Delphi, OnStar Work With Google and Others to Connect Your Smart Phone to Your Car

With everybody spending more time with their smart phones, and more time in their cars, it is only inevitable that Detroit-area automotive companies and suppliers would want to find a better way to join those two worlds. Delphi, the Troy, MI-based auto parts supplier, and OnStar, General Motors’ in-vehicle communications subsidiary, are both working with smart phone manufacturers and application developers to make drive time more productive—or, at least more entertaining.

For OnStar, it’s about leveraging its already-existing, centrally managed, persistent connection to cars and using it to experiment with the soon-to-be released Chevy Volt electric vehicle. This week, OnStar announced that it is working with Google on smart phone apps that allow Volt owners to access information about, and release information to, their cars.

OnStar had already been working with smart phone developers from Verizon, Apple, and others in a collaboration that the company announced back in January at the Consumer Electronics Show. This week’s announcement brings Google onboard with access to maps and directions, says Tim Nixon, executive director of engineering at OnStar.

Enter a proposed destination on your phone while you’re in your home or office, the app beams the information to OnStar, which then comes up with a route that it sends to your car. For some, it might be more convenient to do it remotely rather than wait until after they’re in their car to plug a destination in to a GPS. It’s a simple thing, really, but Nixon sees this as only the beginning of experimentation to see what information and services car drivers want on their mobile phones. The release of the Volt seemed like the perfect opportunity.

“I think the Volt represents a groundbreaking new vehicle from a General Motors perspective,” Nixon says. “We recognize that we can, at OnStar, bring some of the unique capabilities to the Volt to differentiate it from the marketplace.” The app is a simple perk that Volt buyers will receive automatically when they purchase their vehicle. With it, they can also see how much of a charge their car has left, whether it’s plugged in, and where exactly it is in the world.

Nixon says he expects customers’ critiques. “We’re going to learn from what customers do because this is brand new for us and brand new for Volt customers,” he says.

Delphi2But what OnStar does not yet do is link your phone directly to your car. That’s where Delphi comes in. The auto parts maker, fresh out of bankruptcy and eager to jump into the world of automotive connectivity, is planning to install a central console in cars that can give customers access to everything on their smart phones.

Bob Schumacher, Delphi’s general director of advanced product and business development, says the company is developing what it calls a “connectivity computer” with a touch-screen, flat display facing the driver and a fairly fast 32-bit processor on the back. Along with it will come the ability to connect your smart phone via Bluetooth, WiFi, or USB port. The idea is that it will be completely seamless—anything you can do on your phone you can do on the console computer. Keep the phone itself in your pocket, in the glove compartment, or center console, and forget about it.

No official partnerships have been announced, Schumacher says, but “we’re talking with everybody, there’s engineering work going on.” Delphi has two test versions, one running Windows and the other Linux. The latter grew out of the work of a consortium that Delphi helped found about 18 months ago, known as GENIVI, which is aimed at creating what the group calls “automotive grade Linux.” The consortium involves Delphi, GM, BMW, and other automotive companies and suppliers, along with Intel and other silicon and software providers.

Delphi’s computer, running Windows or Linux, will run all your infotainment systems, like satellite radio and navigation, and will connect to your Android (Google), iPhone, or Blackberry smart phone.

When the car is parked, users will have access to all their smart phone apps. “And then when you shift into drive and take off, you don’t want people being distracted in the vehicle, looking down and looking at all the little icons,” Schumacher says. So, only certain, carefully selected and validated “drive-mode” applications will work, like the navigation screen or satellite radio. Anything that involves video or “a lot of textual information” will be locked out.

The lockouts, Schumacher says, are an answer to anticipated government regulations against the use of smart phones in the car. “There’s a great opportunity to seamlessly, and responsibly, connect smart phones to cars,” he says.

Who’s going to decide what apps are appropriate for drive mode? “Well, that’s a very good point and it’s something we’re discussing with all of our vehicle manufacturers and customers right now,” Schumacher says. “There needs to be somebody to appropriately modify the apps and to validate or certify them that they’re appropriate to use in the car in drive mode.”

Schumaker says that it might turn out that Delphi might be the ones to make the modifications or determinations.,

Right now, the technology is being shown to a number of customers worldwide and Schumaker expects it to be in cars in the next few years.

“It’s very exciting,” Schumaker says. “It’s an absolute revolution in automotive electronics in the cockpit.

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