Superfast 5G is set to play a pivotal role as automakers seek to integrate vehicles into the Internet of Things. But it also represents a paradigm shift for V2X technologies on the road to autonomous driving. Continuing our series of interviews at CES, we sat down with Vishnu Sundaram, vice president, Telematics Business Unit, Harman Connected Car to learn more about the opportunities that this high-speed network offers the automotive industry and what difference it could make to the motorist.
In terms of Harman’s telematics solutions, is there a headline message that you would like to put out here at the CES?
Harman is showcasing state-of-the-art 5G, Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X), and all the end-to-end connectivity solutions here for the OEMs.
With 5G, Harman is leading the game. We are the first tier-one company to launch 5G in the market in 2021 with a German OEM [BMW], and then we have nearly five OEMs where we will launch 5G between 2021 and 2022.
We are hearing a lot about 5G at the show. Would you say that 5G is about more data or more speed?
There are three primary things that I will quote on 5G. One is speed, which is bandwidth. So it can deliver rich experiences inside the car. If you look at the car of the future, drivers will have more time with their hands off the steering wheel, and experience matters. With higher bandwidth, we can deliver a richer experience to the end-user. You are talking about displacing the car which could be enabled by bandwidth. That’s one of the 5G benefits.
The second one is the latency. In the past, the latency that was provided by 4G was not suitable for moving any real-time applications from the car to the cloud, but 5G delivers millisecond latency which enables you to move a function from inside the car to the cloud. So that will make the car more dynamic, more intelligent by harnessing the knowledge outside.
The third important benefit is reliability. If you talk about 4G, it doesn’t deliver the reliability that’s needed for any automotive use case. Let’s say even if you have a phone call today you have call drops, you have again data connection drops, so it’s not meant to have any reliable function delivered wirelessly. 5G promises ultra-reliable low latency communication which can deliver much superior performance in real-world terms.
In terms of the further development of telematics systems, what will 5G enable the automotive industry by 2023/24?
By 2023/2024 timeframe you can expect the intelligence inside the car shifting from an embedded system to a cloud-based system. So you will have most of the functions that are embedded inside the car today slowly making its path out into the cloud and also into the roadside infrastructure.
What role will 5G play in autonomous car technology?
Up to level 3, the ADAS systems rely on physically connected sensors. So we are talking about sensors that are wired inside the car and these sensors have a limited field view, they can have let’s say 100m field view, 200m field view with radar but nothing beyond. What 5G brings in with low latency is shared remote sensors into the cloud. So the car no more sees with its own eyes but it sees through eyes of all the other cars that are around the car. That increases the decision-making ability by a big leap, and that would enable really ADAS level 4 and level 5 systems. We call it ‘connected ADAS’ where cars will be harnessing more the data from cloud-sourced ways to make decisions, and cars could make coordinated decisions and they will also be able to communicate with smart infrastructure which will be there that point.
We understand that Harman has developed a 5G-ready car antenna that can be mounted beneath car’s bodywork. Has it reached production? On which cars is it fitted?
We have combined 12 antennae that are needed for a state of the art DCO into one box. If you take the latest DCO, it needs 5G, LP, Wi-Fi, UWB, a lot of antennae, and traditionally all these are separate. There are 12 placeholders in the car and then co-axial copper wire running from all of these antennae to the box. Just the sheer weight of the cable is 3kg, and there is so much assembly effort that’s involved in that. We have combined all of this into one box with the PCU so there is no more cabling. This product has already been selected by one OEM and we will be going into a worldwide launch in 2022; it’s a European OEM. [BMW]
Did Harman collaborate with others to develop the 5G antenna?
It’s a joint development between Harman and Samsung, so we have harnessed on the Samsung’s antennae design capability. Samsung ships nearly 300 new models with 300 new antennae designs every year, so we have harnessed on their capability.
There is a lot of hype around the Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) communication and the possibilities for safer roadways and more efficient travel. What’s your view on the realistic possibilities?
Yes, so the Vehicle-to-Everything [V2X] can be broken down into three components. One is Vehicle-to-Vehicle [V2V], the other one is Vehicle-to-Infrastructure [V2I], and then the rest of the other is Vehicle-to-Pedestrian [V2P].
The V2V will take some time because you need a critical mass on the road. Just having V2X on just fewer vehicles will not help us realise use cases. But on the other hand, V2I will pick up faster. So, V2I will mean interaction from let’s say a traffic light with a car, interaction from digital signage to the car, the interaction between car and let’s say an emergency information. All of these will pick up very fast.
V2P safety where the car communicates with the phone, we also expect this to take-off faster because phones which will be 5G enabled are ready for having this direct communication with the cars, so that would also fuel this technology.
In terms of timeline, I would think the V2I would probably be more developed in 2024 timeframe when you will have smart cities also taking off, and that will be the point from where you will have a really steep adoption curve.
We are also seeing semiconductor companies – such as Intel and Qualcomm – working toward network access devices that will essentially turn autonomous vehicles into mobile data centres. Is this another spin-off benefit that you recognise from 5G?
There are collaborations, but essentially if you look at the network access device, the network access device in 5G has gone in leaps and bounds compared to 4G, so there are going to be fewer players who are able to do it. In the past, every manufacturer was able to put together a 4G module. But when it comes to 5G modules, the level is very high. So, the competent players who are able to build, test, certify and roll it out in a worldwide marketplace are few in number, and there is of course collaboration between these companies. For example, there is a collaboration with Qualcomm, Samsung, are companies which are coming together to build custom solutions.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
One emerging connected technology that we also are heavily backing is ultra-wideband [UWB]. The iPhone 11 which has been shipped this year is having a chip embedded inside which is the same for secure and safe communication for vehicle access control, and we expect other mobile manufacturers also to embed this function in the next years. It is safe, secure and follows a common standard, and all the future cars would be equipped by UWB. Harman has a platform solution that can enable this UWB functionality in cars.
Vishnu Sundaram is the Global Leader for Telematics, reporting to the President of Division. In this multi-faced role, Vishnu drives general management functions covering all aspects from creation of cutting edge Telematics solutions to profitable execution of projects for Harman. In addition, Vishnu is also the board member of 5G Automotive Alliance, an organization focused on driving development, testing and promotion of 5G communication technology for autonomous driving, ubiquitous access to services and integration into smart city and intelligent transportation.
Vishnu started his career with a short stint in the silicon industry at Intel, and later moved to Austin based technology company – Trilogy, where he played the role of Technical Fellow in Predictive Analytics and Machine Learning projects. He was a product of the Trilogy University Program, the Harvard Business Review renowned boot camp to create a cult of individuals with extreme creativity, innovation and strategic thinking.
After building successful high technology products within Trilogy, he left Trilogy to start the entrepreneurship journey. Vishnu co-founded Lifeblob, a content aggregation platform, which was acquired by Printo. Later, founded Interchain, a Telematics product company then had 70% market share in first responder Telematics solutions in India. Harman acquired Interchain in 2012 to enable expansion of product portfolio and market reach.
The entrepreneurship journey of a decade in the “Internet of Things” space helped in building strong business acumen in creating and realizing vision to build products for tomorrow. Vishnu has a unique blend of entrepreneurship and startup background combined with deep-rooted technical experience.
Inside Harman, started with General Management of Telematics Business Unit function including P&L management and later moved on to roles including the Product Management of Infotainment Services that includes automotive cloud applications, before moving on to the current program execution role.
Vishnu did Executive General Management with Wharton University, in addition to the Masters degree in Science degree with a specialization in Software Engineering. Vishnu has published several patents and publications in the IOT domain.