Telematics: The Bridge to Your Connected Car

Telematics enables screen in carFrom automatic crash notification (ACN) to fleet management, Telematics is the “connection” that makes the connected car a wireless marvel of the automotive world.

Telematics is a hot topic these days. With the current focus on self-driving vehicles, connected cars, cyber security, and especially, rising levels of traffic fatalities, the communication network that makes it possible for your automobile to move and react on its own is rapidly innovating. Telematic solutions are more readily available for all vehicles and even mandated as standard in some countries. The technology’s origin is oddly similar to that of the Jeep, and its integration into day-to-day life has been as seamless as that ubiquitous, stalwart vehicle.  But what exactly is telematics?

The term “telematics” is a translation of “telematique.” This was coined by two French scientists in a 1978 report to the French government on the computerization of society. They combined “telecommunications” with “informatique.” Per the Oxford Dictionary, it is defined as “the branch of information technology which deals with the long-distance transmission of computerized information.” And this brings us to its origins.

U.S. armed forces initiative goes globally civilian

The United States Navy began experimenting with satellite navigation to track its nuclear submarines in the early 1960s. By using the “Doppler Effect”–shifts in the satellite’s radio signal–captains could accurately find a sub’s location in minutes. The Department of Defense (DoD) then took what naval scientists had learned and launched its first Navigation System with Timing and Ranging (NAVSTAR) satellite in 1978. By 1993, it included 24 satellites and became the Global Positioning System (GPS).

Today, GPS is owned by the U.S. Government and run by the United States Air Force (USAF). It operates on two different levels to accommodate the separation between military/government use and worldwide access: Precise Positioning Service (PPS) and Standard Positioning Service (SPS). PPS is accessible to U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Federal agencies, and selected allied armed forces and governments. SPS is globally available to any and everyone free of charge.

A global collaboration

While GPS was being created in the United States, the European Parliament was seeking systems to achieve better road safety. They established a resolution in 1984 to investigate solutions, inviting the European Commission–a body representing the interests of all European countries as a whole–to suggest appropriate research. Studies began around current and future innovations in telecommunications and informatics to discover what, if any, possible application there may be. One of these was the GPS. Over the next several years, telematics evolved as a way to improve the following: road and vehicle safety, environmental impact, and transportation efficiency.

The European telematics solutions expanded upon the U.S. based GPS technology to create something wholly unique–a vehicle tracking and support system beyond turn-by-turn navigation. It took the information gathered via satellite and interfaced with the electronic control unit (ECU) in a car. This made it possible for the system to digitally sense not only where automobiles traveled, but how they behaved and the different situations they may encounter.

The first car company to propose driver assistance technology for its customers was General Motors (GM) and it wasn’t OnStar.

A 30 year-old vision realized 20 years ago

some auto brands with OEM telematics

OnStar was unveiled at the 1996 Chicago Auto Show and first offered to customers in the production models of 1997 Cadillacs. The system was the first time vehicle embedded telematics was broadly available on the market, but it wasn’t the first time GM pursued driver assistance technology.

Driver Aid, Information and Routing (DAIR) is a system that GM engineers designed in 1966 that was then installed in two prototype vehicles and used punch cards to aid with turn-by-turn navigation. The gaps on the cards represented the basic directions needed on a specific route. This made it possible to drive to a pre-chosen destination without a map. But DAIR didn’t stop there. It also proposed restructuring America’s roadways by burying magnetic sensors beneath the pavement. These sensors would receive communications on highway conditions and accident reports from relay stations set-up all over the country. This information would be sent to drivers via a Visual Sign Minder–a basic heads-up display–mounted on their dashboard. It was recommended as a response to the rapid highway expansion of the era.

Per the DAIR brief, “Today’s complex roadways, increased vehicle speeds and heavy traffic intensify the driver’s need for frequent directions and information. DAIR meets this need for increased safety and driving enjoyment with a simple, low-cost communications system.” Because of the extensive infrastructure overhaul that was required to bring the idea to life, however, DAIR never got beyond prototype. GM kept working and activated its 1960s vision 30 years later with OnStar.

Telematics OEMs and stand-alones

where OEM telematics are installed

The initial OnStar was a classic case of telematics original equipment manufacturer (OEM) implementation. An OEM is usually defined as parts from one manufacturer used to create an overall product sold by another. In the case of transportation it reflects vehicles coming off the factory floor with the automaker’s proprietary technology already installed. Per The Global Automotive OEM Telematics Market, a study conducted by Berg Insight, the number of OEM embedded systems will hit 159 million globally by 2020.

