Connecting user devices is not, however, the only function that the in-vehicle Wi-Fi network will support. New system functions can also derive huge value from the high data transfer rates and standards-based connectivity that a Wi-Fi network provides. Two such functions in particular are exciting vehicle systems designers:
- smart over-the-air upgrades – increasingly, a vehicle’s functions will become updateable and regularly improved. Just like smartphone apps, a vehicle’s systems will be supported by the manufacturer through regular online security and functional updates. By providing these updates over-the-air, the vehicle manufacturer avoids the need to call the vehicle to a service center.
- display sharing – services such as Apple’s CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink display the driver’s smartphone screen and functions to the vehicle’s infotainment display (see Figure 1). This allows the driver to use a smartphone’s applications and content while driving, accessing them via the touchscreen display or via voice commands. CarPlay, for instance, lets the driver use Apple’s Siri® voice recognition software to control smartphone applications such as text messaging while keeping both hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road. Today, display sharing is a feature provided in high-end cars, or an expensive option in mid-range vehicles using USB. Increasingly, however, display sharing will use Wi-Fi connectivity and will be deployed at the low end of manufacturers’ ranges as well, since it allows them to implement functions such as navigation via the driver’s smartphone. This enables them to avoid integrating a dedicated navigation system into the vehicle itself, saving cost and simplifying the car’s design.
Applications for the in-vehicle Wi-Fi network exhibit important differences from typical uses in the home. At home, a Wi-Fi router only does one thing: it provides a pipe to the internet for multiple devices. In the vehicle, the Wi-Fi router will simultaneously be offering internet access, and providing a high-bandwidth link between a smartphone and the head unit for CarPlay, Android Auto or similar services, and checking the manufacturer’s cloud servers for software updates, and downloading them when necessary. Other concurrent Wi-Fi applications for in-car remote controls, cameras and speaker systems are also being explored.