This post was co-authored by the extended Azure Mobility Team.
The past year has been eventful for a lot of reasons. At Microsoft, we’ve expanded our partnerships, including Volkswagen, LG Electronics, Faurecia, TomTom, and more, and taken the wraps off new thinking such as at CES, where we recently demonstrated our approach to in-vehicle compute and software architecture.
Looking ahead, areas that were once nominally related now come into sharper focus as the supporting technologies are deployed and the various industry verticals mature. The welcoming of a new year is a good time to pause and take in what is happening in our industry and in related ones with an aim to developing a view on where it’s all heading.
In this blog, we will talk about the trends that we see in connected vehicles and smart cities and describe how we see ourselves fitting in and contributing.
Mobility as a Service (Maas)
MaaS (sometimes referred to as Transportation as a Service, or TaaS) is about people getting to goods and services and getting those goods and services to people. Ride-hailing and ride-sharing come to mind, but so do many other forms of MaaS offerings such as air taxis, autonomous drone fleets, and last-mile delivery services. We inherently believe that completing a single trip—of a person or goods—will soon require a combination of passenger-owned vehicles, ride-sharing, ride-hailing, autonomous taxis, bicycle-and scooter-sharing services transporting people on land, sea, and in the air (what we refer to as “multi-modal routing”). Service offerings that link these different modes of transportation will be key to making this natural for users.
With Ford, we are exploring how quantum algorithms can help improve urban traffic congestion and develop a more balanced routing system. We’ve also built strong partnerships with TomTom for traffic-based routing as well as with AccuWeather for current and forecast weather reports to increase awareness of weather events that will occur along the route. In 2020, we will be integrating these routing methods together and making them available as part of the Azure Maps service and API. Because mobility constitutes experiences throughout the day across various modes of transportation, finding pickup locations, planning trips from home and work, and doing errands along the way, Azure Maps ties the mobility journey with cloud APIs and iOS and Android SDKs to deliver in-app mobility and mapping experiences. Coupled with the connected vehicle architecture of integration with federated user authentication, integration with the Microsoft Graph, and secure provisioning of vehicles, digital assistants can support mobility end-to-end. The same technologies can be used in moving goods and retail delivery systems.
The pressure to become profitable will force changes and consolidation among the MaaS providers and will keep their focus on approaches to reducing costs such as through autonomous driving. Incumbent original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are expanding their businesses to include elements of car-sharing to continue evolving their businesses as private car ownership is likely to decline over time.
Connecting vehicles to the cloud
We refer holistically to these various signals that can inform vehicle routing (traffic, weather, available modalities, municipal infrastructure, and more) as “navigation intelligence.” Taking advantage of this navigation intelligence will require connected vehicles to become more sophisticated than just logging telematics to the cloud.
The reporting of basic telematics (car-to-cloud) is barely table-stakes; over-the-air updates (OTA, or cloud-to-car) will become key to delivering a market-competitive vehicle, as will command-and-control (more cloud-to-car, via phone apps). Forward-thinking car manufacturers deserve a lot of credit here for showing what’s possible and for creating in consumers the expectation that the appearance of new features in the car after it is purchased isn’t just cool, but normal.
Future steps include the integration of in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) with voice assistants that blend the in- and out-of-vehicle experiences, updating AI models for in-market vehicles for automated driving levels one through five, and of course pre-processing the telemetry at the edge in order to better enable reinforcement learning in the cloud as well as just generally improving services.
Delivering value from the cloud to vehicles and phones
As vehicles become more richly connected and deliver experiences that overlap with what we’ve come to expect from our phones, an emerging question is, what is the right way to make these work together? Projecting to the IVI system of the vehicle is one approach, but most agree that vehicles should have a great experience without a phone present.
Separately, phones are a great proxy for “a vehicle” in some contexts, such as bicycle sharing, providing speed, location, and various other probe data, as well as providing connectivity (as well as subsidizing the associated costs) for low-powered electronics on the vehicle.
This is probably a good time to mention 5G. The opportunity 5G brings will have a ripple effect across industries. It will be a critical foundation for the continued rise of smart devices, machines, and things. They can speak, listen, see, feel, and act using sensitive sensor technology as well as data analytics and machine learning algorithms without requiring “always on” connectivity. This is what we call the intelligent edge. Our strategy is to enable 5G at the edge through cloud partnerships, with a focus on security and developer experience.
Optimizations through a system-of-systems approach
Connecting things to the cloud, getting data into the cloud, and then bringing the insights gained through cloud-enabled analytics back to the things is how optimizations in one area can be brought to bear in another area. This is the essence of digital transformation. Vehicles gathering high-resolution imagery for improving HD maps can also inform municipalities about maintenance issues. Accident information coupled with vehicle telemetry data can inform better PHYD (pay how you drive) insurance plans as well as the deployment of first responder infrastructure to reduce incident response time.
As the vehicle fleet electrifies, the demand for charging stations will grow. The way in-car routing works for an electric car is based only on knowledge of existing charging stations along the route—regardless of the current or predicted wait-times at those stations. But what if that route could also be informed by historical use patterns and live use data of individual charging stations in order to avoid arriving and having three cars ahead of you? Suddenly, your 20-minute charge time is actually a 60-minute stop, and an alternate route would have made more sense, even if, on paper, it’s more miles driven.
Realizing these kinds of scenarios means tying together knowledge about the electrical grid, traffic patterns, vehicle types, and incident data. The opportunities here for brokering the relationships among these systems are immense, as are the challenges to do so in a way that encourages the interconnection and sharing while maintaining privacy, compliance, and security.
