Palo Alto, California —In the not-to-distant future, all vehicles will have their own websites. Vehicle service providers (not garages!) will monitor individual cars and inform their drivers of needed maintenance or repairs. Automobiles running low on fuel will communicate with nearby eGasStations regarding price of petrol, available movies for downloading, food services, etc.
This is the scenario envisioned by Sun Microsystems Chairman and Founder Scott McNealy, who views the car as a "Java browser on wheels." He believes that the telematics industry promises big revenue-generating possibilities for those suppliers who foresee, and prepare for, the automobile's coming relationship with the Internet.
To stimulate such thinking and demonstrate the concept, Sun has launched two projects, linked together for the first time at Convergence 2000, the biennial automotive electronics show held last autumn in Detroit. The first, Sun's EV1 concept car, serves as a test platform to evaluate new features that Java technology can deliver to automobiles—from diagnostics to security to infotainment systems. While developers have used Java technology for specific features like navigation, Sun's EV1 is the first project to attempt the large-scale use of Java software architecture in a car.
Java has emerged as a natural candidate for "intelligent networked vehicles" (INV) because of its platform independence, real-time computing capability, Internet support, and its object-oriented architecture allowing flexible deployment. In contrast, today's internal vehicle busses such as IEEE48.8 or CAN are not designed for system upgrades; they do not evolve over the life of the car; and they will not accommodate the data-intensive services or wireless communications of tomorrow's vehicles.
EV1 supplements those busses and devices that perform real-time, safety-critical functions with the Java technology to support the needs of coming INV systems. Main components are an embedded 166-MHz Pentium-based Linux LANserver; DHCP services with 5-port hub for passengers to plug in their laptops; and four communications options. These include:
An Aironet Wireless Ethernet receiver offering 11 Mbytes/sec broadband transmission with 60m transmission range. This "base station" is suitable for heavy data feeds or software updates.
A wireless modem that supports ISDN-like speeds up to 128 K—good for e-mail.
Conventional cellular with the option to accommodate voice over IP (VoIP) systems.
Long-distance links for areas outside the range of cellular networks.
"Our position," explains Jim Destefano, Sun Product Manager, Automotive, "is that nobody has the single best wireless infrastructure right now—there are just so many out there. Since we wrote all of our applications in Java, we don't care what the network infrastructure is." Destefano adds that there is code running on the server that manages which network infrastructure has got the best bandwidth at any moment of time.
PDA capabilities, MP3 files, car diagnostics, voice-activated user interface, and other Java-enabled functions appear on an illuminated 640×480 pixel Sony LCD located behind the EV1 steering wheel. This "virtual dashboard" combines conventional dashboard readouts with the functions and services of an "infotainment" system, eliminating the need for individually wired gauges. Instead, each of these functions plugs into a common technology bus.
"We want to be the base layer technology provider," sums up Destefano. In pursuing this goal, Sun is working closely with automakers, consumer electronics manufacturers, and content providers to deliver next-generation, standards-based, Java technology-based INV products to market.
The eGasStation. Applying Java as the base layer for in-vehicle data collection and management is good; integrating that data with the outside world is better. The Sun eGasStation project demonstrates how the local petrol stop can act as a host for interactions with a Java-enabled car.
At the eGasStation, Java technology and the Internet remotely monitor and control gas pumps, point-of-sale systems, and other service station devices. The Java technology-based control system communicates with the Java technology-enabled car via wireless access. A web-browser shows automotive diagnostic status and information on the gas pump display.
"The Java-based screen in your car displays its diagnostic status," explains Ken Santoro, Sun Microsystems Business Development manager. "Because that's Java, and eGasStation is Java, it is easy to communicate." In fact, Santoro says the two can begin exchanging data even before the car pulls into the station.
Data downloads and uploads occur during fueling. For example, a car's operating history can be downloaded to collect operations and status information. Movies can be uploaded to the vehicle's infotainment system from an eGasStation's server, keeping the children in the back seat occupied during the trip.
For the retailer, there are several benefits:
Real-time knowledge of what gasoline products are selling by location, for optimal product supply and distribution.
Remote monitoring and maintenance of gasoline pumps.
Sale of operating data to parts suppliers and other third parties.
A number of major petroleum companies are in negotiations for evaluation of the technology at working gas stations.
Sun has partnered with two companies to build the eGasStation concept: Cyberonix, Inc. (Berkeley, California) is the project's lead software vendor, while aJile Systems, Inc. (San Jose, California) provides the Java technology-based controller board. Mitsubishi Electric Automation has licensed these products and plans to sell the Java technology-based control technologies worldwide.For more information about Java technology in automotive applications, visit www.java.sun.com/products/consumer-embedded/automotive.