Originally featured in ETAuto Written by Erin D’Alessandro
There is a hot new device in the works that provides high-speed Internet access, creates a wifi hub for all your gadgets, automatically downloads traffic and weather reports, serves as your multimedia entertainment centre, and provides advanced mapping and navigation apps. Of course, it also handles all of your email, texting and calling needs, using a rock-solid, hackerproof OS.
The connected car combines the freedom of the open road with the connectedness of 21st century consumer electronics. Its a single, integrated machine that travels road networks while surfing computer networks. More than just a two-tonne wifi hotspot, the connected car is an intelligent device that taps into external and internal sensors, and self-regulates to provide a safe, efficient journey for passengers.
If you add intelligence to vehicles and to highways, if cars have access to traffic information, if they can talk to each other and talk to road signs, we can make major improvements to traffic, says Amir Khajepour, a University of Waterloo researcher who holds a Canada Research Chair in Mechatronics Vehicle Systems. Like many automotive researchers, his work is funded by government support, as well as $8 million from the automotive industry.
Khajepour is one of many researchers around the world who reflect a new culture that has built up around the emerging integration of horsepower and processor power. Historically, people who knew about car engines and wheel alignment were a different crowd from those whose expertise ran toward app design and cryptography. As those technologies come together in a single product, research and development is evolving as well most notably with increased cooperation between the automotive industry, university researchers and governments. Each supplies expertise and resources that are vital to a connected vehicle system. The automotive industry car companies and parts manufacturers understand their products and customers and what it takes to make a profit. University researchers can push forward on the technological breakthroughs that make the connected car possible. Governments not only support such research, but they also build and maintain the roads, highways and other infrastructure that allow for a fully integrated traffic network.
In Ontario, Canada, nine universities and 24 colleges have auto-related research capabilities. That wealth of research doesnt have to travel very far to find application: six of the worlds leading automotive companies operate 12 vehicle assembly plants in the province, which is also home to more than 100 companies involved in the connected car, including domestic and international auto parts manufactures, software and telecom companies and independent research facilities.
A transformation of this magnitude requires just this sort of scale and variety of partner organizations: The connected car is of course much more than a heavy weight smartphone. Such vehicles use information intelligently. They can continually and autonomously adjust speed and route, thereby helping the drivers avoid delays (and worse) without them ever realizing there is a problem. Not only do they improve the trip for individual commuters, but they make the overall system more efficient.
There are two ways to increase highway capacity increase speed, or reduce the distance between cars, says Khajepour. The only way to reduce the distance, especially at higher speeds, is to connect them to one another. If the cars can talk to each other, there is no problem with reaction time. The trucking industry is very interested in making a chain of trucks that can all talk to each other, and thereby reduce their distance.
Connected cars hold the potential to make travel faster, safer and more energy efficient, without sacrificing the vehicular autonomy that so many drivers prize. But while the concept itself is an easy sell, some of the challenges come from putting all the pieces together. Its not just the computing and power systems in a given car it also requires a safe, reliable protocol for sharing information. It requires a plan for transition times when some vehicles are connected and others are not. Technology, car culture, regulation, public infrastructure they all have a role to play.
Sometimes the partnerships that bring about this kind of transformation happen naturally, but it can make a big difference to have a cultural infrastructure that can help build the right kinds of connections.
Our role in this is really to connect industry to the capabilities of the academic resources we have in the province, says John McRitchie. McRitchie is the regional director of the Ontario Centres of Excellence, a government funded organization that works to commercialize new research. We have a team of people whose job is to go out and help make those connections happen.
Whether its sophisticated wiring systems developed at the University of Toronto, or context-aware navigation apps created by Ryerson University, also located in Toronto, McRitchie believes the research community in his province has a globally unique amenability to industry collaboration.
The institutions are open and welcoming to this kind of project, he says. Companies that come here can readily tap into this community. Were all pretty well working to the same goal.
Ontario is also home to the national automotive research program AUTO21. Twenty of the 47 Canadian universities they work with are in Ontario.
Ontario offers a winning combination of industry and academic interaction, said AUTO21 Scientific Director and CEO Peter Frise. More than 90 per cent of Canadas auto industry is located in Ontario along with a large portion of ICT companies. Numerous universities add to the mix by bringing professors and graduate students fully capable of working with industry.
The benefits of these collaborations go both ways.
At McMaster we pay a lot of attention to being business friendly, said Mo Elbestawi, the Vice President of Research at this Hamilton-based university. Researchers at McMaster work with Chrysler, Fiat and other auto manufacturers on sensors, monitoring, control and software for connected cars.
We make sure the students get the benefit of being exposed to private sector culture. That helps them appreciate the relevance of their research, and also helps them get jobs when they graduate, Elbestawi said.
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