If August is the Silly Season when news slackens, Jan/Feb is definitely peak Tech News Season – even if some of it has the faint whiff of ‘Slideware’. Yes, it’s time to digest the transport news from CES 2018 in Vegas and wade through our Inboxes before MWC 2018 in Barcelona. Which is all a bit bonkers, says Jeremy Cowan, when you consider that neither is really a Transport event.

So, kick back for a moment as we bring you news of Panasonic‘s tie-up with Amazon as Alexa calls “Shotgun” on your car’s front passenger seat, as eSync‘s over-the-air (OTA) pipeline solves some fleet management problems, as Renault and pals commit US$1 billion to technology start-ups over the next five years, and Sony finds a transport use for its new “pet dog” Aibo.

No, seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up!

Panasonic to integrate selected Alexa skills with your car

In Vegas this week Panasonic told us it is working with Amazon to offer next-gen in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems. This means Alexa’s voice service, with the help of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will enable in-car users to interact directly with the voice services. Evensmarter, they will do this with no need for an Internet connection. The two companies demonstrated the technology at a CES press conference.

Tom Taylor of Amazon Alexa describes the Panasonic partnership.

Panasonic and Amazon aim to make it easier for car makers to connect drivers to Onboard help from Alexa with the Panasonic Skip Generation (Skip Gen) IVI technology, announced at CES last year. This enables drivers to use the familiar “Alexa” wake word to interact with the intelligent voice service for car controls like heating, ventilation & air-conditioning (HVAC), media, communication and navigation.

Alexa is a cloud-based voice service available on Alexa-enabled devices like Amazon Echo and more. The Alexa Onboard technology integrated into Panasonic Skip Gen technology will bring voice functionality for in-car users, and for the first time, offer certain select Alexa capabilities without an Internet connection.

“When drivers have access to familiar Alexa contextual commands and responses from inside the car, it opens up a new world of experiences OEMs can offer – enabling some of these capabilities even without an internet connection is revolutionary,” said Tom Gebhardt, president, Panasonic Corporation of North America. “The Panasonic and Amazon initiative to deliver automakers this capability signifies Panasonic’s commitment to lead in the automotive industry, and one that will continue as we work with companies like Amazon to transform IVI solutions.”

When this service launches – and there’s no word yet on when that will be – customers will be able to ask Alexa to “find the nearest coffee shop,” and instantly get directions using only your voice. As in the home, Alexa will allow you to play music from your streaming service or read the news.  User s can control their smart home on the go, warming up the home while commuting, checking the front door is locked, and turning on the lights.

Franco-Japanese $1 billion automotive VC fund

Partners Renault SA, Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. are to invest up to US$200 million in this the first year of a 5-year venture capital (VC) fund. The car-making alliance said on Tuesday that its new fund, called Alliance Ventures, will invest in developments in vehicle electrification, autonomy, connectivity and artificial intelligence.

Up to $1 billion will be invested over five years in various technologies, reportedly making it one of the world’s largest automotive technology investment funds. It is in addition to the €8.5 billion the alliance already invests annually in research and development programmes.

Bi-directional OTA pipeline solves fleet problems

An enabler of smart mobility networks, Excelfore demonstrated its eSync system with ZF at the CES 2018 exhibition. The demos showcased how the eSync over-the-air (OTA) platform for updates and diagnostic data retrieval gives automotive fleet operators greater control over their fleets, providing secure mechanisms for continuous efficiency improvements.

Major fleet operators increasingly build upon OEM-provided vehicles to meet their own specifications. The eSync platform is claimed to play a vital role in this business model by handling OTA updates and data retrieval for the many electronic devices in modern fleet vehicles, and providing a single mechanism to handle multiple vehicle types across an entire fleet. At CES Excelfore showed how a fleet operator can use the eSync OTA system to perform updates on the various models in a fleet of thousands of vehicles. In the demo, the operator could review and improve the efficiency and performance of particular vehicle models within the fleet, and use the same OTA process for predicting and resolving potential security issues before they became problems.

“The eSync system provides a superior pipeline to reach all the electronic devices in modern connected vehicles,” said Shrinath Acharya, chief executive officer of Excelfore. “ZF is a leading worldwide supplier of automotive components and systems. Our work together shows a highly pertinent example of just how powerful this capability to reach the end devices in the vehicle can be, feeding real world data in to predictive analytics and machine learning to enable automakers and fleet operators to drive continuous improvement cycles in their vehicles.”

The eSync system and the eSync Alliance

The author is Jeremy Cowan, editorial director of IoT Now Transport.

The eSync system is a cloud platform for secure transactions with the electronic end devices in a vehicle. It can deliver and update software and firmware over-the-air and can collect diagnostics and telematics data from end devices in the vehicle.

Modern connected cars may incorporate dozens, or even hundreds, of software-driven sensors and controllers. Car makers and fleet operators increasingly want the ability to update software over-the-air, to avoid recall and service costs, to provide security patches, to improve vehicle performance and efficiency, and even to add new features or enhancements. However, to date, most solutions that are available to serve the automotive market are single-company proprietary offerings.

The eSync Alliance, a global initiative consisting of multiple automotive suppliers, specifically addresses this by creating a community of companies that cooperate to provide standardized and interoperable OTA and diagnostic-data solutions.

Transport, but not as we know it, Jim

Sony (NYSE: SNE) introduced its latest automotive image sensor initiatives that the Japan-based electronics provider believes will hasten the arrival of fully autonomous driving. It also showed “artificial intelligence (AI) x Robotics” as Sony puts it, which included the recently-announced entertainment robot aibo™, which was displayed for the first time outside Japan.

The new robotic ‘pet dog’, went on sale in Japan this week. Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai told Bloomberg TV that it was just the start of if its return to robotics. “The technology we incorporated into Aibo – A.I., robotics, and that combination – in different form-factors can manifest itself in other robots that can be a part of transportation, education and healthcare.”

Sony showed advances in image sensor technology that give vehicles evolved vision as society moves towards the advent of fully autonomous driving. The sensors can detect their 360-degree surroundings, even under backlit or unlit conditions. In addition, CES’s visitors were able to experience how wide-angles, telescopic zoom, high speed and high sensitivity images captured with the sensors differ from what they actually see with their own eyes.

The firm’s goal is nothing less than developing image sensors that surpass the human eye, and it claims to be making improvements in sensitivity in unlit areas, resolution for telescopic and wide-angle photography, as well as dynamic range performance in backlit environments. Sony expects its sensors to recognise a surrounding environment, even in driving conditions where the human eye would struggle to see.

Book your seat now for Tech News Season 2019 to see if that happens.

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