General Motors Product Strategy and Infotainment Director Greg Ross once said that building applications was a great way to personalize our cars, fit them with the latest technology developments and keep vehicles up-to-date. In fact, connected car apps should play the same role as any smartphone app - make driver's life better! The new market of connected (or smart) cars that is about to emerge and go mainstream provides great opportunities and new challenges for both application developers and car makers that should now focus more on innovation.

As the concept of connected cars becomes more accepted by mass market, 3rd party app developers will undoubtedly rush in this new app dev space to capitalize on it. Today, several approaches towards building applications for smart cars are employed. Each of them has own peculiarities and challenges. Let's review some of them.

In-Vehicle Information Systems Apps

In-Vehicle Information (IVI) systems are developed exclusively by the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Most of core development projects are normally outsourced to 3rd party developers that code "brains" for the car. Building external apps is impossible without their integration with the respective software platforms. For instance, to create a car user application, developers will have to not only integrate the code with existing IVI platforms such as BlackBerry QNX CARFord Sync System or open-source Genivi, but also have the car maker embed it into their car-ware. Using Linux platforms can significantly facilitate the app making process, but not its launch to the app store.

API based development

In cases where mobile connection between a car maker and a vehicle is enabled on production line, the car manufacturer takes on full responsibility for car data gathering and analysis. For instance, General Motors OnStar was launched back in 1996. The service gathers data provided by GPS, electronics sensors, engine control units and other dashboards in order to provide drivers with auxiliary opportunities for safer and more convenient driving. This data helps simplify the entire application development process. Many drivers in developed countries are actually already used to such innovative features as:

  • en-route tech support,
  • insurance calculators that are based on user behavior rather than demographic parameters,
  • real-time car location tracking;
  • teen drivers monitoring;
  • remote vehicle blocking;
  • finding a car on a parking lot, etc.

The IoT evolution blended with API availability allows for building new user apps with unique functionality and will definitely change the modern face of automotive industry.

Apps that run on a smartphone

This type of application development suggests that apps are launched on a smartphone, not on IVI systems. In this case apps communicate with a car via a strictly dedicated API channel and don't let 3rd party developers have access to the main car functions such as braking or electronics systems. This approach is perfect for building convenient and safe in-vehicle infotainment apps. This configuration transforms any car into a highly interactive gadget or smartphone accessory. Building such apps is much easier than IVI-based apps, since software adapts to the smartphone and API usage is fully regulated by an automaker.

For example, Ford Motor Company prohibits app developers from accessing and manipulating their car head units. However, developers can get this access through a special API set. In case of Ford cars, the head unit serves as a display only and is fully managed by a smartphone.

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Types of car integration with a smartphone:

  • Steering wheel controls and built-in voice recognition technology can be used to manage an app on a smartphone;
  • Voice recognition technology (e.g. Apple's Siri or Google Now) can be used to manage IVI apps with a smartphone;
  • Built-in IVI becomes a second screen for smartphone apps using APIs

Anyway, what matters most is the secure use of a smartphone application by reducing cognitive load on drivers. For instance, U.S. startup CloudCar aims to reduce cognitive load on drivers by unifying the similar functional opportunities from different apps in a single interface. They also help filter out information based on contextual data that's accessed through a smartphone. So, if you're driving in a heavy traffic, the app won't show you any notifications to avoid distraction. Also referred to as a dynamic HMI, this approach becomes more and more popular among car app developers these days.

Access to vehicle data through on-board diagnostic systems (OBD-II)

The most transparent way of building apps for connected cars is based on data gathering from OBD-II. Data that is provided by on-board diagnostics (that's obligatory in all cars for many years now) can be used as a fundament for car app development. When using this technology, apps are run on a smartphone or right in the Cloud. OBD-II port restricts developer access to OEM systems and, thus, apps can't affect car control or in-vehicle electronics systems. Instant data collected at driving and received from accelerometer, gyroscope and GPS open truly unlimited opportunities for app developers. Market of such apps is only being developed now with the United States leading the way (e.g., AutomaticZubiDash or Mojio). Some projects provide APIs that facilitate app coding by 3rd party developers and help transform proprietary solutions into SDK platforms.

Data collected from in-vehicle systems and algorithm of their analysis give value to other adjacent industries. Insurance is a good example. This approach of app development enables new "pay as you drive" products and provides invaluable stats for police stations (number and types of accidents) and road management services.

Application security remains one of the fundamental issues when it comes to software development today. Cases of car hacking are many and so are fraudulent apps that phish or steal sensitive user data. While security issues will not slow down the evolution of connected car technologies, they'll most likely change the way apps are built today. Do you agree?

Don't forget to check our IoT website to stay tuned on the latest industry developments!

Translated from blog.finova.ua

Vik is our Brand Journalist and Head of Online Marketing / PR with 11+ years of international experience in IT B2B. He's also a guest blog contributor to Business2community, SitePoint, Journal of mHealth, Wearable Valley and other IT portals. You can contact him directly on LinkedIn.

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