Is it too late for Microsoft to establish a position in the smart car market?

In February, 2014, Ford announced its decision to terminate work on the Sync automobile mobile device controller system, which was a joint effort with Microsoft. Nonetheless, Microsoft has continued to aggressively compete for a share of the smart car market.

The work on the automobile segment of the mobile computing experience looks to be the province for Windows Embedded team and can be reviewed on a web site titled Connected Car Technology: Driving Innovation. The latest version of Windows Embedded, for this application, is Windows Embedded Automotive 7, which appears to be the same version included in the Sync project.

This writer has an interest in the other end of the mobile computing experience for consumers: how smart phones perform in vehicles. We own both Android and Windows Phone 8.1 devices and have recently tested both devices in a 2012 Acura TSX with the factory installed HandsfreeLink wireless mobile telephone voice control system.

We should also note we first tested just how Windows Phone devices performed with the system with Windows Phone 8. These early tests were very unproductive, especially with Nokia’s Here Maps app. The bluetooth audio control on the smart phone end of the connection was not synchronized with the HandsfreeLink system.

The result was what can only be referred to as an unsatisfactory experience for the driver. The HandsfreeLink computer voice system would consistently cut off the directions just short of presenting the driver with a very important piece of information, namely the street name where an approaching turn would need to be made.

With Windows Phone 8.1 Microsoft has corrected the computer voice problem. The audio messaging from the Windows Phone 8.1 Lumia 925 correctly synchronizes with the HandsfreeLink system and the Here maps program is, once again, a useful feature in our Acura.

But Cortana is, sadly to say, another story entirely. We cannot use Cortana while driving. Any attempt to pose questions in the vehicle, while in transit, is handled by HandsfreeLink (actually, in this writer’s opinion, this is a very good feature if, for no other reason, than how it forces drivers to use the hands free option and dispense with holding a cellular device to the ear while driving). But, once again, the audio messaging has NOT been synchronized. The conversation is cut off before the question can be delivered to the Cortana personal assistant.

Tellingly, one of Acura’s ads for its new TLX features a male driver commanding “Siri” to play a tune on the in-dash entertainment system. Acura is likely not alone in its decision to support the most popular mobile O/S, namely iOS in its vehicles. Perhaps Microsoft would do better to pass on the in-car mobile computing market altogether, unless they plan on releasing a really big new feature (hope hope).

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved


NVIDIA Jumps Into the Market for Smart Car CPUs with the Tegra K1

On January 6, 2014, the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada in the U.S., NVIDIA announced the Tegra K1. This “mobile processor” ” . . . is powered by the 192-core NVIDIA Kepler GPU.”

The press release on the NVIDIA site makes no mention of automotive applications of the Tegra K1 technology beyond simply the term “mobile processor”. But a white paper, titled NVIDIA K1 A New Era in Mobile Computing clearly presents this chip as a important option for automotive designers who need to add cutting edge ” . . . navigation, infotainment, and driver assist systems . . . ” to new vehicles. The chip can also provide considerable processing power to some of the most pressing design requirements for “driverless cars”. These will likely include ” . . . gesture and object recognition, motion tracking, computational photography, and augmented reality.”

The chip is also a powerhouse capable of delivering high end “gamer quality” graphics to small mobile devices — smart phones and tablets. Elevating the quality of gaming experience for average users is likely to be an avenue tablet OEMs will want to explore as they search for new “value packed” features to drive higher prices for these devices.

Kiernan Ray of Barrons published an article on Sunday, January 5, 2014, titled Nvidia Announces ‘Tegra K1′ 192-Core Processor with 64-Bit ‘Denver’ Option. This article provides a lot of additional detail on the Tegra K1 announcement, including a lot of quotes from NVIDIA CEO JEN-Hsun Huang’s speech about the new chip at CES. Mr. Huang is quoted as highlighting the features of the Tegra K1, which he claims are capable of supporting the “‘first programmable platform for advanced driver assist'” (quoted from Tiernan Ray’s article) for smart cars.

The chip will be available in 2 different pin set configurations. Per Tiernan Ray, one of these configurations is ” . . . the world’s first demonstration of 64-bit v8 ARM on Android”. The other configuration will support NVIDIA’s own “Denver” 64-bit CPU.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved


Is the Android Operating System Safe for Use in Automobiles?

According to an article written by Neal E. Boudette, Daisuke Wakabayashi, titled Google, Apple Forge Auto Ties, Google and Audi will announce a joint effort at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, in early January, 2014. This effort will include installing smart devices powered by the Android O/S in automobiles.

Interested parties need to look closely into two broad areas of concern about this notion:

  1. What’s the content, and how will users handle communication? The information exchanged over person to person conversations, regardless of whether they transpire over cellular telephone calls, text messaging, emails, etc, can be a powerful threat to mobile safety. So any plans to add an extensive list of other ways for people to communicate while they are mobile will be (and, I might add, should be) closely scrutinized by regulatory bodies charged with ensuring public safety. Any announcement of new features must include some details about methods of controlling and limiting the content of these conversations, as well as how the conversations will transpire
  2. Why is the planned Android O/S different? and Why should we have confidence in its security? In its Security Threat Report 2013, Sophos, Inc. identified the Android O/S as “Today’s biggest target” for malicious software. It doesn’t take much to conceptualize the great danger represented by an automobile traveling at speed. So, if Android is to be seriously considered for an important role as an O/S for smart cars, there better be a lot of detail of new security features in the announcement. If these details are not provided, the notion is not likely to proceed much further than merely a method to build hype.

Both of these areas of concern contribute to a perception of a “smart car” as a potentially deadly device. The Journal’s article had little to say about security. This oversight should be corrected. The public should be informed of the dangers of “smart cars” if the discussion is to be fair and balanced.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2013 All Rights Reserved