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VW of America's Frank Weith addresses attendees of the Connected Car Detroit conference. (Jeffrey Charles)

Connected cars unleash supply chain change

The data-driven vehicle is re-shaping the supplier landscape.

“It’s a whole different set of players that are now engaged in the auto industry,” said Frank Weith, Director of Connected Services, Product Marketing and Strategy for Volkswagen of America.

Whether they’re working on today’s connected cars or tomorrow’s self-driving cars that rely on onboard, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) data, established suppliers are tackling issues alongside non-traditional automotive providers.

Weith and other product experts spoke with Automotive Engineering during the recent Automotive Megatrends "Connected Car Detroit" conference, which included a morning panel discussion addressing the next 10 years.

As a relatively new partner to the auto world, wireless communication companies are providing a vital connectivity link. For some automakers, the wireless network enables a vehicle to function as a communications hotspot for smart phones and other personal electronic devices. General Motors, Audi, and other automakers now offer select vehicles with 4G LTE coverage.

While the time-to-market for vehicle-implemented technologies has shortened, the communications industry and others involved with the connected car have much quicker market release timelines. A case in point, Volkswagen vehicles that provide 3G connectivity.

VW launched Car-Net three and half years ago on 3G, noted Weith. “Are we going to offer up a 4G replacement module? It’s in discussion. Is there an aftermarket solution? That’s in discussion,” said Weith, “We’re weighing our options because there’s got to be a cost benefit.”

The data flowing into today’s connected car is substantial, but the amount dramatically increases with an autonomous vehicle.

“I don’t think data storage will be an issue," Weith asserted. "I think it’s going to be understanding the data. What’s it telling us? The challenge will be finding the right things to look at to enhance the safety, the security and the ownership of the connected car.”

Krish Inbarajan, Global Head of the Connected Car at Cisco Jasper, said data classification would enable information to be prioritized based on specific needs. “Today we’re trying to figure out how to make sure this can be conceptualized within the vehicle space from a cost and security perspective,” he said, noting that automakers and suppliers are working to achieve a viable solution.

Self-driving vehicles might get a mega-computing assist in the future, a possible outgrowth of a research project involving Volkswagen Group and quantum computing company D-Wave Systems. As part of the project, data scientists and artificial intelligence specialists recently programmed an algorithm to optimize the travel time for the drivers of 10,000 public taxis in Beijing.

Quantum computers traditionally have been used by scientific institutes, the aerospace industry, and government agencies to solve highly complex problems. But with computing power that’s considerably faster than conventional supercomputers, quantum computers might someday be used in connection with autonomous driving.

Said Weith, “As vehicles become more connected through V2V and V2I, data congestion becomes a greater challenge in terms of filtering relevant data within the milliseconds needed to support V2V communications.”

Data acquisition and analysis are crucial to the autonomous driving scenario. So is figuring out how to make money from the data streams.

“We’ve been looking into companies that provide things that allow you to split the data in terms of who actually pays for it," said Andrew Poliak, Panasonic Automotive Systems Company of America’s Vice President of Product Planning and Strategy.

For instance, Panasonic "might want data to make sure we’re improving the quality of our radios, an automaker might want different information, while the end-user might want to pay for usage data for a wireless hotspot,” Poliak said. Auto sector companies will be heavily influenced by connected vehicles, he predicted: “There will be different business models, different recurring revenue streams, and supply chain shake-ups as mobility changes.”

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