The connected car

Jan. 9, 2003
The question is not whether automotive telematics will happen, but just when the technology will reach critical mass.

GM's intelligent chassis control system illustrates where telematics is headed. Other vehicle systems such as accident data recorders and crash-avoidance systems are on the horizon.
Telematics has an image of being an expensive option on luxury cars. But that is destined to change, say analysts from the Telematics Research Group (TRG). Automotive telematics will soon be viewed as anything but a frill. Its wireless communication or information exchange between the vehicle, its occupants, and the outside world will entail real benefits in safety and reliability.

Leaders in the telematics arena are the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan, but for different reasons. The U.S., for example, relies on telematics mostly for safety and security, says TRG, but new services providing content and integrating cellular technology are on the rise. The European market has fewer telematics subscribers than the U.S., say researchers, and counts on it mostly for travel information between countries with different languages and culture. In Japan, however, with so many vehicles on the road (493 autos/mile2 compared to 58 autos/mile2 in the U.S.), telematics is tapped mainly for navigation and travel information. Japan may be at the forefront of the next big wave. In this, experts are saying navigation systems of the like may be on the rise as people become more familiar with the technology and prices drop. Japan may also soon see more content-rich data, says TRG, thanks to its packet-based cellular networks and use of 3G cellular technology. And, the Japanese telematics industry has a long-term vision that other regions lack. The plan: Develop and implement intelligent transportation systems, such as automated toll payment, traffic detection/control/automation, and eventually, smart highways.

Technological trends are driving telematics toward widespread adoption in the next 10 to 15 years, say researchers. Safety and security will continue to be key with added future features such as crash-data recorders and collision-avoidance systems. Also, the trend toward electronic drive-by-wire systems will encourage the deployment of more telematics. Intelligent vehicle systems, for example, using cameras, radar, and various sensors, will warn drivers of dangerous driving conditions or admonish them if they push past any driving parameters. All in all, says TRG, telematics systems will likely be the command and control system and user interface between drivers, their vehicles, and computer systems.

General Motors, with Onstar services, is one major automaker successfully using telematics. Onstar has nearly 2 million users in the U.S. and, says TRG, is the clear worldwide leader. Besides GM, Onstar has licensed its services to Honda, Audi, VW, Toyota, and Subaru. ATX is on the heels of Onstar, outsourcing its telematics services to luxury automakers such as Mercedes, Infiniti, Jaguar, and BMW.

TRG expects the number of telematics-enabled vehicles to skyrocket in the next decade, forming a "telematics network" making use of the Internet, cellular, and short-range wireless networks such as Bluetooth and 802.11 wireless technology. In 2001, about 2 million telematics systems were built into vehicles, or 3.5% of all vehicles sold. TRG predicts by 2007 more than 42% of all autos sold in the U.S. will come with telematics systems, totaling 7.6 million units. And worldwide, nearly 20% of all vehicles sold will be telematics equipped.

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