Cambridge-based software company RealVNC is pinning its hopes on the automotive industry as it continues on its quest to become the UK’s next billion pound tech company.
The 12-year-old firm has its roots in remote desktop technology that enables a PC user to see someone else’s screen through their monitor. As a result, RealVNC's software has been used by IT workers at large enterprises to help them understand what difficulties an end-user is having and also by customer service staff working for mobile operators so they can better understand the issues customers are having with their handsets.
But the scope of RealVNC's technology goes beyond mobile phones and computer screens, according to Tom Blackie, VP of mobile at RealVNC.
“VNC is a generic cross-platform, cross-device remote control technology,” he said. “Fundamentally, it’s about shipping pixels from one place to another place. It basically allows anything to connect to anything else."
The company, which was tipped by the Royal Academy of Engineering to become one of the UK’s next tech titans, now has its eyes firmly on the automotive sector.
"The big use case that everyone’s talking about is the phone connecting to the car," said Blackie, adding that RealVNC's software can be installed on the phone and the head unit that gets fitted into the car.
"The whole concept is to allow the phone to connect to the car and basically see applications on the phone," he said.
A number of safety standards, designed to prevent drivers from doing things like playing Flappy Bird through their dashboards, have been established by the MirrorLink consortium that RealVNC is a part of, along with 80 percent of major car manufacturers and several mobile companies.
In a move that shows the technology is gaining traction, Fujitsu today announced that it had launched six MirrorLink-certified Android handsets in Japan.
The handsets, which have RealVNC’s automotive software built into them, connect the phone to the car, allowing the driver to, for example, view the Google Maps application on their phone through the screen on their car dashboard.
“Typically pre-installed sat navs tend to date whereas everybody has Google Maps on their phone and they know how to use it,” said Blackie, adding that RealVNC's software can save car manufacturers money as it means they won’t have to install their own dedicated satellite navigation units. He also said that it's much safer for the driver to control mobile navigation apps through the infotainment system touch screen, vehicle bezel keys, steering wheel switches and by voice command.
RealVNC’s automotive technology has been available as an add-on in Toyota IQ’s for the last two years but several other car manufacturers are set to announce this week that they too will be building the software into their own vehicles.
“At MWC you’ll probably see demos by Peugeot Citroën, Volkswagen, Honda, and General Motors,” said Blackie. “These are all MirrorLink solutions and by enlarge the majority of them are using RealVNC under the hood.
“We anticipate by the end of this year five million vehicles will be fitted with this,” said Blackie. “Within two or three years time this will probably be as ubiquitous as bluetooth is at the moment.”
But RealVNC’s software could be expanded beyond simply connecting a phone to a car infotainment unit, according to Blackie.
“We’re taking the technology a few steps further,” he said. “At the moment the MirrorLink consortium is very focused on the phone connecting to the car head unit but rear seat entertainment is a major focus for the automotive industry. We’re doing a lot of this and it goes way beyond the MirrorLink standard.”
Indeed, this week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, RealVNC will be demoing how its technology can be used to allow one smartphone to transmit three separate high definition videos to the head unit and two rear-seat screens. “That’s something nobody is showing,” claimed Blackie.
The company will also demo how its software can give drivers access to remote cloud-based services including up-to-the minute traffic information, route planning apps and roadside facilities. This degree of connectivity will also enable automotive OEMs and dealer networks to access vehicle systems and provide assistance to drivers.