Automotive Telematics - Online Article


Telematics is the combination of communication and information technology that moves information to and from mobile vehicles, as well as provides remote monitoring and even control of the vehicle. It is a French word, which was used in Europe in 1970s denoting the convergence of telecommunications and computing.

Automotive Telematics is about enabling vehicles for wireless communications and nowhere is this as important as it is in Europe. This is largely due to high mobile phone penetration, restrictions on the use of handsets while driving, and the presence of a single network standard.

Telematics is a term recently coined to describe the integration of vehicle control and monitoring systems with location-tracking devices and wireless telecommunications. The best known examples of Telematics devices are General Motors' OnStar in North America and Mercedes-Benz' TeleAid service in Europe.

"Telematics will be offered as an option or standard feature on approximately 25 percent of new cars during the year 2000", said Stephan Beckert, senior consultant with The Strategies Group, of Washington, D.C.

The U.S. automotive Telematics market is poised for explosive growth. According to the group's new study, revenues from Telematics services are going to be over $1.7 billion and the number of subscribers more than 11 billion by 2004.

Smart Cars

  • Motorola, Delphi Safety & Interior Systems and DaimlerChrysler's Ulm Research Center in Southern Germany are advancing towards a "smart car" capable of reducing the number of stimuli, some of them simultaneous, to which a driver must react, or taking over elements of the driving task such as braking or steering.
  • These companies are developing Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) systems, which combine radar-based or laser-based sensors that scan the road ahead with throttle and brake actuators, to maintain a safe minimum distance between cars in the same lane.
  • In order to perform tasks such as steering, maintaining following distance, or alerting the driver who is not paying close enough attention to the road ahead, cars will need to know what the driver is upto. Sensors in the passenger cabin will gather this data for example, by monitoring his/her movements, eye-blink pattern and respiration. This data will be combined with information from sensors measuring such behavior, as the number and the severity of the steering corrections, the driver uses to keep the car in its lane.
  • Data will be screened for signs of a distracted or disabled driver by processors programmed with neural network algorithms. These will assess whether the driver is about to doze off or is preoccupied with tasks other than driving.
  • FaceLAB is a face- and gaze-tracking system that captures and processes facial images using a monochrome stereo camera.
  • Warnings are given using head-up display projected on the windshield.
  • To keep drivers looking up, the EyeCueHead - Up Display produced by Delphi is used.
  • Systems designed to monitor many outside conditions are also being developed. ACC and forward-, rear-, and side-impact warning systems will work with other
  • Vehicle - based sensor systems that warn of wet, frozen, or snowy roads or improper tire pressure.
  • In - vehicle navigation displays based on GPS (Global Positioning System) and pre-loaded maps, common on most Japanese cars - that continuously updates the car's location and reports the shape of the road ahead, are also provided.
  • Rear-seat entertainment systems that can be added to amuse passengers during long car trips, consisting of a monitor and VHS tape player.
  • Audible e-mail, e banking, news, sports updates, route guidance, MP3 music, games, movies are other facilities provided.
  • Communications systems will monitor local weather broadcasts and will also alert the driver of upcoming hazards (say, an oil spill or a major collision) relayed from the roadside by digital short-range communications.
  • Data of this type will be fed into so-called workload management systems, which is control centers of systems designed to reduce driver distraction. Suppose data from a system tracking the driver's eye movements indicates that he/she is looking not at the road but at the center console, while data from the GPS mapping system reveals that she is attempting to chart a new route, at that point the workload management system might take over, telling the driver something like, "For safety reasons, navigation information will be presented as audible prompts", and shutting off the navigation system's display. Or someday a driver may have a mobile phone call abruptly disconnected should the car sense impending danger.
  • Satellite and GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) telephone links afford obvious benefits in the event of an accident or breakdown. Drivers can contact their employers, local authorities, repair, services and emergency personnel.
  • An in-car GPS system programmed with detailed roadmaps produced for the project tracks the vehicle, telling the ISA (Intelligent Speed Adaptation) sponsored in the UK by Leeds University and the Motor Industry Research Association (now MIRA Ltd.)) if the car enters, say, a 50km/h zone. If the vehicle doesn't slow down to the posted speed, the ISA system can give a warning or, when linked to the vehicle's fuel supply, ignition, and braking, can slow the car automatically.
  • Luxury cars have come with keyless entry systems, usually a numbered touchpad lock or a remote control that relies on an infrared signal to unlock the doors (in US).
  • Remotely start the engine with the touch of an infrared button. For a few hundred dollars, a remote start system can be added to older cars.
  • To help eliminate some of the distractions cell phones present to drivers, many car manufacturers are equipping new high-end models with built-in speakers and microphones. Plug in a cell phone, in effect.
  • Through voice recognition drivers will be able to dial phones, check and send e-mail, control the radio and interior climate, ask for directions, set cruise control speeds and more.

Two Design Philosophies

An important distinction between Motorola's system and those proposed by DaimlerChrysler and Delphi will be in their allocation of driving tasks. The latter two will decide which driving tasks should be performed by the driver and which should be delegated to the cars. Whereas Motorola engineers, fearing that the transfer of control between driver and vehicle may itself breed accidents, will limit its system, to controlling the information the driver receives.

Motorola's Driver Advocate System ranks each type of information on the basis of its relative importance. Naturally, information critical to the driver's safety, such as warning of an impending collision is given highest priority. Lower priority information such as a stock quote made available through the car's internet connection is held in a queue if the car senses the driver is preoccupied.

