Data Integration

Only Connect: The challenge of making connected cars a reality

The following is a contributed article by Joy Gardham, sales director for Western Europe at datacentre networking giant Brocade


We are at the start of a journey, the future of driving is hands-free and fully autonomous cars are coming soon: Google’s experiments have advanced to over 1.5 million miles driven autonomously and Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance has taken 90,000 of its vehicles over 140 million miles. Uber and Volvo have announced a partnership to bring 100 driverless cars onto the Uber service in Pittsburgh, USA, and Ford plans to bring fully autonomous vehicles, with no foot pedals or steering wheels to market by 2021.

To be updated with the latest route information for our constantly changing roads and street furniture, these cars have to be connected. They also need to send back valuable data on road conditions, map errors, performance and traffic to manufacturers to validate mapping data and fine tune systems.  Bristling with cameras, RADAR, LIDAR and other sensors these vehicles are currently estimated to be producing up to two gigabytes of data per second.

This is the bleeding edge of automotive technology, but it is only part of the story. Alongside the development of driverless vehicles the world’s conventionally driven vehicle fleet has quietly been getting connected. A range of services for drivers from downloading navigation updates, traffic information and in-car entertainment content, to providing emergency assistance and remote diagnostics have led to cars coming onto the net. Gartner predicts that up to 250 million cars will be connected by 2020 – that is to say a full one-fifth of cars worldwide will have a digital imprint.

Outside the vehicle, other changes are also driving demands for connectivity. Smart city programmes are seeking to reduce congestion through automated dialogue with vehicles: adjusting traffic signals based on route data from cars, offering parking space availability data to reduce queuing, and hence pollution. Insurance companies are increasingly using telemetry, offering pay-as-you-drive policies. Various start-ups, and established logistics companies are offering just-in-time preparation of goods for collection, and on-demand delivery. Each step in the process of preparing those goods is now being instrumented with IP-connected devices to enable the supply chain visibility for true just in time working.  

In combination, these activities will produce a huge number of new connection points and a vast amount of data that will need to transmitted and processed seamlessly and in real time. To cope with this influx of new information, cities and governments need to make sure they have a fast, scalable and secure network in place. Failure to do so could result in missing the benefits of driverless and connected vehicles, regardless of how refined the technology within the actual vehicle might be.

Vehicle manufacturers have already realised the value of road data. In late 2015 a consortium of BMW, Daimler and Audi (VW group), bought Nokia HERE for a reported €2.8 billion ($3bn) to gain control of its map data for 200 countries, voice navigation for 94 countries, and live traffic data for 33 countries. These automotive manufacturers know that the autonomy of their vehicles will only ever be as good as the data they have on the local environment. 

HERE is working on the challenges of delivering this critical environmental information with live data sharing from vehicles to improve the driving experience and safety of its users in connected and autonomous vehicles. These extend from sensing slower than average journey times on routes to warn of traffic, to using wheel slip and widescreen wiper activation data to warn of ice and poor road conditions. The amount of data involved is staggering: the company makes 2.7 million changes a day to its mapping data – and for safe autonomous driving that data needs to get into the vehicle in real time as updates happen.


New challenge, new network

The network underpinning autonomous cars needs to be to be extremely reliable and robust so that data can be transferred quickly to prevent any potentially dangerous situations. The New IP is likely to play a major part in making this possible. The New IP offers a more automated and dynamic range of network capabilities based on software and virtualisation, designed to enable and empower a new era of connected devices, and help make the Internet of Things a reality for businesses and consumers.

The agility and flexibility that the New IP offers, for example through OpenStack-based cloud solutions, make it the preferred approach for automotive manufacturers and have already been adopted by companies such as BMW and VW, along with other well-known manufacturers and their suppliers.

OpenStack is an initiative based on the global collaboration of developers and cloud computing experts to create an open-source platform for cloud computing for both public and private cloud environments. Being truly ‘open’ prevents any kind of vendor lock-in so organisations do not risk depending on a single vendor’s proprietary solutions and can deploy the latest technology rapidly.

The need for the manufacturers of autonomous vehicles to integrate and control vast flexible and scalable global networks could mean that they build these themselves but it is far more likely that they will partner with existing network operators, especially at the edge. 

When assembling a network of this scale, across multiple parties, the openness of the New IP and its inherent capacity for automation of network management tasks will dramatically simplify the systems required. The New IP also has a role further up the chain, with manufacturing increasingly becoming deeply networked and engineering simulations on high-performance computing systems now routine in vehicle development. 

With the latest cloud technology and Software Defined Networking the process of provisioning fully configured servers for development or gathering data can be compressed into minutes, rather than the weeks or months that traditional IT used to dictate. This acceleration in the delivery of IT resources is becoming critical to traditional manufacturers as they face new competitors such as Google for whom providing engineers with access to storage, networks and compute power on demand is part of the company’s DNA.

The race to solve the technical challenges of automatically piloting vehicles seems to be almost over and now we just need the legal and insurance frameworks to adjust so we can all benefit from hassle-free safer journeys. I suspect, however, that these last pieces of the puzzle will take a few more years yet…


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