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How the Auto Industry Plans to Stay “Connected” to its Customers

Designing cars now includes a multitude of conveniences in the car but a new consulting service from IDC Manufacturing Insights offers better clarity into the process.

Up to 100 million lines of code can be needed for a vehicle system.
Up to 100 million lines of code can be needed for a vehicle system.

I interrupt the regularly scheduled program to let you know that the manufacturing of automobiles is being disrupted. Next up for the automotive industry is the demand for “connectivity” in cars, such as a contact list appearing in the dashboard, or access to your personal music database in your car. For automotive OEMs, the need to implement these consumer preferences is crucial for sales, but this is a new path for some. A focus on information technology (IT) personnel and embedded systems seems to be the way forward.

Automakers are traditionally known to build three items: major engine components, the chassis and the body’s frame. The rest is assembled at factories. So how do OEMs figure out this connected car puzzle? To help answer some of these questions, Framingham-Mass.-based IDC Manufacturing Insights (), a manufacturing technology consulting agency, announced a new service called, Connected Vehicles Strategies Advisory Service. This new service examines industry standards, embedded software developments, and telematics, and leverages IDC's mobile services and infrastructure research centers to provide more context with topics such as the role of carriers, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and the evolution of 4G services.  

“The industry needs robust, compelling use cases to drive [connected vehicles] adoption,” says Sheila Brennan, program manager for IDC’s Connected Vehicle Strategies.

Brennan says that one of the primary drivers of connected car technologies is safety. “OEMs are under intense pressure by public groups and legislators such as NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] to reduce the number of distracted-driver-related accidents related to mobile phone use in vehicles. Technologies that allow for voice-activated, hands-free use of devices are extremely popular, whether or not they are paired with the vehicle, e.g. via Bluetooth," she says.

Role of embedded software

Embedded software developments are making connected-car features possible, but success requires extensive code development by automotive OEMs or third party developers. Up to 100 million lines of software code can be needed for a vehicle’s infotainment system. This compares to the scant 500,000 lines of code needed when the Space Shuttle was designed.

Embedded software is also being applied in many areas of the automotive design process, including car electrification, increased mileage requirements and safety. Another potentially disruptive development is new I/O methods that have emerged in the testing phase.

Testing can become quite complex as radio frequency protocols and input from distributed sensors is added to automotive systems. A recent article from Austin-Tex.-based National Instruments on embedded software development in automotive testing cites “steep learning curves when testing system requirements.” One way to reduce this complexity “is to synchronize all of your I/O in a single system sharing the same timebase,” says NI. This allows designers to see results for the entire system at one time, allowing for quicker iterations to the code.

Automotive transformation

So how involved will automakers be in the design of “connected vehicles?” GM is diving head first with a rollout of four new Innovation Centers and the hiring of 4,000 new information technology (IT) people in the next three to five years to meet the “connected” component in automotive design and factory modernization.

GM is building these centers where the IT talent is: Austin, Tex.; Roswell, Ga.; Warren, Mich.; and newest one near Phoenix, Ariz. GM’s IT strategy will use a combination of proprietary networks and the cloud to deliver data to its cars, according to industry reports.

“Recruiting talented IT professionals in intensely competitive. To hire the best and brightest, we need to create employment opportunities that differentiate our company from the competition—and location is one such advantage, said GM’s CIO Randy Mott in March. Other carmakers have also set up research centers close to Silicon Valley, including Ford, Renault/Nissan and Volkswagen/Audi.

April 30, IDC analysts will present a free webinar on connected cars. “Riding the Opportunity: Worldwide Connected Vehicles” will be broadcast at 1 p.m. EDT. Brennan says IDC has already begun publishing reports into its Connected Vehicles Strategies research practice, and several relevant reports from adjacent services are also available. In the coming months, IDC will provide survey results on consumer attitudes toward connected vehicle technologies.

Grant Gerke, Automation World contributing writer.


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