person will not replace his car nearly as often as he changes his computer. According to Peters, Cisco and Hyundai are currently designing five- and seven-year software updates to be compatible with any hardware currently implemented in connected cars.
“Right now it’s about opening up the car, it’s about driving down some costs, but adding in features in terms of over-the-air updates and functionality, increasing the speed inside the car to move that data, putting some compression in there to make it efficient,” said Peters. “It all kind of plays into where we’ll be going with machine learning.”
Changing the Relationship with Cars
In commerce today, customers purchase cars and that is more or less the end of their relationship with auto industry manufacturers, minus some routine maintenance or warrantied services. But, said Choo, a world where connected cars are common and driven forward by continuous updates will fundamentally change that relationship. Buyers and manufacturers will be working together to continue improving cars for years after the initial sale.
And, Choo noted, by building a more robust data relationship with customers, manufacturers will also be able to get real-time reviews about which features are popular, which need to be created and which of those currently implemented are not winning the hearts and minds of the American consumer — and thus need to be de-prioritized or rethought.
According to Choo, the connected cars effort is all done against a backdrop of regulatory approval in the various global regions where connected cars will be on the road. This is so the correct — and legally appropriate — forms of data can be gathered in accordance with local rules.
“We’re developing a flexible platform where it can actually dynamically configure which data should be sampled and at which rate it should be connected for government bodies,” Choo said.
According to Peters, the future will likely see a “fairly standard set of capabilities” and connectivity on all vehicles. To that end, Cisco has efforts to develop global compatibility with other car brands, as well as regular work with “radio players and 5G folks” to look into connection and management technologies.
Speaking with telecommunications carriers about customizing data plans for a world of internet-enabled automobiles has also been key for Hyundai. But, according to Choo, those efforts are not going quite as smoothly as desired. Choo said that car makers do not have much in the way of bargaining power when it comes to setting data costs, though he does believe that economies of scale will push down the price of data much the same way near-universal smartphone ownership drove down the cost of mobile data plans.
As for Cisco, the company plans to continue the quiet — but notable — progress they’ve already made in building Internet of Things (IoT) inroads. Cisco’s cloud-based IoT platform Jasper already powers approximately 50 worldwide auto brands through the Jasper control center.