INTERFACE Q+A: Connecting Our Car to the Internet of Things
ver the last few years, the Internet of Things (IoT) has evolved from a futurist buzzword into a multi-industry endeavor that engineers across the world are priming for. At its core, IoT is the interconnecting of physical devices, electronic systems, and global infrastructures into a universal, constantly-updating network.
Vehicles, of course, will be a fundamental component. Directing our integration into this massive connective shift is Mark Zeinstra, leader of the Internet of Vehicles (IoV) Group at Faraday Future. We spoke with him about what this undertaking means, his past innovations, and his vision for the future of automotive internet.
Zeinstra examines a prototype instrument panel display cluster – because in-car displays encounter ever-changing viewing environments, they are held to a much more rigid quality standard than everday televisions and computer screens.
For those who may not know, what is the Internet of Vehicles?
It still remains something undefined, since most of the industry is still at the precipice of truly pursuing it. I see IoV as the convergence of cars into the Internet of Things, and the connection of every consumer-facing electronic in a vehicle with the internet.
"I see IoV as…the connection of every consumer-facing electronic in a vehicle with the internet."
What is the primary focus of our IoV team?
We’re connecting the 20-odd consumer electronics in our vehicles to each other and to the internet. Right now, cars aren’t really a part of the Internet of Things. Automobiles are relegated to using narrowly-designed, proprietary applications that are quickly outdated. We want our vehicles to receive unhampered information from – and share information with – the true internet, at large.
Can you offer examples of electronics being integrated into FF vehicles?
I can only say so much until we unveil our first vehicle…but these electronics include screens, microphones, cameras, controllers, USB hubs, wireless chargers, and more. We are working closely with our other internal teams and external suppliers to ensure that these components are integrated holistically and can effortlessly communicate with one another.
The software between these features are being engineered by our partners in Beijing, Silicon Valley, and our in-house User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) teams in Los Angeles. It’s the IoV team’s responsibility to merge these systems into a single, elegant in-car network.
A prototype wireless antennae is tested alongside our infotainment center. Because our vehicles will communicate with the internet – and potentially each other – having a powerful, reliable connection is a must.
How has working alongside FF Design and UI/UX teams influenced your approach?
Because all of our teams are working so closely, we’ve been blessed with unique perspectives and concepts that we never could have considered in a vacuum.
One example is our approach to digital displays. There are automotive regulations in place that ban reflections on windshields caused by the light and images emitted from in-car electronic screens. Which makes sense! Think of how distracting it would be to see a movie that your passenger is watching, projected upside-down and obscuring the road in front of you.
Because of this regulation, display screens traditionally have this awkward plastic “hood” overtop of them to restrict any potential reflection. It’s aesthetically unfortunate, but has been a necessity. Our Design team, however, asked if we could do away with this hood.
I never considered it. It was a challenge, but eventually we developed a beautiful anti-reflective screen with the help of our display experts – who joined us from Apple, Microsoft, and Nokia. With that simple innovation, we unlocked a whole new range of freedom for our interior design and UI/UX teams.
You’ve had an illustrious career before joining FF. Where did it begin?
After getting my degree in electrical engineering from Western Michigan University, I began my career at Prince Corporation. It was a very innovative company, responsible for a lot of industry firsts – they created the first cup holders, lit vanity mirrors, and floor consoles to be built into automobiles.
What auto industry firsts did you have hand in?
A universal garage door opener, called HomeLink, was a major one. If you’ve ever seen three small buttons in a car’s overhead console, it is based around a technology that my former team engineered.
Garage door openers used to be so inconvenient. They were awkward, cheaply built, and constantly falling off your visor. There was clearly room for refinement. Integrating a solution directly into a vehicle and designing it to be universal and trainable was an unprecedented concept at the time.
Within three or four years, almost every automaker in the world was implementing our product. It was incredible to see a small passion project built on a workbench in Holland, Michigan evolve into a multimillion-dollar industry necessity in such a short period of time.
You were also instrumental to the the invention of Bluetooth Hands-Free phone calls?
Yes! Bluetooth phone integration was an interesting challenge. It was an invention that ideally shouldn’t have had to exist – but, despite all of the PSAs detailing the risks of calling while driving, it soon became clear that people were inclinded to do it all the same.
It eventually became less about trying to alter drivers’ habits, and more about altering our vehicles around drivers’ habits. If people are going to talk and drive, period, then we have to enable them to do so as safely as possible.
There were some growing pains when engineering solutions. Early on, we tried to integrate a static phone transceiver directly into the car visor – kind of like the “car phones” you could find in the ‘80s. It quickly became clear, however, that people preferred to use their mobile devices exclusively.
"It eventually became less about trying to alter drivers’ habits, and more about altering our vehicles around drivers’ habits."
What big lessons did you learn while developing Bluetooth Hands-Free calling?
I learned how much faster the tech industry evolves than the automotive one.
Adopting this innovation was a huge risk. Bluetooth wasn’t standard in cell phones at that point, and many carmakers didn’t want to incorporate it until it was universally established. It’s daunting to manufacture 500,000 vehicles with a technology that only 10% of customers could actually use.
However, since automobiles traditionally take several years from development to production, you typically have to think forward and consider what technologies will be widely utilized in 4-5 years’ time.
That’s actually what I love about working at Faraday Future – we’re a technology-first car company. We’re looking at emerging innovations from a number of industries and are ambitiously integrating them into our first and future fleets.
"You typically have to think forward and consider what technologies will be widely utilized in a 4-5 years’ time."
What drives your continued pursuit of connected systems – and the Internet of Vehicles?
Honestly, when things are connected, it just makes everything so much simpler…it makes it easier to keep up-to-date on my family, and it affords me this newfound peace of mind.
For example, I have an apartment here in Los Angeles – but, using Amazon Alexa, I can control electronics in my house in Michigan and make sure that the security system is active and the lights are on.
Automobiles can be an integral part of this network of assurances. If traffic’s bad, for example, my car can alert my coworkers that I’m running late. If someone dents my vehicle while it’s parked, it can take a snapshot of its environment and identify the car responsible.
In the future, how will IoV ultimately lead to improved driver safety?
If our cars can communicate obstacles and issues to one another, then we’ll all be that much better off.
For instance, if a driver half a mile up the highway slips on black ice, then every other car can adjust accordingly – immediately and automatically. There will no longer be pileups caused by unseen obstacles or hampered reaction times. With car-to-car communication, the benefits are literally limitless.
At Faraday Future, we’re engineering our vehicles to eventually integrate into a network like this…because that’s the world that we want to live in, and we aren’t waiting around for someone to make it for us. This company’s philosophy aligns with the future I envision: a safe, connected, efficient one. That’s why I am here – and that’s why I love it.