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Weekly Brief: VW, Ford announce new infotainment research projects

VW creates a new infotainment group, as Ford pursues interior-facing cameras and VOXX Electronics rolls out an interesting take on insurance telematics. Jack Palmer reports.

In this week’s Brief: The Volkswagen Group, BlackBerry, Ford, Intel, Apple, Audi, Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Mazda, Ram, Hyundai, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Honda, Google, Toyota, SAP, VeriFone, Thailand Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) Society, DENSO, Paris, Marseille, Nice and VOXX Electronics.

For those who believe that the automobile is the next big mobile device, last week’s headlines supplied some nice primary evidence, as a major automaker (The Volkswagen Group) acquired an R&D center from one of the old guard of mobile handset makers (BlackBerry). The research center is located in Bochum, Germany, and will serve as a testing ground for VW’s newly announced Volkswagen Infotainment GmbH, which aims to advance in-car connectivity to new levels of engagement with surrounding cars and infrastructure.

VW says that the exchange of information between vehicle and mobile devices, such as MP3 players, smart phones and car keys, is all well and good, but establishing in-car connections with a driver’s home or office, filling stations, parking spaces, road infrastructure and ultimately other vehicles for V2V communication is the ultimate goal of its new infotainment group. The Bochum research center will be ground zero for the automaker’s innovation on this front; VW acquired about 200 BlackBerry employees with the purchase of an undisclosed amount.

Similarly, Ford and Intel announced a joint research project called Project Mobii that explores how interior-facing cameras can be integrated with sensor technology and vehicle data to create a more personalized and seamless interaction between driver and car. Potential applications include allowing a vehicle to identify its owner using facial recognition software, then load specific music, navigation and apps based upon that driver’s preferences (or that driver’s parents in the case of a teenager). Ford and Intel imagine the system as an advancement for infotainment as well as vehicle safety.

In other news, Apple announced that nine more automakers have committed to integrating Apple CarPlay, headlined by Audi, which plans to roll out CarPlay solutions in Europe in 2015 and the U.S. in 2016. Joining Audi are Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Mazda andRam. Hyundai, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo andHonda have already committed to CarPlay. Many of these same automakers plan to integrate Google’s Android Auto in the near future as well.

Toyotais working on a co-innovation project with SAP andVeriFone that leverages telematics to simplify gassing up. The solution recommends a gas station based on real-time context like location and fuel level, as well as on personal preferences like preferred gas stations and cost. Once at the station, drivers can authorize the transaction from their cars or mobile devices. Gas stations can provide discounts and loyalty points based on a driver profile. Once fueling is completed, drivers receive electronic receipts that can be easily exported to expense reports.

The Thailand Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) Society signed a memorandum of understanding with DENSO to collaborate their research into the use of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and to vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) communications. Like many parts of Asia, Thailand has experienced radical growth of traffic congestion in its major cities and is eager to harness telematics to mitigate the problem. DENSO will supply in-vehicle units to the research, which will continue until March 2015, and the results of the project will be used in formulating future ITS policies in Thailand.

France meanwhile joined the flood of European countries riding the digital radio wave. Paris, Marseille andNice unveiled new DAB+ digital terrestrial radio services, with Paris and Marseille planning to get their DAB+ multiplexes in operation this month, while Nice plans to be up and running by September. France will keep FM in tact for the time being, although the writing seems to be on the wall for FM radio across Europe. The World DMB organization applauded the move and noted that countries with DAB / DAB+ services now account for 50% of all new car sales in Europe.

Finally, VOXX Electronics introduced the Car Connection Insurance Discount Program — and with it, a new approach to usage-based insurance. VOXX encourages consumers to buy its aftermarket device (a self-installed OBD II that monitors driver distraction, location, vehicle health, braking, etc.) for $179.95 plus $10 per month. Once they become subscribers, they can choose to have their driving data reviewed by one of the approved insurance carriers that have signed up for Car Connection. The insurance carrier will then send the consumer a quote by email. The Car Connection Insurance Discount Program will be powered by Agnik Insurance Services for Connected Cars.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.

 

 

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