The reason for this push is primarily safety and many of the rooted systems will be rudimentary “first responder” based, such as the ACN telematics of Europe’s eCall and Russia’s ERA-GLONASS. By 2018, all cars in those two regions are mandated to come off the assembly line equipped with a telematic system built to react to accidents in two ways. The first is by automatically sending a signal to E112–Europe’s 911–when a connected car is involved in a crash. The second is by a motorist pushing a button on the telematics enabled dashboard to alert E112 of a collision or incident they’ve just witnessed. It’s a way of ensuring all drivers are protected–whether they have telematics or not.

 

In 2012, GM decided to make OnStar’s basic features available to everyone and created OnStar FMV (For My Vehicle). This dongle-based solution joined other systems– such as Verizon’s hum–that work through a car’s onboard diagnostics (OBD) portal. These standalones allow you to plug the telematic device into your OBD port and upload software into your car’s ECU to gain such benefits as navigation, hands-free calling and automatic crash notification (ACN). What it doesn’t give you that OEMs provide are more advanced features like unlocking your car via satellite.

The new world of usage-based insurance (UBI)

This telematic solution is also the brain behind usage-based insurance (UBI). UBI means exactly what the acronym stands for–usage-based insurance policies and premiums. Instead of crafting policies and charging motorists through statistics and analytics, UBI calculates based on how someone actually operates his or her car. Because the device is plugged into the car’s OBD, it gathers and sends driver behavior data back to insurance carriers. This has made it possible for policy flexibility and leads to charging more accurate rates and lowering costs for drivers who are at less risk.

Mobile telematics data gathering

The future of telematics has to do with mobile data gathering. Your smartphone is now able to collect the same information that was only available via OEM or dongles. Verizon’s hum is an example of a three-way system–speaker, OBD reader and cell phone. The speaker works like OnStar, which allows you to contact live emergency services with the touch of a button.

Drivewell from Cambridge Mobile Telematics, on the other hand, is testing mobile telematics technology that tracks your driving behavior with or without a “wireless tag device.” The optional  attachment fits on your windshield and sends the telematics data captured by your smartphone to either the company for diagnostic purposes or to your insurance carrier. The company has also added a unique gaming aspect to their telematic service by creating safe driving competitions and incorporating leaderboards. A recent trial in South Africa–where the traffic fatality rate is among the highest in the world–showed a 30 percent increase in better driving due to the play factor. It’s one of many data gathering software options showing more expansive ways the technology can be used in the non-commercial space. But telematics has long been an invaluable tool in commercial fleet use.

Fleet vehicle tracking with telematics

fleet of trucksVehicle telematics play an essential role for fleet management. The systems keep costs down, productivity up and drive the overall efficiency of commercial transportation by tracking vehicle movement, its status–does it need gas? Is it time for maintenance?–driver behavior and more. By attaching a telematic unit to each truck that wirelessly connects to a central hub in the fleet’s business office, managers can track the vehicle’s location, manage performance and monitor conditions for driver safety and protection. Incorporating the technology in the commercial vehicle industry has modernized it and made it a more efficient business.

These telematic devices are excellent commercial partners and have also been embraced by the U.S. government to help it manage the vast fleet of the General Services Administration (GSA).

Example of connecting cars to government with GSA

The GSA offers workspace to over 1 million federal employees, manages the preservation of 480+ historic buildings and handles the purchase and distribution of goods and services used by the federal government. Part of this agency includes GSA Fleet, which has been providing motor vehicles to 75+ participating agencies since 1954.

As of 2016, all GSA Fleet vehicles available for purchase have OEM telematics while lessees can choose installing a non-OEM telematic device. To better streamline this technology, GSA shifted from working with two different providers and awarded AT&T Mobility the Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA). AT&T’s two-tiered solution–simple GPS vehicle tracking and full diagnostics–enables the federal government to keep tabs and maintain their spread out automobile inventory more efficiently and consistently.

Flexible and expansive path to safer, more efficient driving

Telematics are capable of everything from sending information back to auto insurance carriers to affect your premiums to automatically alerting emergency services when you’re in need of roadside assistance. What began, basically, as the GPS has grown to include such things as infotainment, hands-free calling and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication. Companies all over the globe are embracing the technology in strategic and actionable ways.

In June, Visiongain released a report on the Top 20 OEM and Non-OEM connected car companies entitled Top 20 Connected Car Companies 2016: Leading Suppliers of Automotive In Vehicle Telematics By Service Provider Featuring Technologies For Safety, Security, Infotainment, Remote Diagnostics & Vehicle to Everything Communications. The 181-page report outlines the different strategies, strengths and futures of each company. Per the report, the companies to watch in both categories are as follows:

Top 10 Telematics OEMS

BMW AG

Daimler AG

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)

Ford Motor Company

General Motors

Honda Motor Company

Tesla

Toyota Motor Corporation

Volkswagen Group

Volvo

Top 10 Telematics Non-OEMs

Apple Inc.

