The journey for superior car connectivity explained to Louis Bedigian by Alan Ewing of the Car Connectivity Consortium. [Mob.Bedigian.2016.07.14]
Automakers have been severely challenged by the rush to bring mobile devices into the car but connectivity is a feature many consumers cannot live without.
Alan Ewing, president and executive director of the Car Connectivity Consortium, wants to provide an in-car experience that lives up to expectations. He thinks there is a better way to deliver connectivity, and it starts with MirrorLink, the consortium’s first platform. MirrorLink manages the connections between vehicles and smartphones to provide a smoother user experience. “We’re really focused on making sure that the phone and the car connect properly,” said Ewing. “The things that can be done beyond that get really intriguing.”
Ewing is particularly excited about the data that can be derived from within the vehicle, especially when gathering aggregate information from a large number of drivers. “If you opt-in to applications on your phone that allow the harvesting of data, basically what one could do is supply information about speed [or] issues on the roads,” said Ewing. He compared this element to the way that Waze allows its users to report auto accidents. “Also, weather information: ‘Hey, my automatic windshield wipers just kicked on. It got dark but it’s three o’clock in the afternoon.’ One could harvest that data [as well].”
Ewing said that MirrorLink is “not limited in any way” from a business perspective, “it’s only limited in what one could imagine doing”. “If an app developer or an industry [member] said, ‘I want to do something,’ it would really be up to developing an app that would allow that functionality to take place,” Ewing explained. “The automakers really have an interest here because, obviously, [they can] do some cool things with maintenance. And understanding how their vehicles are functioning in the field could be really advantageous. There are elements of that smart thinking, but it really requires drawing on that blank canvas to take advantage of it.”
Many automakers and handset makers are already on board, including General Motors, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Daimler, Samsung, HTC, LG and Sony. Panasonic and Pioneer are among the Tier 1 suppliers who have joined the consortium.
What about Apple? For now it seems the iPhone maker is choosing to focus on CarPlay, the company’s in-car connectivity solution. Said Ewing: “Apple is not a member, full disclosure. There’s no technical reason that MirrorLink could not work on an iPhone. It’s all a business decision from the Apple folks, and that’s their business, that’s cool. But MirrorLink (as a technology) is meant to be agnostic, so it can work on Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Symbian.” Ewing indicated that other, lesser-known operating systems are supported as well.
By opening the door to more devices, MirrorLink (and any supported handset) could become a target for hackers seeking vehicle access. The Car Connectivity Consortium does not hire hackers to handle this potential threat.
“What we do instead is, the folks that we work with are well-versed in military and banking-style security infrastructure,” said Ewing. “They understand and they actually monitor for those kinds of attacks on our systems as well as others. We work with a company [that] also supplies NATO’s security infrastructure, so we’re not talking about lightweights in this space.” Ewing did not mention that security firm by name but said the company will notify the consortium of any suspicious activity.
Cybersecurity is not limited to smartphone connectivity, however. Automobiles have become more vulnerable by adding 4G modems, Wi-Fi and other connection points. This has inspired a plethora of security firms to develop products and services that will supposedly prevent or reduce the likelihood of future attacks.
Said Ewing: “That’s the wonderful thing about entrepreneurialism. And it’s not a bad thing. Whether or not they’re needed, one could argue philosophically. Certainly the great advantage here is, if you let people get creative, they sometimes come up with the best solutions that you wouldn’t expect.”
Connected and beyond
In addition to its primary goal of improving in-car connectivity, Ewing said the consortium wants to get “as many people connected as possible”.
“That means getting as many geographical regions connected as possible,” he added. “There can’t be limitations. Having that open standard will remove some of the concerns about proprietary approaches for places like China. That’s going to be one of the big ones.”
MirrorLink is also claimed to be flexible enough to serve other connected devices (such as wearables) when the time is right. “It’s certainly not out of the context,” said Ewing. “If somebody has a smartwatch that is going to connect, there’s no reason MirrorLink could not be used in that fashion as well. That’s one of the cool things about [having a] standard [that’s] expandable and contractible – you can make it fit the situations and use cases that you need.”