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Driving automotive innovation

Walter Sullivan is Windows Embedded senior product manager at Microsoft

Windows Embedded senior product manager Walter Sullivan talks to Karen McCandless about how the division’s automotive platform is powering new in-car entertainment systems

Microsoft’s first automotive offering was launched back in 1998 as AutoPC based on Windows Embedded CE 2.0. Just over ten years later in 2009, Microsoft decided to align its automotive efforts with the Windows Embedded Business and Windows Embedded Automotive was born. The platform powers some of the industry’s most innovative infotainment devices, including those from Ford, Kia, BMW, McLaren and Fiat, and is aimed at enriching the in-vehicle experience with a platform for communication, entertainment, navigation and connected services. Karen McCandless speaks to Windows Embedded senior product manager Walter Sullivan to find out more.

What is your role and responsibility within Microsoft?
I focus on the longer-term technical and business strategy in the Windows Embedded Automotive business group, as well as leading the engineering teams through our projects with leading automotive manufacturers that build their in-car systems on our platform. Technology and software are becoming even more value in the automotive industry so this is a key role within the Windows Embedded team.

What is the Windows Embedded Automotive platform?

Based on Windows Embedded Compact 7, the Windows Embedded Automotive software platform powers leading in-car infotainment systems, which include functionality like radio and brought-in media, Bluetooth hands-free phone systems, navigation systems and climate control. The platform powers Ford Motor Company’s SYNC in-car infotainment system, as well as the Kia UVO in-vehicle information system, the Nissan LEAF touchscreen information hub and Fiat’s Blue&Me technology. Windows Embedded Automotive is built on the same core operating platform as Microsoft’s mobile operating system and is an open, device-agnostic software platform that supports data connectivity over any mobile device that the user brings into the vehicle, or that might be built into the vehicle. It provides integrated and flexible middleware components for all the core infotainment scenarios, which allows original equipment manufacturers to scale their solutions across a broad range of automotive makes and models. Other examples are Peterbuilt’s SmartNav and Kenworth’s NavPlus.

What makes the automotive environment unique?
At Microsoft, we recognise the difference between mobile phone connectivity and in-car connectivity. One example, with a mobile phone, the user is looking for an engaging, immersive and extended experience that draws them into the device. With the car, it is the opposite – users need to be able to consume an appropriate amount of information quickly and then return their attention to driving without having been too distracted. That is what we offer with Windows Embedded Automotive. Another unique value of this platform is that it allows manufacturers to evolve their products at a much faster pace than has traditionally happened in the industry.

How does Windows Embedded Automotive deliver a better experience to the end customer?
Drivers today expect a seamless transition from their digital lifestyle to their car. This means free access to their media, social networks, and other personal content via mobile devices, USB, wi-fi and Bluetooth. With the plethora of consumer technology that is released to the market on a regular basis, in-car technology can quickly become out –of date and not support all the latest devices if it cannot be updated. We are constantly testing the latest consumer devices and providing system updates which our carmakers distribute to their customers. Additionally, with Windows Embedded Automotive, updated functionality can be added to an existing infotainment system through new applications. The ability to update the infotainment system in the middle of the car’s lifecycle is a key differentiator.

As we move towards more sophisticated vehicles and devices, we are looking to build the next automotive offering on the Windows 8 platform

Walter Sullivan , Microsoft
What functionality was included in the latest version?
The current product on the market is Windows Embedded Automotive 7 and production of the first vehicles using this technology started last year. With this version, we introduced Silverlight for Windows Embedded, which enables automotive manufacturers to improve the user experience by creating rich device user experiences in 2D or 3D. We also included new automotive tools for developers to support the integration of advanced third-party systems and simplified the development process by providing improved test modules with easy-to-use product engineering guidelines. Meanwhile, Tellme, a Microsoft voice recognition technology, allows users to issue commands in a hands-free way.

What does the future hold for Windows Embedded Automotive?
As we move towards more sophisticated vehicles and devices, we are looking to build the next automotive offering on the Windows 8 platform. This will also open up new opportunities for our whole ecosystem – from partners to customers – as they strive to create the next generation of automotive experience.

Walter Sullivan is Windows Embedded senior product manager at Microsoft.

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