AT&T Inc.

Broadcom Corporation

Google Inc. (Android)

Qualcomm Inc.

Samsung

Sierra Wireless

Tech Mahindra Ltd.

Verizon Telematics

Visteon Corporation

Outlook for the future

As automobiles become more autonomous, the technology that enables their interaction with infrastructure and each other will continue to innovate. Moving forward, more governments will continue flexing auto legislation muscles to ensure vehicles driving on their country’s roads are the safest and most efficient–for the environment, motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and economy. This means expanding, innovating and pushing telematics even further as cars become smarter. It is the bridge that puts a zero fatality, eco-friendly future within our grasp.

 

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Car Hacking: Safeguarding Your Connected Car

the console of a connected car in the middle of a car hacking

the dangers of car hacking

Computer viruses are nothing new. The brutal lessons learned from those who’ve survived them make us more cautious when surfing the digital wave on our devices. But how often do we think of our vehicles as motorized computers? Today’s automobiles include operating systems that provide climate control, fuel efficiency, satellite-based entertainment, automated safety features and more. Basically, we’re driving smartphones on wheels, something we tend to forget. Our vehicles are more connected than ever and with the automotive industry constantly innovating, they will only become more so. Because of this sophistication, concerns about the strange new cyber threat of car hacking are being raised.

Yes, we know car hacking isn’t exactly new. And other than a disgruntled former Texas car dealership employee’s remotely bricking 100+ vehicles to set off their horns and disable their operating systems, no actual malicious car hacking incidents have been reported. However, the infiltration of the Jeep Cherokee driven by WIRED Magazine writer, Andy Greenberg, on a Missouri highway by white hat hackers Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller is just one of many that have shown how vulnerable these systems are to cyber attack. White hat hackers are individuals who infiltrate computer systems in order to highlight security problems for companies to fix. They’re the good guys of the hacker world, those who find the weaknesses–sometimes even hired by businesses to do so–and share them with the manufacturers to help them strengthen their programs.

Black hat hackers, however, are the ones who break into the wireless network systems for malicious purposes. These are the bad guys of the hacker community. And as automobiles become more connected–self-driving cars–the need for lawmakers to take a legal stand to protect you and your 21st-century cutting-edge automobile from what is felt to be the inevitable actions of these perpetrators becomes more vital.

Car Hacking 101

Per the Tech Target website’s IoT Agenda, car hacking is “the manipulation of the code in a car’s electronic control unit (ECU) to exploit a vulnerability and gain control of other ECU units in the vehicle.” The ECU is your vehicle’s brain. It controls your entire engine. So, if someone’s able to hack into it then he or she is capable of making your automobile do pretty much anything he or she wants. And when you’re talking about a 6,000 pound hunk of moving metal, that’s rather scary.

Strict hacking laws proposed

As cars get smarter and more communicative, the ability to infiltrate them via a wireless network gets easier. Your vehicle talks to your phone via bluetooth, your MP3 player through the AUX cord, interfaces with other cars (V2V) and even sends signals to law enforcement through its license plate (automatic license plate readers or ALPR). With so much wide open access, it raises the issue of not just how would someone plug into your vehicle’s system, but when. 

Two pieces of legislation, in particular, are gaining notice. Michigan State Senator Ken Horn and Michigan State Senate Floor Majority Leader Mike Kowall have teamed up to propose that car hacking in their state be punishable by “life or any term of years” in jail. Meanwhile, the Security and Privacy in Your Car Act of 2015 or SPY Car Act is a federal plan sponsored by U.S. Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), both members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The bill requires the National Highway Safety and Transportation Administration (NHTSA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to collaborate on creating new standards for automakers to meet in regards to cyber security in their vehicles.

The NHTSA has actually been researching safeguards to combat car hacking for several years and continues to expand its knowledge in order to better address these concerns. Its Office of Vehicle Safety Research specifically focuses on ways to “strategize, plan, and implement research programs to continually further the Agency’s goals in reduction of crashes, fatalities, and injuries.” Part of that is addressing car hacking.

