We’re just a few days away from MG Motor India’s first product introduction in the market – the Hector SUV. While the market has been abuzz with MG’s entry into India, the company put together a fairly large event early April to showcase its iSMART Next Gen connectivity platform, which the company claims, would make the Hector India’s first internet car. So, what exactly is an internet car?
It isn’t usual for an OEM to get its Tier 1 suppliers or technology partners together on stage to introduce products or technology to the media and other industry stakeholders. But times are a changing. MG Motor India has talked about its commitment to product differentiation in the past, and congregating a strong consortium of global technology partners, who have helped develop the iSMART Next Gen platform, has helped the company create and retain the hype around the Hector’s launch.
Come mid-May, and customers will be able to experience the iSMART Next Gen by themselves. At the April event, however, we got an opportunity to see for ourselves the capabilities of the connected platform created with collective efforts of Microsoft, Adobe, Unlimit, SAP, Cisco, Gaana, TomTom, Nuance, Accuweather, iTeligence, Cognizant and Panasonic.
The result is an integrated system housed in a 10.4” head unit, which is the control centre. The vertical screen allows the driver to control the entire system with touch and/or voice commands. The operating system (OS) has been developed by MG India, which embeds connectivity solutions, maps & navigation services, voice assistant, pre-loaded infotainment content, emergency and concierge services and built in apps. The system will also allow remote tracking, geofencing and control via a mobile app.
The connectivity platform on the MG Hector would feature an in-built M2M (machine-to-machine) eSIM powered by Airtel. This solution has been developed by Unlimit in partnership with Cisco’s Jasper platform and Airtel’s telecommunication network. This platform is Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPV6) and 5G ready, said the company. The connectivity solution has been developed by MG in Thailand, China and India and will be released in the UK later in 2019 at the first truly Connected MG programme.
MG Motor, in fact, is one of the first few global automakers and the first in India to introduce over the air (OTA) technology to cars, allowing system updates as and when they are available, much like smartphones. What this essentially means is that owners of the MG Hector would receive new look and themes for the screen, new infotainment content and updated maps on a periodic basis. Updates on the OS and firmware too will be received OTA. This feature will be a standard in all MG cars enabled with iSMART Next Gen for connected mobility, starting with MG Hector SUV, the company announced.
One of the primary concerns in the world of connectivity is privacy and cybersecurity. That’s the capability Microsoft brings in to the iSMART system. All data related to driver and vehicle analytics will be stored locally in the Microsoft Azure Cloud DC in India, which the company claims provides an impregnable defence to the system and all data stored.
After smartphones and smart speakers, artificial Intelligence-powered voice assistants are fast becoming a popular feature in vehicles. Nuance, the Massachusetts-based software major has developed the voice assistant on the iSMART platform. The assistant has advanced AI-enabled machine learning capability to learn and customise itself to each user over time, but to begin with, it has been trained for Indian English and accents.
Nuance didn’t just stop at that. The voice assistant has also been trained to recognise differences in semantics in speech – the aspect of the language function that relates to understanding the meanings of words, phrases and sentences, and using words appropriately when we speak. To overcome the challenge, Nuance applied NLU learning (Natural Language Understanding). Many other adaptive features have been added to ensure the best recognition of Indian voice and accents ever, said Charles Kuai, President – Greater China Region, Nuance. Like the overall system, the voice assistant too will get OTA updates on backend development and new AI-based learning.
The voice assistant on MG’s iSmart system is enabled to understand over 100 voice commands to control the vehicle. A user can simply say, “Hello MG” and dictate commands to open sun roof, control climate, open & close windows, operate radio controls (AM, FM, DRM), search embedded songs and navigate to places. The company claims the system will learn and get better every day with usage as a result of built-in AI and ML algorithms.
EMERGENCY RESPONSE, PULSE HUB & APPS
E-Call, the emergency response system, would be a standard feature across all MG cars. If a car’s airbags are deployed under an emergency condition, automatic messages are sent to the Pulse Hub – MG’s customer care centre – and the registered phones along with a series of emergency response actions that get activated instantly. On the other hand, the iCall feature lets the driver connect with the Pulse Hub for a host of information services.
A host of customer convenience applications have been customised and pre-embedded on the iSMART system, including TomTom’s real time navigation application, Gaana app with a premium account to access a wide range of music, and Accuweather for weather forecasts. The owner can access the iSMART Next Gen through a mobile app, which scans the vehicle every time it is opened to relay information such as location of car and tyre pressure, or to turn on ignition and switch on the AC unit. The mobile app can also issue speed alerts and share details of MG’s network information.
MG is entering India at a rather challenging time, with the market undergoing severe distress in terms of falling sales. The company is mindful of the fact that it would only be able to excite customers by offering a differentiated customer experience. Considering the growing penchant for connectivity among Indians, aided by cheaper data tariffs for smartphone users, MG seems to have got its focus right. A connected vehicle, rather an internet vehicle, is a good starting point. But with other OEMs breathing down MG’s neck on that area, the SAIC Motor-owned British brand won’t have it easy. How it delivers on the iSMART Next Gen system in real road conditions, and more so, how the Hector delivers as a product, will determine MG’s acceptance and success in the market.
At the April event, Rajeev Chaba, President & Managing Director, MG Motor India said the MG Hector promises to do a lot more over time with constantly expanding capabilities, to create a seamless driving experience, throughout the life of the car. One just hopes it can deliver on that promise.
TEXT: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah