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A look at the future of telematics and autonomy

Saturday, July 1, 2017 - 07:00
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As I sit down to write this article, a number of images are dancing around inside my head. First is the picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his 1990 movie, Total Recall, jumping into his “Johnny Cab”, the autonomous electric taxi piloted by a half robot. Another comes from an old James Bond movie, featuring Pierce Brosnan as Bond, piloting his spy car with his smart phone as he hunkers down in the back seat, bad guys shooting at him from every side. These are followed by more recent, and more realistic, automotive commercials featuring safety technologies that are becoming commonplace; active cruise control, lane departure control, and collision avoidance to name a few.

(Image courtesy of Guilbert Gates, Google) A lot of technology goes into making an autonomous car safe. Advances in LIDAR technology may help usher in these cars, at least in the ride-share segment, happen much sooner than later.

We are in the heart of a radical change to an industry many of us have devoted much of our lives to. My own first experiences involved tuning carburetors and adjusting ignition point gap, and now I do all I can to keep up with new computer network diagnostic methods using diagnostic platforms based in something you young guns refer to as the “cloud.” I am beginning to relate to the older techs I knew when I first started who ran for the hills when electronic ignitions and the first engine “controllers” were being introduced.

But don’t worry – I’m not running anywhere. I look forward to the challenges our future is going to bring to us, and the inevitable evolution of the automobile and the redefinition of “personal transportation.” Let’s peer into the crystal ball together and see what the future may hold for all of us.

A truly mobile network

The first device that could be truly called a “smartphone” was the IBM “Simon Personal Communicator”, marketed by BellSouth to consumers in 1994. In addition to placing and receiving cellular calls, Simon could send and receive faxes and emails and included an address book, calendar, appointment scheduler, calculator, world time clock and notepad, utilizing its touch screen display. At about the same time, GM (and partner firms Electronic Data Systems and Hughes Electronics Corporation) were bringing a unique service to certain GM model lines – OnStar.

(Image courtesy of IBM) This is the IBM Simon Personal Communications device, the first real “smartphone”, even though that term hadn’t been coined yet

In early 2007, Apple Inc. introduced the iPhone, one of the first smartphones to use a multi-touch interface. The iPhone was notable for its use of a large touchscreen for direct finger input as its main means of interaction, instead of a stylus, keyboard, or keypad typical for smartphones at the time.  In October 2008, the first phone to use the Android operating system was released. Android is an open-source platform founded by Andy Rubin and now owned by Google. Although Android's adoption was relatively slow at first, it started to gain widespread popularity in 2010, and in early 2012 dominated the smartphone market share worldwide, which continues to this day.

It also marked the beginning of a new way of connecting to the world around us. By this time, most of us were used to the Internet and browsing the World Wide Web on our desktops and laptops. But now, the power of computing was in the palm of our hands. Not only were we able to access our email and world news on our mobile phones, we also began connecting with one another in new ways via a variety of social media platforms. The world was, indeed, getting to be a lot smaller, at least in terms of staying connected to those around us professionally and personally.

Today, major players in the telecom industry (Apple, Google, and Microsoft come to mind) are looking to turn your car into one big smartphone and they aren’t too far off from making that happen. Cellular services are now directly connected to the car, allowing you to listen to your favorite music on PandoraÒ or find your way to your destination via Google Maps. You can link your phone to your infotainment system or use the onboard cellular connection to make and receive phone calls, and in some cases, exchange text messages with your contacts.

(Image courtesy of SAE International) The SAE has different classifications of “autonomy”, based on how much the driver does and how much the car does.
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