In urban traffic and on FCA’s Lingotto roof track: these are the two environments in which we tested prototype cars connected to a 5G network in Turin, Italy. About this—for now—very competitive niche, I spoke with Gilberto Ceresa, Head of Global Connectivity Team and (Italiano qui) CIO EMEA & LATAM of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
Car connectivity is a reality: cars are already connected via GPS or infrared and to our smartphones, but they have yet to be connected to the road infrastructure and to the other cars. Within telco technology 5G holds the greatest potential for vehicles thanks to its low latency (signal transmission time, which in 5G is just milliseconds), and its considerable throughput.
It is still some time out for cars—and in the future for self-driving cars—to drive around connected to a 5G network, but the vehicles on the streets and on the roof track in Turin in mid-November (below the use cases presented at the Turin 5GAA* event**) were a proxy for the fast pace at which the research centers of carriers, car manufacturers and network infrastructure providers are working.
Riding on the cars presented by FCA and other 5GAA members in Turin does not fully reveal the complexity of the technology lies behind, the offer of which keeps increasing. How does a car maker like FCA tackle this environment?
First of all, a few months ago we launched a further evolution of our technological platform which goes by the commercial name of myUconnect. In a nutshell, myUconnect integrates the systems of the partners *** in our ecosystem and manages the systems and the functionality onboard and, in particular, the Telematic Box, which connects the vehicle with the cloud and our infotainment system. The new infotainment system will be Android-based and able to manage Android applications and an app store through which users can purchase also gasoline or coffee or ask their EV to schedule a stop at the most practical charging station during a trip. To perform these functions, the ecosystem uses also an off-board system externally connecting the vehicle to the cloud. It’s an ecosystem based on the technology available currently, the LTE E 4G infrastructure, but it’s 5G ready.
In Turin, as you saw, we presented prototypes that are already real tests. With our partners, we develop and build on these tests, and are creating proofs of concept. We are working at being 5G ready for when the 5G infrastructure and coverage will be made available by telecom operators.
To wrap this up, vehicle onboard technology is definitely becoming more and more complex, and auto makers must increasingly integrate not just the hardware components onboard but also software and solutions in the cloud.
Beyond being just a means to move around, cars are becoming, owing to these new technologies, more and more a means to manage connected services on an evolution path similar to that of mobile phones—some years ago they provided only voice and SMSs and today we use them for everything.
As you say, the partners and the competitors in the key sectors are very active, but how about the consumer? Does the consumer understand the potential and are they willing to pay?
In the industry, our tech partners and all auto makers fully understand the evolution, and everyone is investing.
The consumer will likely understand it as new services become available. It will be easier, of course, for the younger generations, who are digital natives and already much more connected and used to the digital shared economy, among other things.
An important point is that, in the spirit of our brands, the technology must be user friendly and connect to networks and infrastructures in an immediate and transparent way, as is the case with smartphones. We are working at this. It is not an on-off process: it will take years to complete the evolution process, as well as generational changes and the evolution of vehicles.
Will the auto-network ecosystem you are building be good for the other regions too?
We absolutely aim at creating a global ecosystem. We are looking for solutions that are portable to all regions, because otherwise investments would be less sustainable. There will be, of course, specificities related to local regulations as might be the case in China. Our plan, however, is to create a global solution, and for this reason we also rely heavily on associations such as 5GAA* to bring the standards up to the global level.
Upstream the supply chain is now as involved in these technologies as your production down the line…
In fact, it’s not just about customers. There will be many potential benefits for our company also in the supply chain side as well as for the dealership, e.g., the possibility to remotely diagnose or prevent vehicle issues, or for the car maker to stay connected to the customer throughout a vehicle’s life cycle. Today, that’s around 8-10 years, but the stats tell us that after the first few years, customers tend to gradually move away from the manufacturer’s services. Being able to provide new features and applications to the customer three or four years out after the sale will be an important step forward in terms of customer loyalty.
Currently, what is your biggest challenge?
Integrating the many components, perhaps, as we said earlier. Also the need to continuously update our skills.
People are a core element, because you can buy the technology, but then you need the right and skilled people to put it together and to integrate it into our vehicles in the exact way we want to provide it to the customer of our brands—from Maserati, to Jeep, Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Lancia—in a driving experience and with mobility services in line with the spirit of our brands.
* “With 5G towards the Vehicle-connected-to-everything” organized by the 5GAA.
*** FCA’s partners in its current ecosystem are Samsung Harman and Google, while 5G experimentation also involves Tim, Vodafone, Harman, Links Foundation, Marelli, Continental, Qualcomm and others.
The Demos in Turin
See Throught, Vodafone with FCA, Magneti Marelli and Altran: Vehicle-2-Vehicle technology (V2V) allows the exchange of videos between cars in real time thus extending the driver’s visual range to the road in front of the vehicles riding in front of it—the system warns the driver and can even automatically activate the emergency brake: the 5G network transmits in real time, allowing the car system to anticipate the driver’s reaction times well earlier than the standard driving assistance systems.
Assisted Driving, Fiat Chrysler with Continental and Qualcomm: the cars communicate with each other, with other road users and with the infrastructure in real time, even in areas without coverage of mobile networks thanks to C Vehicle-to-Everything technology (C-V2X).
Likely use cases:
- Stationary Vehicle Warning (SVW), an alert system for arriving vehicles that is activated when the stationary vehicle turns on the emergency lights.
- Emergency Electronic Brake Light (EEBL), a system that alerts incoming cars that a car has suddenly braked creating a potentially dangerous situation by activating a light in the event of sudden braking.
Torino Digital Mobility Platform, FCA with Tim, Links and Politecnico di Torino: the warning system warns drivers about critical events such as accidents, obstacles or slowdowns by processing the data collected through urban geolocation near the source (cloud edge) and making it available in real time. All information collected can be also used by authorities or road or administrative bodies to provide real time information to reduce inconveniences, travel times and polluting emissions.