Can Indian telecom operators and Automotive OEMs join hands for a safer connected car?

  Apr 8, 2016 8:14:00 AM

The pace of evolution of the automobile industry rivals other scientific advancements like healthcare and Information Technology (IT.) From being considered a luxury item, not more than a decade ago, today cars have become commonplace even in emerging markets. Even as international brands and models jostle for space on our congested roads, our public transport system has not been able to keep pace with the rising demands of a mobile population.

The rise of the automotive industry somewhat parallels the changes we have witnessed in the telecom industy. Over the last two decades, we have seen the democratization of mobile technology, spreading fast to envelope the world – developed and developing. Today, a high proportion of the world’s populace owns a mobile phone. The mobile phone has found wide adoption across the world. From farmers who receive weather reports to globe trotting executives who stay connected with the office, the smartphone is all set to bring forth the next level of revolution.

The marriage of the telecom and automotive industry seems imminient  and is about to change the way transportation is made accessible to masses. Additionally, there is a possibility to introduce new features that will enhnace the utility and utilization of  automobiles making them more affordable especially in emerging markets.

Today, cars are on-demand and available at the click of a button merely minutes before you want to travel. Car aggregators like Uber and Ola have different types of car based on personal preferences and affordability; you can even car pool if you are in the mood to share your ride and lighten the wallet. This has resulted  in convenience to masses and  opened up new avenues for employment generation.

The next step in this journey is to get technology to enhance the safety of the passengers and driver.  Can advancements in telecom sector help us deliver superior safety features for the driver and the inhabitants of the car? Can we use technology to help the driver make informed decisions on safety?

India registers the highest number of road accident casualties which is about 150,000 lives every year. Most of the victims fall in the economically productive age group, which is a national and personal tragedy. While the Indian obsession with fuel efficiency is legendary, we are noticing a perceptible shift towards safety – active and passive. To start with, seatbelts help in the event of an accident and if  strictly enforced will go a long way in ensuring safety.

Rapid advancements in Automotive Electronics have led to solutions like ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems), which has the potential to improve safety and reduce causalities. Today, most of these solutions are engineered keeping in mind the needs of advanced markets. However, India requires a different approach as compared to the rest of the world. India needs a cost-effective solution designed for the needs of the local market which can also be retrofitted in the already-plying vehicles to improve safety.

The moot question is: Can India leverage its rapid advancements in telecom industry to improve the safety of the automotive users?

Today telecom operators are seeking new avenues to monetize their investment in technologies like 4G and automotive presents an opportunity  for the same. An automobile can be converted  into a moving Internet hub through a dongle connected to the car’s On Board Diagnostics-II (OBD–II) port that  enables a local hotspot for Internet access, collects information on vehicle perfomance and sends it to the cloud for analysis.This has potential to provide new services like customized insurance policies based on driving pattern, early warning systems on vehicle failure, among others.

India enjoys widespread adoption of smart phones with a rich ecosystem for hardware and software, giving it the unique ability to harness the features already available on the phone and make it suitably relevant to the automotive domain. A dash-mounted camera  based on popularly available smart phone designs can be made to focus on the road ahead and using a variety of algorithms, we can detect hazardous/collision scenarios. This solution can be used to issue a warning to help increase safety at a relatively affordable price. Such low-cost innovation promises to pave the way for the creation of a variety of safety tools that can be fitted on low-end cars, which do not otherwise have such features.  More importantly, the cost of democratizing these technologies is falling drastically and such technologies can also be plugged onto cars, even a decade old, bringing increased safety levels to cars which were never designed for that.

In India, we are witnessing the rollout of 4G - LTE on a countrywide scale. This is a moment of truth and indeed a great opportunity for the telecom industry as well as the automotive industry to partner up and create a win-win situation. For the telecom majors, connecting the car to the cloud allows for additional usage of airwaves leading to higher Average Revenue per User (ARPU). Automobile manufacturers can exploit the potential of the connected car to help broaden the market and introduce advanced features tailored for emerging markets. The two industries can come together and standardize interfaces for sharing information between car and telecom devices to make a business case and jointly leverage the benefits of connected automobile.

A synergistic approach by the telecom and automotive players in the creation and nurturance of an ecosystem will make this a win-win for both. The time is right to pave the way for India to take a leadership position in offering tailored and cost-effective connected car solutions. This will lay the foundation for exporting the same to other emerging markets and enhance the ‘Make in India’ narrative.
Author: Dorairaj Vembu, Senior Manager and Head, Automotive Practice, Sasken Communication Technologies Ltd.

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