Bluetooth, NFC Potential Seen In Aftermarket

By Joseph Palenchar On Apr 23 2012 - 4:01am




NEW YORK — Bluetooth and nearfield communications (NFC) technologies could become the technologies of choice for aftermarket mobile electronics suppliers that want to offer new convenience features to consumers.

Harman International pointed the way at the recent Geneva Auto Show, where a demo vehicle’s seat positions and infotainment- and navigation-system settings were adjusted automatically when an NFC-embedded smartphone was placed near a thin, flat NFC antenna embedded in the vehicle’s passenger compartment. NFC requires a distance of 4 inches or less to operate.

No NFC or Bluetooth standards yet exist for such applications, but aftermarket car-A/V and security suppliers don’t have to wait. They could bypass the lack of standards by developing proprietary apps for NFC-enabled smartphones that would communicate with the suppliers’ NFC-enabled head units or security systems.

For security suppliers, greater potential exists in using Bluetooth in lieu of NFC to eliminate the need to tap a phone against an NFC antenna, which would have to be mounted on the inside of a vehicle’s window if someone wanted to disarm a security system before entering. Bluetooth could also be the first choice of aftermarket car-A/V suppliers because Bluetooth is already embedded in so many aftermarket head units.

To automatically control adjust a vehicle’s seat and mirror positions or climate-control settings, the aftermarket security and car-A/V systems would plug into an OEM-integration module along the lines of those available from Automotive Data Systems (ADS). The Canadian company already offers firmware-upgradable universal modules that integrate aftermarket security/ remote-start systems to OEM digital databuses, enabling those systems to remotely control factory door locks and starters. ADS is also developing a universal module that will retain the functionality of OEM infotainment systems from multiple automakers when an aftermarket head unit is installed.

“It’s technically possible to interface with these features if available on [a vehicle’s OEM] CAN network,” said ADS marketing director Dan Facciolo. Added ADS audio engineering director Mark Rutledge, “If [car-A/V suppliers] decided to provide this communication between phones and their radios, we could certainly provide access to the vehicle systems.”

For now, few if any aftermarket security/convenience systems control seat and mirror positions, suppliers said, although Audiovox said some of its FlashLogic OEM-integration modules for security/convenience systems can be programmed with preferred settings only for the driver’s seat.

“We are exploring the addition of more features [to the FlashLogic modules] but are in the very early stages of this,” an Audiovox spokesman said. “We are also in the very early stages of exploring SPP [Bluetooth serial port profile] and Bluetooth interaction.”

Bluetooth makes the most sense for security/convenience/ remote-start systems, said ADS’s Rutledge. “If NFC is used, the range is quite limited, and from what I understand, not suitable for remote start or keyless access. However, many people are building products to use Bluetooth for this, including us. We are launching a telematics product later this year with Bluetooth built in for this and other features.”

Because Bluetooth operates up to 33 feet, it could be used to automatically disarm a security system as the owner walks toward a vehicle. Once a phone and a device are paired, they automatically find each other when in range, and to consumers, “this behavior should appear to be automatic and nearly instantaneous,” Bluetooth SIG executive director Mike Foley told TWICE.

Automatic arming is another matter, however, because a security system would arm itself only when it breaks communication with a paired phone, meaning the driver would have to walk about 30 feet from a vehicle before the security system arms itself.

Using Bluetooth apps to automatically adjust vehicle and entertainment systems settings “can easily be done,” Bluetooth SIG’s Foley told TWICE. “What goes over the connection is opaque to Bluetooth itself, so it is a way of doing proprietary applications.” He added, “Any commands can be sent. If the car is able to accept commands from a serial port (or they write an adapter to enable this), it really is trivial to do.” All the aftermarkets suppliers have to do is “just write a custom profile and let the end user download the app/ profile from the smartphone marketplace,” he said.

One drawback to using Bluetooth instead of NFC is security, said Hans Roth, business development director for Harman’s infotainment division in Germany. “NFC is very secure,” he explained. “It is peer-to-peer, not distributed to several receivers at the same time.” NFC is also encrypted, operates at maximum ranges of 4 inches, and could be made to operate at a range of a half-inch depending on the material covering the antenna, he said.

That was among the reasons Harman demonstrated NFC technology at the Geneva Auto Show, where with the tap of a smartphone, a Harman OEM infotainment system automatically adjusted seat positions, favorite music and settings for Harman’s HALOsonic Electronic Sound Synthesis system, preferred touchscreen visualizations, emails, contacts and calendar entries as well as Facebook and Twitter accounts via the company’s Aha platform.

To bring such capabilities to the aftermarket car-A/V side, Roth noted, head-unit suppliers would be challenged to find enough front-panel real estate to place a paper-thin 0.25- by 0.25-inch NFC antenna, which would communicate with an NFC chip that must be within millimeters of the antenna. However, aftermarket suppliers could outboard a combined antenna/ chip module for placement in the passenger compartment and connect it via cable to the head unit, he said. The antenna/chip module would be only a couple of millimeters thick, he said.

Because no NFC or Bluetooth standards yet exist for controlling vehicle or head-unit settings, aftermarket suppliers would have to create proprietary command sets and their own applications to run on NFC- or Bluetooth- equipped smartphones, Roth told TWICE.

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