Theoretically, if the car senses the it is rapidly accelerating, Motorola's Driver Advocate may transfer an incoming cell phone call directly to voice mail, while flashing the position and relative speeds of nearby vehicles on a head-up display. When the system senses an easing of the driver's information load, it could present the items in the queue, choosing the best distraction-free way to deliver them.

The Delphi system like Motorola's will also limit the number of stimuli to which the driver must respond, but will go further and if need be, take over the driving task. If it senses that the driver is not alert, it will spring into action, first increasing the distance between cars maintained by the ACC. This alone could prevent 90 percent of rear-end collisions.

The Delphi system will also override the driver's actions to correct for common errors like over- or understeering on turns or driving too fast when the road is wet. If the driver continues to depress the accelerator after repeated visual and audible warnings that, say, a vehicle is zooming in from a cross street, the safety system will take over, slowing the car down.

An automated decision could even steer a car out of trouble. Steer-by-wire is a system that has appeared in the concept vehicles produced for exhibit at auto shows by carmakers such as DaimlerChrysler and BMW. The experimental technology eliminates the mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the road wheel and replaces it with electronic links and actuators that respond to driver input. Should the car's antilock braking system be unable to restore traction on a wet road, the vehicle will be able to override a driver's panicked wrenching of the steering wheel by turning the wheels in whatever direction its traction recovery system collision avoidance sensors, and GPS (Global Positioning System) mapping system suggest will allow the car to regain footing or get to the side of the road without causing an accident.

DaimlerChrysler's plans are even more ambitious. The carmaker says it is a few years away from perfecting a system that is the closest thing to automated driving. Engineers at the Ulm facility have equipped an E-Class Mercedes-Benz sedan with stereo video cameras and an image-processing system that together can generate a 3D image of everything in the car's field of view - including pedestrians - in just 100ms. This will allow cars to maintain a safe distance from the curb or road edge, recognize lane markings as well as moving and stationary vehicles and pedestrians, and respond to road signs, traffic lights, crosswalks and directions painted on the pavement.

In-Vehicle Databus

Currently each carmaker has its own bus for the electronics it incorporates in each model. As the popularity of Telematics grows, it is emphasizing the need for an open network of some sort, a standard bus or network that all carmakers could ascribe to.

Referring to the figure, IDB that stands for Intelligent Transportation System Data Bus, defines a standard network for connecting consumer electronic products such as navigation and anti-theft systems, personal digital assistants, pages and wireless communication devices to each other, and to vehicles. Car owners will be able to upgrade existing features and add new one.

As shown in the figure through audio mixer cellular phone, audible file generator and voice I/O are connected to the car radio so that appropriate messages are sent to the driver.


The gateway of the ITS databus links the proprietary bus developed by carmakers with the standard IDB. The goal is to allow consumer electronics manufacturers and carmakers alike to add features at will via the plug-and-play IDB.

Safer Vehicles

  • Vehicle manufacturers are aiming to cut back on road injuries. One way is ACC. Using microwave radar technology, also known as millimeter-wave radar, the system measures the distance and relative speed of the vehicle infront of the ACC-equipped vehicle. The radar sensor is mounted inside the vehicle's front grill/bumper area. The ACC system uses throttle control and limited braking to maintain a set distance from the vehicle infront. The driver has less need to manually adjust the speed of the vehicle with changes in traffic flow. In addition, regardless of pressure applied to the accelerator, an ACC-equipped vehicle that is matching the speed of the vehicle ahead will not speedup.
  • A camera or sensor monitors the position of the tires relative to the lane marker.
  • An audible alarm sounds, growing louder as the vehicle moves further out of its lane. A turn signal, indicating a deliberate lane change, silences the system before it activates.
  • Some systems include a driver's seat that provides an electric shock in addition to the alarm.
  • When forward collision warning senses that a crash is imminent, data from Body mass and position sensors in the cabin instantly adjust the amount of force with which air bags are deployed and seat belts are tightened.
  • Rear collision and side collision warnings are also provided.
  • Driver face and gaze tracking device, local weather broadcasting device, GPS Data-mapping, music system, head-up display on windshield, driving direction indicator, e-mail alerts, roadside-to-vehicle communications, cut off electronic devices are all provided to the driver in front of the driver seat.


Challenges Ahed

  • With all these work, researchers are only just beginning to plumb the depths of driver distraction. Advances in medical electronics have recently begun to give engineers in dreaming of accident - free cars a clue as to what goes on the human brain during driving. But we are still a long way from a system that can read a driver's mind.
  • Cars will monitor its own systems. Vehicle notices a problem, communicates information to garage, and consults calendar to schedule a convenient service appointment.
  • Engineers even imagine cars some day attempting to rouse drowsy drivers by causing their seats to vibrate, lowering the windows to provide a gust of cool air or simply telling them to pull off the road.


Telematics devices can be used to:

  • Automatically notify authorities of an accident and guide rescuers to the car.
  • Track stolen vehicles.
  • Provide navigation assistance to drivers.
  • Call emergency roadside assistance.
  • Perform remote monitoring of the vehicle.


  • Phones being a fixed piece cannot be removed from the car for use elsewhere.
  • Customers cannot choose a cellular service provider.
  • High equipment and service cost have limited them to luxury cars.
  • Voice recognition system may not work at higher speeds (70kmph) with windows down.


In the future, cars will help make the world's roads nearly accident free. Humans are fallible: we get sleepy while driving at night, do dumb things like put on makeup or shave while creeping along in bumper-to-bumper traffic, or look away from the road to adjust our car radios. But cars will soon make travel safer by looking over drivers' shoulders, so to speak keeping their attention from being pulled away from the road, and finding ways to reduce the hazard should a driver's focus stray. All these are possible through automotive Telematics.

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