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Huawei HAS 2016: Cloudification of the Car

by Roger Lanctot | 4月 14, 2016

Sometimes you just feel old.  Someone uses an expression that sounds unfamiliar or odd to you and you suddenly discover you are the odd one out.  That everyone but you is in on the game.

I had that feeling at the Huawei Global Analyst Summit (HAS) 2016 this week when multiple Huawei executives started talking about Cloudification as a "thing" that was clearly widely understood by most in attendance at the event.  To be sure, the executive leadership at Huawei started out referring to "digitalization," an expression I had been hearing elsewhere and "digital transformation" as well.  But cloudification was new to me.

Thanks to PC Magazine we have a definition:

"Cloudification: Moving a service to the Internet (the cloud). The term generally refers to traditional applications that migrated from local installations on the user's computer to Web-based equivalents. Cloud-based programs may require an online connection at all times or be able to run offline when necessary. See "cloud computing."

This is easy enough to understand in a desktop or mobile computing scenario or on a smartphone.  It is something different if you are talking about a car.  But cloudification is coming to cars as well.

Car makers are increasingly integrating applications and services that reside outside the car such as hybrid navigation and hybrid voice recognition.  In the cars that offer this functionality we take it for granted - as in the case of Siri or Google Voice recognition.  We usually access these cloud-based voice recognition services via our connected mobile devices so we don't give it a second thought.

But there are few alternatives for on-board voice recognition such as that from Nuance, while multiple competitors offer cloud-based recognition.  The reverse is true for navigation.  There are multiple suppliers, including one dominant one, Google, for navigation maps in the cloud, and multiple map and navigation suppliers for on-board maps.  But these companies are being pressured to deliver hybrid, cloud-enhanced experiences.

We are increasingly streaming content to our infotainment systems in our cars - again usually though not exclusively over our connected smartphones - and also receiving traffic information and route guidance with the help of off-board resources some of which, technically, are "in the cloud."  But we are far from experiencing a truly cloud-based experience in the car.

More and more car companies are working with Rackspace, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, among other cloud providers.  But these relationships are not much more than "point" solutions - individual applications.  What's missing is a kind of "cloud fusion."

Cloudification of the car will take many forms including server-based digital assistants with voice recognition and supported by on-board systems for facial and voice tone recognition and cloud-based diagnostic and security systems constantly monitoring the vehicle and driver.  These systems will be supported by infrastructure to vehicle communication which will manifest over existing cellular connections.

Huawei is actually in the forefront of promoting the concept of car cloudification even if only indirectly.  Unlike in past years, there were no car company speakers at HAS 2016.  In the past car companies such as Volkswagen and Volvo have come to the Huawei event to describe how 5G technology will turn every car into a hub.  Some of these speakers have gone so far as to suggest that the onset of 5G technology with its low latency and massive bandwidth will render vehicle-to-vehicle communications based on dedicated short range communication (DSRC) technology obsolete.

DSRC is the V2V technology favored and promoted by the U.S. Department of Transportation for a mandated module expected to add $300 to the cost of a car.  Car makers anticipating huge value-added opportunities in the form of embedded 5G connections are increasingly skeptical of DSRC.

But Huawei executives had little to say at HAS 2016 about automotive 5G technology, in spite of the fact that Huawei is leading 5G testing at its labs in Chengdu - where analysts will be in attendance tomorrow.  Nothing less than a revolution is in the balance in the form of automotive cloudification.

While 5G will enable inter-vehicle communication for alerts ultimately intended to help avoid collisions, the technology exists today using advanced forms of LTE to enable the communication of the very same alerts using existing networks and technologies.  Companies like Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia are working toward the creation of intelligent networks capable of detecting the movement of people and vehicles throughout the network with the ultimate goal of avoiding collisions aided by infrastructure to vehicle communications.

Clever use of existing sensor technology including thermal, camera, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular are currently being tested as a multi-layered means of mitigating vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian crashes along with eliminating the related injuries and fatalities.  BMW is probably the furthest advanced in delivering a constantly contextually aware solution derived from the extraction of small packets of location data from all of its cars.

Strangely, General Motors' OnStar, which will soon be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first fitment of a Cadillac with an OnStar module on the production line, has yet to step up its cloudification game.  OnStar is still not gathering location data in real-time.  The irony is made palpable by the fact that GM intends to fit the 2017 Cadillac CTS with a DSRC-based V2V device.

While BMW is enabling applications intended to build a location data gathering network from individual BMW drivers (aggregated and anonymized) in order to help all BMW drivers, GM insists on preserving the privacy of its customers - even while it plans to introduce DSRC technology intended to announce a vehicle's present location 10x/second.  I'd have to call GM's position ironic even if DSRC advocates insist that all such location data will be aggregated and anonymized.

Separately, GM has announced a cooperation with Mobileye and Volkswagen to aggregate camera-based data gathered by cars.  This activity holds the promise of bringing GM up to speed with the leaders in vehicle connectivity and automation.  With 12M live connected cars on the road globally, GM is something of a sleeping giant in the world of car cloudification.  But that slumber could end with the flip of a switch to turn on its vast data gathering engine.

Huawei appears to have downshifted in its 5G messaging to the automotive industry even as it has amplified its cloudification campaign.  But make no mistake that the cloud is coming to the car and Huawei will play a role.

In the end, real-time, all-the-time connectivity such as that available in a Tesla or a Qoros or, increasingly, in a BMW, is becoming the norm.  And it is precisely this kind of technology - with the bigger bandwidth and minimal latency of 5G - that will transform driving into a safer and more pleasing experience for all. 

But we don't have to wait for 5G.  Much of what 5G will deliver is "doable" over existing LTE technologies including vehicle-to-vehicle communications.  Whether LTE or 5G, the increasingly advanced telecom connection in the car and the cloudification it enables might just be the missing ingredient to allow your car to drive itself.  When automated driving arrives maybe BMW will change its slogan from "the ultimate driving machine" to "the ultimate cloudification machine."

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