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The Future of Intelligent Vehicle Telematics

Telematics: The Auto Industry’s Black Box

Telematics data is a fundamental aspect of the auto industry’s future. The ability to collect and deliver vehicle information has brought telematics device technologies to the forefront of connected car solutions—positioning this offshoot of IT to become a $750 billion industry [1].

Machine-to-machine modules may not be listed on new car window stickers, but connectivity is closely competing with safety ratings and gas mileage as an industry priority. Automakers are evolving away from analog machines with mechanical controls to software driven systems. Telematics—a blend of data collection and network communication—is fueling the move towards software driven vehicles. The connected vehicle paradigm shift requires a rethinking of how vehicle software is specified, written and deployed. “Write and forget” is no longer viable. And security requires software to be automatically updatable.

A term blending “telecommunications” and “informatics,” telematics emerged in 1978 [2] as part of digitizing telephone networks, accompanied by the advent of GPS satellites [3]. Telematics matured alongside the growth of Internet technologies. The interdisciplinary field has been a catch phrase for fusing data and communication in many industries. Today, it is redefining the relationship between automakers and auto users.

Telematics in vehicles started to gain traction as GPS tools and services were made available to the public. GPS, coupled with Internet connectivity and improving internal and external sensors for tracking and monitoring, opened the door new functionality. Today, this change has become a matter of survival for automakers. Consumer and regulatory demand for sophisticated connectivity, advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and in-vehicle infotainment are all pushing automakers toward Vehicle to Everything (V2X) connectivity.

Telematics shapes on-board electronic systems, such as drive-by-wire systems replacing mechanical throttle and steering controls, safety systems—such as crash avoidance—and navigation systems (Figure 1). The ability to analyze data revolutionizes efficiency. Telematics unites IT and operations technology (OT) for improving efficiency and optimizing maintenance schedules, diagnostics, driver behavior, energy management and so forth.

Transportation telematics functions and services

Data management enables task prioritization for maximized safety, minimized costs and increased profits. Predictive maintenance is an important emerging application, but emergency assistance, driver assist technologies and the ability to update software remotely are too.


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Vehicles in the 1990s had around 10 Electronic Control Units (ECUs). Today between 80 and 100 ECUs exchange some 2,500 signals [4]. Telematics devices collect an enormous amount of data, whose importance grows as functions for safety and autonomy increase. Telematics binds together a system for precise assessment of data across a vehicle network, vehicle fleets and data from multiple vehicle networks.

As a bridge or gateway to the car, a telematics device oversees both the push and the pull of data. This is an obvious function for navigation and data collection, but also benefits software management tasks such as upgrading firmware for all in-vehicle embedded devices. A growing number of in-vehicle applications to control, monitor and service the car and its occupants via diverse ECUs could benefit from telematics. Telematics can be used to not only make the data from those applications available for analysis, but also to keep the software up to date.

In-vehicle devices range from simple controllers with limited resources, to powerful, specific-purpose devices. The telematics gateway binds them together by collecting, selecting, preprocessing and transmitting data between the cloud and these devices. As safety and autonomous features evolve, the number and variety of sensors, actuators and compute platforms will continue to grow in numbers and power. What is likely to emerge are vehicles powered by fewer, more powerful ECUs, leading to more data and a more complex yet flexible software landscape.

Keeping software up to date is a challenge, and telematics has not reached its full potential. Keeping software up to date is a challenge. Firmware Over The Air (FOTA) approaches cannot reliably update every ECU at once. A full ECU update can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several days. A more modular architecture with component version tracking and validation will be necessary. This would enable a Modular Over The Air (MOTA) approach for improved system behavior based on the analysis of collected data and new services. Only then can vehicles be effectively integrated into a larger digital economy though initiatives such as Smart Cities.

With MOTA, automakers can access their vehicle over their lifetime. They can remotely push new features and bug fixes to individual vehicles, as well as deliver upgrades or introduce new functionality or services. MOTA software updates can provide new revenue streams.

The ability to update vehicle software systems is closely tied to the need to protect systems from intrusions. Every advancement in opening a vehicle to OTA data sharing requires a counter weighted measure for maintaining security. Faster, live communication between devices—including Vehicle to Vehicle timely data exchange—depends on connectivity technologies such as 5G [5]. As telematics opens new possibilities for vehicle functionality, the need for keeping security measures up to date becomes paramount.

Fortunately, existing standards can be leveraged to enable wide spread use of MOTA. OSGi (Open Service Gateway Initiative) is a Java framework for developing and deploying modular software programs and libraries. OSGi is widely adopted in telecommunications for managing remote devices. Because OSGi is service based, it is easy to adapt network communications to whatever standards are set without affecting other parts of the system.

With that in mand, the aicas team has added resource enforcement and real-time capabilities to OSGi based on its Realtime Java Virtual Machine (RTJVM) and extended the standard to manage software outside the RTJVM. Realtime Java technology simplifies software development, and external software management simplifies management of SoC devices. These extensions make aicas software based on well-established industry standards up to the task of managing all ECUs found in vehicles.

This modular approach can achieve a new level of flexibility, reliability and security. Once again, since OSGi is service based, it is easy to adapt network communication to whatever standards are set without affecting other parts of the system. As new attack vectors are discovered, just the vulnerable part of the system need be replaced. New functionality can be added to one or many vehicles at any time. How and what data is collected and how it is transported can be adapted to new situations. System behavior can even be changed based on the results of data analysis to keep the vehicle running optimally.


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The bottom line is that modularity with version tracking and resource usage enforcement is key to providing optimal telematics. Total cost of production and ownership can be reduced while maintaining security and increasing functionality. This flexibility can speed time to market, both with software reuse and low-cost software updates. 



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Dr. James J. Hunt is CEO, CTO and a cofounder of aicas, in Karlsruhe Germany, a developer of tools and technologies including Java-based safety-critical systems for the automotive industry.