Driverless Cars and More: A Look at M2M Communications Technology Applications in the Automotive Industry

Author: Stefan Stalgren Jun 30, 2015 Posted in: Blog > News

M2M Communications, Raleigh NCGoogle’s driverless cars have been in the headlines lately, with the “real life” road tests taking place in California this summer. This follows on the heels of the first U.S. coast-to-coast trip by an automated car completed in April through the efforts of auto-parts maker Dephi, testing its technology.

Autonomous or robotic car technology may be the flashiest, “sci-fi” development in the automotive world’s application of M2M communications, but it’s far from the only one. The technology has made and is making an impact in numerous ways, including these:

  • eCall:  As described in Wikipedia, “eCall is a European initiative intended to bring rapid assistance to motorists involved in a collision anywhere in the European Union. The eCall initiative aims to deploy a device installed in all vehicles that will automatically dial 112 (Europe’s single emergency number) in the event of a serious road accident, and wirelessly send airbag deployment and impact sensor information, as well as GPS coordinates to local emergency agencies. According to some estimates, eCall could speed emergency response times by 40 percent in urban areas and by 50 percent in rural areas.”

In April, the European Parliament passed a regulation requiring eCall technology in all new cars beginning April 2018.

  • Usage-based insurance: From the National Association of Insurance Commissioners website, “usage-based insurance” (UBI) is a recent innovation by auto insurers that more closely aligns driving behaviors with premium rates for auto insurance. Mileage and driving behaviors are tracked using odometer readings or in-vehicle telecommunication devices (telematics) that are usually self-installed into a special vehicle port or already integrated in original equipment installed by car manufactures. The basic idea of telematics auto insurance is that a driver’s behavior is monitored directly while the person drives. These telematics devices measure a number of elements of interest to underwriters: miles driven; time of day; where the vehicle is driven (GPS); rapid acceleration; hard breaking; hard cornering; and air bag deployment. The level of data collected generally reflects the telematics technology employed and the policyholders’ willingness to share personal data. The insurance company then assesses the data and charges insurance premiums accordingly. For example, a driver who drives long distance at high speed will be charged a higher rate than a driver who drives short distances at slower speeds.

“The first UBI programs began to surface in the U.S. about a decade ago, when Progressive Insurance Company and General Motors Assurance Company (GMAC) began to offer mileage-linked discounts through combined GPS technology and cellular systems that tracked miles driven. Recent accelerations in technology have increased the effectiveness and cost of using telematics, enabling insurers to capture not just how many miles people drive, but how and when they drive too.”

  • Onboard infotainment including wifi hotspot functionality and mobile video streaming: An article reports: “If you can’t bear to hear your kids complain about the absence of Netflix on your umpteenth road trip of the season, relief is in sight. A handful of automakers is now equipping cars with WiFi hotspots.

“Those in the market for a GM, Audi, Chrysler or Ford can now kick those days of dropped signals or missing connectivity to the curb. No more remote detours that may leave you stranded and signal-less, and no more watching in dread as the signal bars dim just when you need directions.

“WiFi hot spots transform cars into mobile hubs for a kind of all-access pass to the stuff you can’t live without.”

Additionally, a 2013 press release from IHS reports: “Features like high-definition video, cloud streaming and content sharing among multiple devices already are available in industry segments like home entertainment. Because of this, the same requirements are expected to drive the integration of such features in vehicle infotainment systems.”

  • Peer-to-peer carsharing: As described on Wikipedia, “peer-to-peer carsharing (also known as person-to-person carsharing and peer-to-peer car rental) is the process whereby existing car owners make their vehicles available for others to rent for short periods of time.

“Peer-to-peer carsharing is a form of person-to-person lending or collaborative consumption, as part of the sharing economy. The business model is closely aligned with traditional car clubs such as Streetcar or Zipcar, but replaces a typical fleet with a ‘virtual’ fleet made up of vehicles from participating owners. With peer-to-peer carsharing, participating car owners are able to charge a fee to rent out their vehicles when they are not using them. Participating renters can access nearby and affordable vehicles and pay only for the time they need to use them.

“As with person-to-person lending, enabling technology for this behavior has been the Internet and the adoption of geo-location-based service.”

  • Commercial and governmental fleet management:  “The ability for M2M technology to track and trace vehicles and the state of goods provides a more granular level of asset management capabilities both for security purposes as well as over general efficiency,” reports an article. “These are extremely attractive propositions to fleet haulage companies looking to cut down costs, increase margins and offer more competitive rates to their customers.”

Multinational mining company RioTinto operates a fleet of 53 autonomous haulage trucks at an Austrialian mining site deemed “Mine of the Future.” Looking to deploy driverless technology to optimize operating efficiencies, Canadian Suncor Energy recently announced it will follow suit.

With the high expectations of customers of the services sector — and failure of service personnel to arrive on time the biggest complaint, “service companies are looking to deploy mobile workforce management solutions to gain a competitive advantage,” reports a machinetomachinemagazine article sharing research that indicates 50 million non-trucking vehicles are expected to use telematics by 2019. Additionally, “in the government sector there is an increasing need for public authorities to demonstrate that certain tasks, such as garbage collection or road gritting, have been completed satisfactorily.”

Back in consumer-land, further M2M communications applications include smartphone controls for automotive locks, ignition and security systems and real-time transmission of live traffic/accident data and re-routing instructions. This functionality is reminiscent of those first provided by OnStar, a subsidiary of General Motors founded in 1995.  OnStar subscription-based communications, initially introduced at the 1996 Chicago Auto Show, includes services such as Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Services (Tracking, Slowdown and Remote Ignition Block), Turn-by-Turn Navigation, and Roadside Assistance.

Each of these M2M communications technology applications is a forerunner of the fully self-driving vehicle, of which numerous auto-makers have current manufacturing capability. According to a 2014 report from Navigant Research covered by, worldwide sales of vehicles with autonomous capability wlll grow from zero (in 2014) to 94.7 million in 2035. A Navigant senior research analyst quoted in the article says, “Combinations of advance driver assistance features that can enable semi-autonomous driving are now being brought to market for the first time. The cost reductions brought about by increasing volumes and technological advances make he installation of the multiple sensors necessary for such capability feasible.”

According to the Navigant report, “the biggest practical hurdles before rollout to the public are not technological but relate to liability, regulation and legislation.”

Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young/