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As consumers move more effortlessly between vehicle, home, and office, the automotive supply chain must focus on implementing rapidly changing consumer technologies, as exemplified by the smartphone industry.

Bridging the automotive/consumer electronics product cycle gap

Vehicle owners increasingly expect to move seamlessly between homes, offices, and vehicles. That trend is forcing the entire automotive supply chain to focus on techniques for implementing rapidly changing consumer technologies.

Techniques for leveraging smartphones and wearables were among the topics explored during the “Leveraging Consumer Electronics” session at SAE 2016 Convergence in Novi, MI. Gregg Johnson of Connected Strategy Advisors opened the discussion by quantifying the disparity, noting that vehicle lifetimes are 11.4 years, while those of smartphones average 21 months. Vehicle development cycles typically take two smartphone generations.

Louis Brugman of Pioneer Automotive Technologies detailed the potential for disaster. A few years ago, Pioneer developed a technique that linked Apple iPhones to the vehicle display. This early mirroring scheme relied on Apple’s cable, so the technology was basically rendered useless when Apple changed cables. Panelists said that using industry standards is necessary to avoid similar problems going forward.

“It’s a big challenge for us as developers to make standards work,” said Steven DiLodovico of Ford Motor Co. “OEMs all need to come up with standards technology strategies that are seamless. Having open architectures so people from diverse backgrounds can develop software is very important.”

Consumer products are transforming many facets of the industry. Display technologies created for home and office continue to revamp vehicle design. Virtual-reality headsets may help dealers sell more personalized vehicles while reducing their standing inventory.

“The influence of consumer displays is huge,” said General Motors’ Partha Goswami. “They continue to transform interiors, and in the near future they can replace side-view mirrors. Virtual reality is just starting to transform dealerships. Dealers won’t have to carry as much inventory when people can see what they want and order features they want.”

The 'plumbing problem'

Uninterrupted connectivity is also driving changes that impact the supply chain. People expect to be able stream video using the vehicle’s connection as a hot spot. Connected cars will need faster networks to carry this consumer data. Many panelists said that Ethernet appears likely to become the technology used for passengers and to transfer input from the vehicle’s growing number of cameras, radar, and other sensors.

“There’s a real 'plumbing' problem—you’ve got a huge pipe coming into the vehicle and a sippy straw within the vehicle,” Johnson said. “High-speed CAN isn’t high speed when it’s competing with 20-MB/s inputs from the outside world.”

Cellular and Wi-Fi aren’t the only wireless technologies moving into the vehicle. Now that smartphones are an integral element of the user experience, battery lifetimes are also in the spotlight. Users don’t like the hassle of carrying multiple cables to recharge different phones and other devices.

“Our wireless charging deployment came from studies where people said the cabin was covered with wires,” Goswami said.

Cyber threats coming daily

As design teams figure out how to attract buyers who want to stay connected, engineers also need to address the dark side of the Internet. Thwarting hackers has become a central issue for OEMs and suppliers alike.

Goswami said GM has a whole group focused on security. Johnson noted that one hacker got into the vehicle through the tire pressure monitoring sensor. Protecting all the attack surfaces of complex vehicles may require a joint effort where many companies share information on vulnerabilities and attacks.

“The number of threats that are new on a daily basis is amazing,” DiLodovico said. “If a central agency said ‘here’s the latest threat,’ it could be helpful. If one OEM finds a threat that another company has not seen, a problem for the other company is not good for anyone. We want people to trust our products.”

The challenges that come with close links to consumer technologies will grow as wearable products expand beyond watches and fitness trackers. Various health technologies are also expected to link to vehicles in the future.

“I don’t think the smartphone is where this stops; there are so many devices out there in areas like health and wellness,” DiLodovico observed. “Someone with a hearing aid with Bluetooth can get turn-by-turn navigation directions that passengers can’t hear.”

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