A meeting of the minds in legislation and the auto industry

Connected cars and autonomous vehicles are considered the safest solutions to the rising automobile fatality rate – 35,200 deaths were reported in 2015 with 94 percent due to human error, hence the recent announcement about legislation to encourage and regulate the technology. Because of the desire to put even more wirelessly-connected autos on the roads it’s vital to make sure they can be operated safely. In January, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the unprecedented collaboration between DOT, NHTSA and 18 automakers to address preparations for combating cyber threats to vehicles. A document called the Proactive Safety Principles 2016 outlines four key areas of security focus  and lists the partners who have signed on. These categories are Enhance and Facilitate Proactive Safety, Enhance Analysis and Examination of Early Warning Reporting Data, Maximize Safety Recall Participation Rates, and Enhance Automotive Cybersecurity.

In his statement, Secretary Foxx pointed out, “We all know that the performance today’s vehicles achieve is due in large part to an increasing amount of computer hardware and software under the hood and behind the dashboard. And the era of automated vehicle technologies will add to that. So we have pledged to work collaboratively to mitigate cyber threats that could pose unreasonable safety risks.”

A wealth of ports of entry

the various internal ports of entry for car hacking

a car’s electrical system

The hardware and software Secretary Foxx mentions have many ports of entry to the inner workings of your vehicle that leave it that much more exposed. Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller proved the fragility of cyber security not just once but twice in the same Jeep Cherokee they took over from Andy Greenberg. The first time was done over the internet and Fiat-Chrysler prompted responded by fixing the issue. However, a second attempt prior to the August Black Hat conference showed that the two researchers could affect a more dangerous hack when plugged into the ECU under the dashboard to send messages to the car’s internal systems known as the controller area network  or CANbus. It pointed out not only how someone plugged into the electronic control unit could attack the vehicle’s brain, but that doing so over a wireless network is still an issue.

Consider this scenario: you take your car to the shop. The mechanic plugs into your automobile’s ECU to gain instant access to the CANbus, adjusting and fixing whatever’s needed. Great.

But, while the auto repair person is communicating with the inner workings, it leaves your car’s digital door open for anyone else with enough know-how to hack into your on-board diagnostics (OBD) portal via remote. This is also the port into which you plug the dongle your auto insurance company gave you to track vehicle miles traveled (VMT). So imagine that all of the information floating around in there is vulnerable to anyone with a little car-hacking savvy to break in and control your car without your say so.

The OBD isn’t the only susceptible spot. There is the in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) capability that connects with everything from navigation systems to gaming and movies that can play on the screens in your backseat for the kids. Your bluetooth can be enabled so you can speak hands free – a law in some states – to any of your contacts in your cellular network. And every time you engage in wireless activities while you’re driving – upgrade a phone app, listen to driving instructions, access music – your vehicle’s system is open to anyone who wants to come in.

Five quick DIY anti-car hacking tips

Today’s connected cars are super efficient, wonderfully eco-friendly and incredibly convenient.  They are also machines that have created a whole information highway of their own by allowing access to their operating systems through different portals and devices in a unique way. Right now, the possibilities of being a victim of car hacking are rare. However, the concern that it’s only a matter of time before black hats decide to give it a go are real. While lawmakers work on auto legislation and car manufacturers innovate to keep you and your vehicle secure, you too can take some simple steps to help yourself.

In the spirit of “forewarned is forearmed,” here are five steps you can take to protect your car and yourself:

1. Know Your Mechanic

Make sure you’re familiar with the person who works on your car. That OBD he’ll plug into gives him all-access to everything inside your engine’s brain. Protect it.

2. Watch what you plug into your dashboard

Be careful with the USBs and flash drives you plug into the ports in your dash. Know the source of the information you downloaded to transfer to your vehicle’s brain. Malware has been known to be uploaded into the car’s operating system through these sticks, thereby compromising it.

3. Familiarize yourself with your OBD port and check it

Find the port and check it from time to time to ensure it doesn’t look tampered with and no strange dongles are connected. If you notice anything amiss, contact your carmaker.

4. Use your car key to lock and unlock your car

Scanning your wireless key fob system is the easiest thing to hack on your automobile. Every time you use it, it sends out a signal that can be plucked to allow someone to get inside your vehicle and steal it, the contents or meddle with your controls.

5. Keep up with system updates

Just as with your phone and computer, your car’s digital brain requires periodic updates. Get them installed immediately. Some of these need to be done by the dealer and others can be done by yourself. However, it’s best to work with your automaker to ensure these are being handled appropriately. If nothing else, it will walk you through installations and help you should you discover something amiss with your automobile.

Familiarize yourself with your car

Ultimately, keeping in tune with your vehicle will help you stay on top of any issues that could arise. This is a new age of automotive innovation that opens up amazing opportunities, but with those come a slew of possible dangers. Legislative inroads are being made in an effort to protect connected car owners, but these are still in the proposal stage. Taking an active role in the security of your automobile now will prepare you for the autonomous road ahead.

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