BMW Hopes to Get the Connected Car up to Speed With ‘Webinos’
The car has been called “the fourth screen” for internet-connected content. But even for high-performance brands like BMW, adapting the car to keep up with the fast pace of mobile computing has been a slow and complicated process. The luxury automaker plans to bring automotive technology up to speed and in sync with smartphones, computers and tablets by leveraging an EU-funded project called “webinos.”
While webinos may be a goofy name – although it’s certainly easier to say than “Secure Web Operating System Application Delivery Environment” – the ambitious goal of the Euro-centric project is to develop and standardize an open source web- and browser-based application platform that allows seamless communication across all internet-connected devices. Collaborators on webinos include over 20 automotive, IT and telecommunications companies as well as several research institutes. The project was launched in September 2010 and runs until August 2013, and BMW is the first to show an automotive prototype at the Communication World IT trade show in Munich this week.
By exchanging data between different devices through open source standards, webinos is modeled after cloud computing, and BMW’s intent is to apply the approach using applications in the car. “By creating purpose-designed Web browser add-ons and defining suitable communication standards, webinos demonstrates how the browser can increasingly evolve into a shared web application platform,” BMW said in its release. Research driving the platform focuses on the development of communication processes between devices and required web-app browser interfaces.
Since security is becoming a major concern with the emerging connected car, webinos uses what BMW calls “a personal zone hub that works like a kind of telephone exchange” to safeguard transmitted data. The hub recognizes individual devices, the applications installed, and the services they support. Users can configure and adjust personal settings on a secure website, and BMW says “privacy settings are designed to ensure that applications are only able to make use of enabled data and services.” Web browsers such as Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome can run webinos-enabled apps, which will access services within a personal zone via a browser add-on à la HTML5.
BMW envisions the automotive version of webinos using a vehicle API that accesses vehicle data, a geolocation API that gathers data on speed and GPS location, and the Device Orientation API that captures data on lateral and linear acceleration. BMW notes that “a wealth of data can be made available with the help of just these three packages” with access to such info as average speed, fuel consumption, headlight and windshield-wiper settings and current gear – data that everyone from paranoid parents to prying insurance companies would love to have. The automaker also points out that sharing data across different devices, including the car, could allow car owners to use webinos-enabled apps to check on a vehicle’s fuel level from their smartphone, access a media library on their home computer or in the cloud or get parking-sensor information to find an open space in a crowded city.
In the prototype being shown at the Communication World IT, users can manage personal points of interest on a smartphone, tablet or home PC prior to a trip using webinos travel apps, and planned pit stops are sent to the vehicle’s navigation system. Additionally, if the journey ends for the car but not the driver the “last mile” on foot can be transmitted to the web app on the user’s smartphone.
QNX, a company that creates the software behind cutting-edge infotainment systems, has been a big proponent of browser-based applications via HTML5 for the car. “What I understand they’re doing … is allowing a web server to push content to various screens,” Andrew Poliak, global director of automotive business development for QNX, told Wired. “BMW’s recent work with HTML5 demonstrates OEM commitment, a key ingredient to HTML adoption in the auto industry.”
The car depicted in the photos at Wired.com appreas to be a 7-series but I believe this will apply to all future BMWs. The ability to push content from a web server via HTML5 to any of the screens in a car would open the door to third-party vendors in a way the "App Store" did for the iPhone.
Love it or hate it, technology is here to stay. Let's just hope BMW can stay focused on the core driving experience above all else.