Product Spotlight: Continental AutoLinQ

AutoLinQ is Continental’s Connected Services Platform for the car.  Based on the Google Android OS the system will allow users to create and download applications directly to the in-vehicle system.

Continental’s ‘Always On’ concept is built around allowing the user to interact with the vehicle through various ‘views':

Mobile View

The user’s view from their mobile phone. A simple, intuitive text-based mobile interface that allows you to “text your car, and your car will text you back”.

Car View

The user’s view from the car. This is the primary feature area of AutoLinQ™. The CarView can include an in-vehicle display and compute platform, along witha pre-loaded Android™ application set.

Home View

The user’s view from the home (or office) computer. This feature includes a vehicle-hosted (or server-hosted) multimedia web portal that allows drivers to interact with their vehicles from the comfort of home or office. Functions supported in Home View include:

  • Online vehicle status and information
  • Vehicle security and control
  • Driver-specific application selection and download to vehicle
  • Driver-specific vehicle personalization
  • Vehicle diagnostics and dealer access
  • Online owner’s manuals
  • Driver-specific vehicle restrictions and owner SMS notifications
  • Enhanced trip planning and navigation
  • Social networking
  • Communication / Telephony / E-Mail
  • …and more.

Partner View

This web site is the foundation of the AutoLinQ™ Partner View. Its all about fostering a community of partners and developers that thoughtfully and safely open the AutoLinQ™ platform to the imagination of the world. Here, we intend to freely distribute open source tools and APIs that simply extend existing Android™ frameworks and tools.

Continental’s approach here is to allow the user to interact with the vehicle through all the channels that most people use to access information now (i.e. phone and personal computer) and to customize each ‘view’ to make it appropriate for the platform.  In the car users will primarily interact with apps through hard buttons, voice controls and the navigation screen (as you’d expect).  The standard web view is, well, pretty standard and offers the greatest functionality (again as you’d expect).  The mobile approach of using primarily text messages to access information is an interesting one.

Users can query the vehicle to find it or open doors or find out if they left their lights on and the system will automatically alert the user of the alarm being triggered, over heating in the car, low battery and more.  Pretty extensive control for text messages which have generally suffered from a poor user experience (if the user has to memorize the proper commands then it wont work).

Continental looks to be integrating AutoLinQ with a broad range of vehicle systems including enough access to start the engine (and presumably touch other vital systems).  The system seems to have more vehicle integration than Sync’s system (which is great), but this also raises some questions about application quality and overall safety.  Continental says that only OEM-certified apps will be use able while driving and that they are working with developers and automakers to “verify a core set of applications to help ensure that the information brought into the car is integrated in a thoughtful, secure and safety-minded way.”  So, how difficult will it be for the average developer to create an application that can be used while driving?

It shouldn’t be any more difficult to get your app approved than it is currently for the Android Marketplace, but it’s hard to say because each OEM will have to come up with it’s own rules for approving apps and will provide users with a web portal tailored to their system.

Also, in an interesting twist, the Android OS is open source.  It is readily customizable and extendable which makes it extremely powerful.  In fact, Continental is leveraging that power to deliver a vehicle specific API for the OS (as part of an SDK) that will empower developers to create the vehicle specific applications that can take advantage of in-vehicle controls and voice commands.  That being said, I’d be very interested to know if Continental has any concerns with hackers and modified OS ROMs being loaded into the system (things that are perfectly legal and frequently done for Android smartphone users).

Ford Sync is going the same direction by providing an API, but the AutoLinQ system differs in a few distinct ways.  Sync uses the MS Auto OS, apps will be downloadable to smartphones of different types and most importantly there is no additional approval process for applications because the Sync framework’s Rules Engine is responsible for making sure a particular application doesn’t violate predetermined best practices.  Continental’s AutoLinQ is tied to Google’s Android OS (and that particular app marketplace) and apps will be downloadable directly to the system.  It will require that apps be approved by the Android Marketplace as well as whatever additional rules Continental or an OEM might impose.  This might be a slightly higher barrier to entry for app makers, but I believe that the increased integration gives the system and applications more power to create ground breaking applications.

Continental is working with NAVTEQ to leverage their Network for Developers for “quality data and services as well as access to an existing ecosystem for the development of relevant applications for AutoLinQ.  In addition to core applications such as navigation and search a half-dozen partners are also already working on early prototype applications combining vehicle and social information to create exciting new experiences.”  Open source communities are generally filled with rabid proponents of that technology and by using Android Continental automatically leverages an extensive networking of existing apps and developers looking to launch free and paid apps to the user community.

I really look forward to getting hands on with this system at some point.  The power of an open source operating system and a new API will make for previously unimagined applications.  I really want to see how the implementation is adapted for in-vehicle use and if it is powerful while remaining safe or if had to be watered down to keep distraction to a minimum.

The app is the future of the telematics system.  With Continental’s AutoLinQ, DENSO’s Blue Harmony, Ford’s Sync and more it’s clear that users will have numerous options to choose from.

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