Hyundai seeks Israeli tech for its ‘connected cars’

New apps developed in Israel could show up in the company’s new Internet-linked vehicles as soon as next year

A view of the user interface of Hyundai's connected car (Photo credit: Courtesy)
A view of the user interface of Hyundai's connected car (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Korean car company Hyundai aims to become a leader in connected car technology – and it wants to use Israeli tech talent to accomplish that goal.

The company is sponsoring its first app hackathon contest (Hebrew), with developers of the best apps getting a NIS 100,000 prize and a contract with Hyundai Israel, and possibly, Hyundai agencies in other parts of the world.

The car of tomorrow may not be ready to fly, but it is ready to be tricked out with all sorts of communication technology that will help drivers get where they need to go more safely, possibly more quickly – and definitely more enjoyably. Already standard on some higher-end 2015 models are entertainment systems that integrate Internet radio apps (TuneIn, IheartRadio, Stitcher), direction apps (Waze, Google Maps), and communication apps (connections to smartphones, messaging systems).

Hyundai already incorporates these apps in some of its models (notably the i-35, one of its higher-end offerings), but it wants to go further – hence the i-Way hackathon, said Hyundai Israel director Davidi Piamenta.

“Unlike other companies, we have developed our own API, and participants in the contest will have access to it,” Piamenta told reporters at a press conference Sunday. “We want as many ideas in the first stage, after which we will cull the top three. Those apps will win prizes of NIS 100,000, NIS 30,000, and NIS 15,000.”

Apps will be selected on the basis of their creativity and how they use the Internet and other “connected technologies” – notably Bluetooth and GPS – to make the driving experience more enjoyable and safer, he added.

The contest is open to anyone anywhere who can develop apps and has a unique idea for one (the website and application materials are in Hebrew). Apps will remain the property of developers, who will license the app to Hyundai for two years; after that, they will be free to do with them what they wish. The awards will be given out over the summer after a gala judging event, and the apps could show up on 2016 Hyundai models.

One innovation that Hyundai is instituting is a built-in cellular modem that will connect with the car’s apps. Currently, nearly all cars that offer apps, except for some models in the US, utilize a phone’s cellular connection to communicate with servers. The independent nature of the Hyundai models’ communications will enable the company to implement numerous long-distance safety features, such as an assistance service (similar to GM’s Onstar), where drivers can call for help from their vehicles in case of a problem.

In addition, said Piamenta, Hyundai will be able to offer optional services that monitor drivers’ safety habits, which could help them qualify for insurance discounts.

One concern for connected car drivers is security. According to some studies, including one cited by the US Senate, hackers can take control of key components of vehicles, scramble or change data in their computers, or unlock and disable them – allowing them to raid a vehicle’s trunk or hold the driver hostage for a “repair fee.”

Ensuring security, said Piamenta, is one reason Hyundai developed its own API instead of relying on Google’s. In addition, the company has gone to great lengths to prevent intruders in its systems, hiring security experts who worked on “closed” operating systems for “kosher phones,” said Piamenta.

In many ultra-Orthodox circles, Internet use on smartphones is not just frowned upon but banned altogether. Cellphone service providers, seeking to serve the lucrative ultra-Orthodox business market, have developed versions of top phones that provide phone and text services, but close off the Internet in a manner that cannot easily be overridden – a prerequisite to getting rabbinical approbation for the device. It’s that expertise, Piamenta said, that Hyundai has tapped into in order to develop its API.

“Of course, anything can happen, but we feel we have taken the necessary steps to protect our customers,” he said.

The connected car contest, said Piamenta, is “a good start for us. Companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others are working on connected car technology and seeking to move forward. With this project we hope to build innovative technology that will set the tone for this industry. The purpose of our i-Way program is to develop technology that will make driving a car as enjoyable as being at home or the office.”

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