Laws, policies, and ethics
The past several years of data breaches and elections are evidence of a continuously evolving nature of the security threats that we face. That kind of environment requires platforms that continuously invest in security as a fundamental cost of doing business.
Laws, regulatory compliance, and ethics must figure into the design and implementation of our technologies to as great a degree as goals like performance and scalability do. Smart city initiatives, where having visibility into the movement of people, goods, and vehicles is key to doing the kinds of optimizations that increase the quality of life in these cities, will confront these issues head-on.
Routing today is informed by traffic conditions but is still fairly “selfish:” routing for “me” rather than for “we.” Cities would like a hand in shaping traffic, especially if they can factor in deeper insights such as the types of vehicles on the road (sending freight one way versus passenger traffic another way), whether or not there is an upcoming sporting event or road closure, weather, and so on.
Doing this in a way that is cognizant of local infrastructure and the environment is what smart cities initiatives are all about.
For these reasons, we have joined the Open Mobility Foundation. We are also involved with Stanford’s Digital Cities Program, the Smart Transportation Council, the Alliance to Save Energy by the 50x50 Transportation Initiative, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
With the Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform (MCVP) and an ecosystem of partners across the industry, Microsoft offers a consistent horizontal platform on top of which customer-facing solutions can be built. MCVP helps mobility companies accelerate the delivery of digital services across vehicle provisioning, two-way network connectivity, and continuous over-the-air updates of containerized functionality. MCVP provides support for command-and-control, hot/warm/cold path for telematics, and extension hooks for customer/third-party differentiation. Being built on Azure, MCVP then includes the hyperscale, global availability, and regulatory compliance that comes as part of Azure. OEMs and fleet operators leverage MCVP as a way to “move up the stack” and focus on their customers rather than spend resources on non-differentiating infrastructure.
Innovation in the automotive industry
At Microsoft, and within the Azure IoT organization specifically, we have a front-row seat on the transformative work that is being done in many different industries, using sensors to gather data and develop insights that inform better decision-making. We are excited to see these industries on paths that are trending to converging, mutually beneficial paths. Our colleague Sanjay Ravi shares his thoughts from an automotive industry perspective in this great article.
Turning our attention to our customer and partner ecosystem, the traction we’ve gotten across the industry has been overwhelming:
The Volkswagen Automotive Cloud will be one of the largest dedicated clouds of its kind in the automotive industry and will provide all future digital services and mobility offerings across its entire fleet. More than 5 million new Volkswagen-specific brand vehicles are to be fully connected on Microsoft’s Azure cloud and edge platform each year. The Automotive Cloud subsequently will be rolled out on all Group brands and models.
Cerence is working with us to integrate Cerence Drive products with MCVP. This new integration is part of Cerence’s ongoing commitment to delivering a superior user experience in the car through interoperability across voice-powered platforms and operating systems. Automakers developing their connected vehicle solutions on MCVP can now benefit from Cerence’s industry-leading conversational AI, in turn delivering a seamless, connected, voice-powered experience to their drivers.
Ericsson, whose Connected Vehicle Cloud connects more than 4 million vehicles across 180 countries, is integrating their Connected Vehicle Cloud with Microsoft’s Connected Vehicle Platform to accelerate the delivery of safe, comfortable, and personalized connected driving experiences with our cloud, AI, and IoT technologies.
LG Electronics is working with Microsoft to build its automotive infotainment systems, building management systems and other business-to-business collaborations. LG will leverage Microsoft Azure cloud and AI services to accelerate the digital transformation of LG’s B2B business growth engines, as well as Automotive Intelligent Edge, the in-vehicle runtime environment provided as part of MCVP.
Global technology company ZF Friedrichshafen is transforming into a provider of software-driven mobility solutions, leveraging Azure cloud services and developer tools to promote faster development and validation of connected vehicle functions on a global scale.
Faurecia is collaborating with Microsoft to develop services that improve comfort, wellness, and infotainment as well as bring digital continuity from home or the office to the car. At CES, Faurecia demonstrated how its cockpit integration will enable Microsoft Teams video conferencing. Using Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform, Faurecia also showcased its vision of playing games on the go, using Microsoft’s new Project xCloud streaming game preview.
Bell has revealed AerOS, a digital mobility platform that will give operators a 360° view into their aircraft fleet. By leveraging technologies like artificial intelligence and IoT, AerOS provides powerful capabilities like fleet master scheduling and real-time aircraft monitoring, enhancing Bell’s Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) experience. Bell chose Microsoft Azure as the technology platform to manage fleet information, observe aircraft health, and manage the throughput of goods, products, predictive data, and maintenance.
Luxoft is expanding its collaboration with Microsoft to accelerate the delivery of connected vehicle solutions and mobility experiences. By leveraging MCVP, Luxoft will enable and accelerate the delivery of vehicle-centric solutions and services that will allow automakers to deliver unique features such as advanced vehicle diagnostics, remote access and repair, and preventive maintenance. Collecting real usage data will also support vehicle engineering to improve manufacturing quality.
We are incredibly excited to be a part of the connected vehicle space. With MCVP, our ecosystem partners and our partnerships with leading automotive players, both vehicle OEMs and automotive technology suppliers, we believe we have a uniquely capable offering enabling at global scale the next wave of innovation in the automotive industry as well as related verticals such as smart cities, smart infrastructure, insurance, transportation, and beyond.