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Sprint, IBM Team To Make Cars Smarter

Sprint says its Velocity Service Bus, based on IBM's MessageSight mobile data appliance, will enable new uses for auto-generated data in apps.
Our cars are already tied back to the manufacturer through sensor data and tenuous reporting systems and mobile links, such as Chrysler UConnect or Ford Sync or Cadillac User Entertainment (CUE). What if all of the auto's sensors, gauges and location information could be tied into more general purpose services?

The possibility of making the automobile into a mobile data processing device has prompted Sprint to team up with IBM to convert its Sprint Velocity connected vehicle system into a more general purpose, mobile data management platform. Velocity was launched last November to accomplish a narrow range of user service goals. Wednesday, Sprint and IBM jointly announced the second version of the system, called Velocity Service Bus. Version 2.0 throws that system open for many uses, including those thought up by third-party developers.

Soon smartphones will be in the hands of 90% or more cellphone users, and that's all it will take to combine a car's location with a number of possible end-user applications, said Bob Johnson, director of development for Sprint Velocity, in an interview in San Francisco Tuesday. "Transfer of your personalization and customization settings to the connected vehicle is the next logical step for [car] manufacturers looking to drive innovation," he said.

With a Velocity-supported application, manufacturers could enable drivers to unlock their cars from a signal sent by phone. Likewise, they could start up the car and turn on the air conditioning in hot weather, or trigger seat warmers and defrosters in cold temperatures.

[ Want to learn more about how big data may affect motor vehicles? See 5 Ways Big Data Can Improve your Car. ]

The Velocity Service Bus would allow manufacturers to monitor the car's health and make proactive maintenance suggestions based on equipment gauges, temperature readings and sensor feedback.

Beyond manufacturer-based services, however, the Velocity system would enable such things as a mobile concierge service, where a person could go for an after-dinner coffee by consulting directions sent to the car in response to a query for the nearest coffee shop.

Navigation systems might balance existing traffic reports against your planned route and come up with faster alternative routes. Or a location tracking system might help a driver find a car in a large parking lot.

Sprint wanted its Velocity system to support services that neither it nor car manufacturers have necessarily thought of. "Once a manufacturer identifies a data set that you will collect and maintain, third-party developers will come up with different offerings," he predicted.

IBM's Ed Brill, director of marketing for IBM's mobile data processing appliance, IBM MessageSight, said Sprint is able to offer a car-oriented platform for developers to work with because the appliance has been designed to collect and process mobile data from thousands of vehicles at a time.

MessageSight is built to process messages based on the lightweight Message Queuing Telemetry Transport protocol. The appliance is also designed to do enough heavy lifting to stay abreast of data fed into it from up to one million sensors or smart devices operating concurrently. It can scale to a total of 13 million messages a second, Brill said in an interview.

Sprint had all the network power it needed to launch its Velocity platform, but it turned to IBM to provide the data handling software and hardware, he said.

For both IBM and Sprint, however, the Velocity Service Bus is the first implementation of a system for handling mobile device data on the scale envisioned when every car is generating data and its occupants are interacting with mobile applications, Brill said.

Pat Watkins, director of the Velocity product for Sprint, said the platform will enable applications that heretofore have been lurking in developer's imaginations rather than reality. For example, a location-sensitive application might identify gas stations along your daily commute and give their proprietors the option of offering you a special discount if you decide to gas up with them, she said in an interview.