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Use your Dell PC.  Use your new Samsung smartphone.  Stream a video from YouTube, Netflix or Hulu.  Do a Skype or Google+ video conference or a YouNow video chat, or even just watch the viewfinder mode while you record a video.

Let’s have a show of hands … who has never seen the video hang up for a few seconds?  Of course you have.  Do you care?  Probably not.  Well OK maybe it’s a little annoying.  But it doesn’t really matter. It’s hardly a matter of life or death.

Now use a back-up camera in your car.  If that video hangs up for a few seconds, do you care?  Probably.  Probably a LOT.  At least after you run into an obstacle (or innocent bystander) you will care a lot.  Because it really does matter. It can literally be a matter of life or death.


Oh Boy, Third Party Car Cams!

You read about it in Forbes ( ), and at TechCrunch ( ), and other top business and tech sites.

The new Pearl back-up cam.  A Silicon Valley start-up, staffed by ex-Apple guys … gotta be geniuses, you know.  ( )

Hopefully you’ll be able to buy it at Best Buy soon, or even Amazon.

You can install it yourself. The cameras are built in to a license plate holder you mount on the back of your car. It sets up it’s own WiFi, with a little custom WiFi network server that you plug in to your car’s OBD-II connector (that plug-in slot beneath the dash that lets your mechanic diagnose care problems).  It will use your Android or Apple smartphone, which you snap into a little holder that clips right onto your car’s air conditioner vent. Whenever you put your car in reverse, your smartphone will show you a video of what’s behind your car as you back up.

How cool is that?  Must be pretty cool, because the tech writers are all agog over it.

But … who ensures the video will run error free in realtime?  Who guarantees the network throughput and latency?  Who ensures that the video will not be interrupted when a call comes in? Or when the local teenager tries to piggy-back on the new WiFi he just found, just as he has piggy-backed on all the other WiFi networks in the neighborhood.

And if that video hangs up for a couple seconds, and you run over your neighbor’s kid, who will be responsible?

Not Audi, GM or Toyota. They make cars.  They know how important safety is when talking about cars. They have nothing to do with what you buy at Best Buy and put on your car. Even if they made your car.

How about Samsung?  How did they get into this? Oh yeah, they made your Android smartphone. Did they ever promise you it would work as a back-up camera system in your car?  Did they ever promise you that an incoming phone call or text message would not interrupt your WiFi streaming video? Of course they didn’t – they made a phone, and the phone stuff is SUPPOSED to interrupt streaming video.

Best Buy?  If you think they know that this solution set is going to work, I’ve got news for you: They’re lucky if they can tell you what shelf it’s on.

Well, there’s always Pearl.  They are a Silicon Valley start-up, with a team that comes out of Apple. How tuned-in are they to automotive safety issues?  They’ve been at this product for what, about a year and a half now? How much have they improved the WiFi compared to companies that make WiFi network products for a living? How much testing have they done in the varied and adverse conditions associated with driving?   Did they do all those tests with your particular smartphone?

In the end it’s the consumer who will be responsible.  You put it on your car, and you drove the car relying on what you saw (or didn’t see!) on the screen. What do you know about network QOS metrics, or how many DMIPS the ARM processor in your smartphone has available for video decompression and rendering? Do you understand the interrupt priority scheme and how it has changed in the version 6.0 and 6.0.1 (“Marshmallow”) releases versus the version 5.0 through 5.1.1 (“Lollipop”) releases of the Android operating system? Do you even know what operating system is in your phone?

But you are the one who made the decision to put together the products and services of an independent third party provider, who has no experience in the car market, with a smartphone made for entirely different purposes, and you are the one who used it as a critical safety feature on your car. So you are responsible.

All of this does not mean that there can be no place for third party providers. But as much as the Silicon Valley loves the “do it first, ask questions later” approach, let’s ask at least a few questions first, before we start running over the neighbor kids.

Do you care about camera latency?  If it’s a car safety application, then YOU SHOULD!

What affects camera latency?

  • The performance of the camera system
  • The performance and consistency of the network across all likely operating environments
  • The performance of the displaying system
  • The other tasks and interrupt prioritization of the displaying system

And once the latency risks are ironed out, there are lots of other questions.

How clear will the image on your smartphone screen be in the rain, or in the dark, or when the pavement is black and the snowbank is white?

And what about security?  You are now adding a smartphone with a cellular link and a WiFi link to your car’s safety equipment.  If you think there is no risk of car systems being hacked, try reading our prior blog:

Five Stories of Security Shortcomings in Car Electronics

Who owns ensuring that it all works together safely, effectively and reliably?  If you buy products at retail and connect them yourself, and the different vendors have not qualified and certified their products to work together in the automotive environment  …  no one owns it but you.

There is no reason companies can’t work together to build robust and safe third party solutions. There’s no reason that companies can’t come up with mechanisms to test and verify the performance of their solutions.  But no if no one asks, no one answers.

So we’re asking.

Camera latency … do you care?

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