Digital technologies are introducing profound changes to the vehicle experience, and to the entire automotive industry. One of the central forces driving this transformation is connectivity, as vehicles becomes increasingly integrated with the connected environment in which we now live.
Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are beginning to leverage connected technologies to offer a range of new services, dramatically changing their role within the industry. Rather than simply producing the vehicle, OEMs are now moving towards a future in which they support and extend it throughout its operating life, ultimately repositioning themselves as providers of mobility solutions.
However, a connected vehicle solution must be able to deliver to a global fleet of potentially millions of vehicles. Building and delivering these services therefore requires an extensive and reliable infrastructure to support them. Developing this infrastructure is a time-intensive and costly project that requires a significant range of expertise, which OEMs historically could only obtain by employing large numbers of new people.
To make this process both quicker and more cost-effective, Microsoft is offering a number of tools and services for a connected vehicle platform upon which these services can be more easily built.
“We know from history that most companies have difficulty in building for scale, particularly when dealing with large surges in demand,” says Fran Dougherty, CTO of Automotive at Microsoft. “For software development at that level, it is very hard to find people who know how to do that and do it well. It’s a muscle that some OEMs have and others are looking to build and strengthen. With the Azure platform, we can take a lot of that heavy lifting away from those who want to build a connected vehicle solution.”
Furthermore, automotive organisations are suddenly being faced with the prospect of managing dramatically increasing volumes of data that is becoming available. On the one hand, this surge of new information offers huge opportunities for new services and opportunities, allowing OEMs to understand their vehicles and customers far more deeply than was previously possible. This data could prove to be enormously valuable. For example, vehicle owners could pay for their car to be updated with various features such as in-vehicle infotainment, multi-modal journey planning and on-demand insurance, either through a one-off payment or a subscription. In-vehicle marketplaces offer another potential stream of revenue, allowing the purchase of products and services from inside the vehicle.
However, taking advantage of those opportunities requires a different, cloud-based approach. Rather than just reporting basic telematics, delivering updates over-the-air from the cloud to the car will become essential to maintaining support and services to a connected vehicle. This will become especially important as customers come to expect the delivery of new features in a car after they have purchased it from the manufacturer.
“A vehicle now becomes a data centre on wheels,” says Dougherty. “It has a life cycle of software, which is very different to how it was years ago. Even now, vehicles are being connected, but most of them do not have a robust update model, where features are being consistently added into the vehicles. When every vehicle on the road starts to be connected, you have to have a software, development, distribution, and quality lifecycle. There are many other aspects that have to be built out, in much the same way that we’re used to interacting with other upgradeable devices.”
Microsoft Azure can allow automotive organisations to expand their capabilities beyond the limits of an on-premises data centre, along with a range of services that can help them to use that data more effectively. By making their connected vehicles more closely integrated with the cloud, automakers could enable a wide range of features. They could include the pre-processing of telemetry at the edge to help improve services, or the updating of artificial intelligence models for vehicles already on the road for automated driving to help develop the vehicles of the future.
“We have a significant amount of infrastructure available in Azure that allows you to do everything from collecting the data to edge-based analytics,” said John Stenlake, Automotive Lead for EMEA at Microsoft. “You’re able to make use of massively scalable pipelines for ingesting and analysing that data. We have domain specific assets that are concerned with managing vehicles and devices at scale and being able to push commands back.”
One product that could make particular use of the data offered by connected cars is Azure Maps. A collection of geospatial services built partially in collaboration with Microsoft’s mobility and location technology partners, including TomTom, Moovit and AccuWeather, Azure Maps can enable automotive companies to develop their own web and mobile applications.
For example, Azure Maps provides a robust set of routing capabilities. Users can generate routes based on a myriad of parameters such as fastest, shortest or optimised to navigate around traffic. Routes could also be optimised to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes, or avoid road segments like toll roads, highways and ferries. Azure Maps also provides unique routing capabilities such as the travelling salesman, in which order stops are optimised for distance and time; isochrones, which calculates the furthest distance in all directions from a location based on time; or matrix routing, which can calculate the time and distance between each given origin and destination.
“Azure Maps was built to provide location services in the Azure cloud with scalability, service fundamentals and compliance in mind,” said Chris Pendleton, partner manager of Azure Maps. “Relying on premier partners like TomTom, Moovit and AccuWeather to provide high value services, our team is able to focus on developer integration and broader scenarios that cut across verticals and raise the bar in new scenarios and industry segments. The release of Azure Maps Creator, where private maps can be created, stored and queried, is the beginning of a wave of geospatial innovation tied to large Microsoft initiatives across Azure IoT, Azure Machine Learning, Smart Cities and Automotive. Now that we have a foundation of capabilities, customers will start to see Azure Maps bringing game changing capabilities to customers to scale their applications, lower their costs and providing valuable insights to make more informed decisions.”
These capabilities can help move the automotive industry away from the current paradigm of privately owned vehicles, and towards smart mobility. With most vehicles currently being privately owned, they rarely carry their maximum number of passengers, and spend most of their life parked instead of on the roads. This results in more vehicles in the environment than is necessary for the number of people travelling, creating more congestion and more pollution.
However, a significantly different vision of mobility is presented in the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Potentially, different modes of shared mobility, such as vehicle- and ride-sharing services and public transport, could be brought together to form a single mobility service that can be accessed on demand. A single trip could therefore comprise of a combination of different modes of transportation in what is referred to as multi-modal routing. By unifying these services, the number of vehicles on the road could be reduced as people begin to use the transport options available to them more efficiently and sustainably.
Microsoft is therefore working with its partners to help expand the capabilities of Azure Maps for use in MaaS solutions. With Ford, Microsoft is exploring how quantum algorithms can help improve traffic congestion in urban areas and develop a more balanced routing system. And partners such as Cubic Transportation and Blue Yonder provide solutions which help to coordinate multiple actors in an ecosystem more effectively, which can all benefit from large-scale data sharing enabled by Azure.
In the future, MaaS solutions will be developed even further, moving towards Intelligent Transportation Systems that help to transform cities into fully connected environments. By communicating with new digital city infrastructure, connected vehicles can help to improve the safety and efficiency of transportation, reducing traffic congestion and enhancing drivers’ experiences. While routing today may be informed by traffic conditions, it remains a solution that works for the individual rather than planning out the most efficient flow of traffic for all road users. By factoring in the deeper insights such as the type of car on the road, upcoming events or road closures, cities could shape traffic to become less of a burden for everyone.
“All of the possibilities offered by an intelligent transportation system are enabled by vehicle connectivity,” says Dougherty. “Broadly speaking, the more data that’s coming off the car, the better. As a broader range of sensors are installed onto the vehicle, more data can even be captured about the locale in which it’s deployed. This could allow information to be continuously gathered on public safety issues, local weather conditions or damage to infrastructure, among many other things. The key thing is that all these use cases are enabled by more data coming from the car, which is why you need a deep, scalable, connected vehicle platform.”
This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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