Smart and Sustainable Cars: Racing into the Future

Cars are getting smarter, is an understatement. Cars are getting über-smart, is the truth. All aspects of the modern car, from the powertrain to infotainment, are wedded to electronics, communications technology and a good deal of IT too, in the journey towards making driving—even on Indian roads—a really safe, pleasurable and sustainable experience. Here, in this article, we look at some of the multi-faceted roles a modern car plays -- Janani Gopalakrishnan Vikram

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Ford also recently announced another technology at the Mobile Developer Summit 2013 in Bangalore—the SYNC AppLink, a technology that allows greater communication between smartphone apps and AppLink-equipped vehicles through voice commands. It will be launched in India in 2014. “This technology will allow greater integration with a range of smartphone apps. AppLink is a Ford-created software technology and the industry’s only system that can control smartphone apps via voice control. The platform is planned to be introduced in India with ESPN cricinfo, MapmyIndia, burrp!, Glympse and TuneIn Radio while encouraging app developers to come up and add new applications,” says Piparsania.

“Enhanced gesture control is a strongly emerging trend,” says Gupta of Freescale. Audi recently introduced the MMI operating system that enables drivers to control various in-car functions using the MMI interface, touchpad to voice. With this tech, one can easily change and use various controls in the car just by a gesture. “Imagine how easy it is going to be to change your radio station or turn on the AC, all by just a gesture,” says Gupta. He also speaks of Visteon’s HMeye cockpit concept, presented for the first time at CES, which features a unique user interface controlled by eye gaze and head direction data, coupled with image attribute tracking.

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  • In the last quarter of 2013, Google applied for a patent for a technology that helps control your car with hand motions. The system uses a ceiling-mounted depth camera and a laser scanner to understand the user’s gestures and hand movements and initiate actions accordingly. For example, you could swipe near the window to roll down the glass, or wave your hand up to raise the volume on the radio.
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My car, my safe haven
While navigation, driver assistance and entertainment are all wonderful, it is the safety and security aspects of today’s cars that are most intense. Actually speaking, the telematics systems like car-to-car connectivity and most new features do have a positive impact on safety, except, perhaps the on-board entertainment and features such as hands-free texting, which could distract drivers.

Features introduced by GM in its cars, in association with OnStar, have gained quite some repute in this segment. Advanced telematics has been used to implement a comprehensive automatic crash notification and security system with features like remote vehicle diagnostics, turn-by-turn navigation, the ability to slow down stolen vehicles and the ability to call a helpline when in danger.

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  • BMW has an interesting feature called run-flat tires, which helps you get to the nearest service centre when your tire is about to go flat. Sensors help predict such a situation, an indicator glows in the dashboard and the tire’s special structure allows you to drive around 80 km at 80 km/hr to get help before the boom!

My car, my mechanic
From the tires and door to the powertrain, most parts of the car are fitted with sensors and electronic control units (ECUs) today.

Apart from better control and management of the vehicle, the electronics also help in online diagnostics. “We connect to the heartbeat of the car every day to check how it is doing and with that we are not only talking about diagnostics but also prognostics, or knowing the problem even before it happens. This creates a paradigm shift in the relationship between the customer and the manufacturer, creating a new ecosystem of convenience for the customers,” says Maini.

GM’s OnStar and Hyundai’s BlueLink are much appreciated remote diagnostic tools. Toolmakers such as Delphi and LandAirSea Systems provide plug-in remote diagnostic solutions, which connect to your car and to a cloud (through a wireless network) to provide a host of online diagnostic solutions to any car produced post 1996.

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  • The number of ECUs in a car also means that these modern vehicles are at risk from hackers! In order to allay the fears of car users, Harman International Industries is busy developing a software security system that will protect at least the vital ECUs, such as the engine management system, from hackers, if not the infotainment aspects. The solution is expected to be in cars in the 2016-17 timeframe.
  • Bosch recently demonstrated advanced MEMS sensors for applications such as skid detection, adaptive cruise control (ACC) and softer gear changing of automatic gearboxes. According to a presentation at CES, a modern car has at least 50 such MEMS sensors, which in turn are supplying data to the automotive cloud that supports drive assistance systems and telediagnostics.
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