Taking to the road in connected cars


Internet connectivity is now a standard feature in many new appliances and devices as the connected ecosystem, commonly referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT), continues to grow at pace. And attention is now turning to our vehicles.

As connectivity becomes key, having devices communicate with each other – collecting and exchanging data, and giving rise to real-time automated decision-making – has become a goal for manufacturers seeking to tie together the IoT ecosystem. This is called big data, and picking out quality data from the big data pool is important for further integration of technology into cars.

Amid this growing array of connected technology, connected cars are set to play a key role, with the automotive and technology industries having come together to bring smart features to new-release vehicles. These features range from smartphone integration to security features and voice interaction, real-time information, such as traffic information, and entertainment functions, such as music streaming.

Bringing smart technology to cars

At the beginning of last year, information technology and research company Gartner forecast that connected cars will form a major element of the IoT ecosystem, enabling new in-vehicle services and automated driving capabilities.

Gartner had forecast that by 2020 there will be a quarter of a billion connected vehicles on the road, amounting to about one in five vehicles worldwide that will have some form of wireless network connection. Gartner research director James F. Hines had noted that “increased consumption and creation of digital content within the vehicle will drive the need for more sophisticated infotainment systems, creating opportunities for application processors, graphics accelerators, displays and human-machine interface technologies”.

Certainly, smart technology is becoming a defining feature and a key selling point of new-release vehicles, and companies more traditionally associated with personal computing devices, such as Google and Apple, have been actively branching out into the automotive industry.

Both Google and Apple are now involved in the automotive industry at a number of levels and have partnered with automotive manufacturers to bring smart technology traditionally associated with smartphones and tablets to dashboard interfaces.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are two of the better known dashboard interfaces currently available, each providing users a range of functions, designed to work in conjunction with Android and iOS smartphones, respectively. Both systems operate via the connection of a smartphone to a compatible vehicle, with the respective applications of each system then displayed on the vehicle’s dashboard screen.

A Juniper Research study earlier this year found that Android Auto and CarPlay will lead the way in the connected car market, forecasting that connected in-vehicle infotainment systems will produce revenues exceeding US$600 million in 2020, representing a 10-fold increase on this year.

As these systems become firmly established, Juniper expects a wave of new applications to become available, specifically designed for in-vehicle use, including advanced traffic solutions, route optimisation and in-vehicle gaming. Juniper additionally expects that on-board systems with integrated wireless functionality will eventually push ahead of systems requiring the presence of a smartphone, with units decked out with systems such as Android Auto and CarPlay integrated directly into vehicles.

Integrating with smart devices

The integration of smart devices with vehicles has given rise to a range of different functions, from providing users an extension of smartphone functionality, such as calling and text messaging, to driver assistance, including navigation and traffic conditions, to entertainment, such as music streaming.

Apple states of CarPlay that users have access to functions including directions, making calls, sending and receiving messages and listening to music. In addition to touchscreen, knobs, dials and buttons compatibility, CarPlay features Siri voice control. Similarly, Android Auto provides integrated touchscreen and steering wheel controls, allows users to make and receive calls and messages, features voice actions and access to maps, music and a range of apps.

Vehicle apps

In addition to smartphone integration, manufacturers have also been developing a range of apps allowing for the integration of smartwatches and cars. Ford, for instance, last year released smartwatch apps allowing users driving Ford battery electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles to check their battery charge level, determine driving range before a trip, locate where their vehicle is parked and lock/unlock their doors, among other functions.

Volvo is another manufacturer that has been active in this space, with its Volvo On Call app providing connectivity with Apple Watch and Android Wear smartwatches, allowing users access to functions such as lock/unlock and locating their vehicle using their smartwatch.

Integrating with the connected home

Meanwhile, amid the increasing prevalence of IoT devices both in and out of the home, manufacturers are seeking to bring the two worlds together, working to integrate the connected car and the connected home.

Integration of the connected car and home will allow users to control various smart functions in their home from their car. For instance, earlier in the year Ford advised that it is exploring ways to pair its Sync-equipped (Ford’s in-vehicle infotainment system) vehicles with home automation devices or smart home products.

To this end, Ford has been working to integrate Sync Connect and Amazon Echo, interfacing with the Amazon cloud-based voice service Alexa, providing voice control access between the car and home, while drivers could also access internet-enabled devices, such as lights, home security systems, TVs and garage doors.

BMW is another manufacturer that has been exploring applications in this space, last year unveiling apps from Deutsche Telekom and Samsung designed to operate functions inside connected houses from its BMW i3.

Among the respective apps’ functions, they allow users to control in-building functions, such as heating, check whether windows and doors are locked or a burglar alarm is activated from their car, with users notified via their car’s dashboard about water leaks or intruder alerts. This is an area of the connected car market likely to evolve in the next few years as the IoT ecosystem is drawn tighter together.

Autonomous vehicles

Along with the range of connected functions being brought to vehicles, autonomous driving technology is another area being pursued by manufacturers. This is an area of automotive technology that is currently in development and around which there is a heavy air of expectation about its potential to transform industry. As defined by Gartner, an autonomous vehicle is:

“… one that can drive itself from a starting point to a predetermined destination in ‘autopilot’ mode using various in-vehicle technologies and sensors, including adaptive cruise control, active steering (steer by wire), anti-lock braking systems (brake by wire), GPS navigation technology, lasers and radar.”

Notably, along with a number of global manufacturers, Google is developing autonomous vehicle technology, and Apple is also widely speculated to be involved in the industry (Apple has not formally announced its plans). Google states of its self-driving project that it is: “building prototype vehicles that are designed to take you where you want to go at the push of a button – no driving required”.

Fully autonomous vehicles may still be a way off, however the groundwork is currently being laid, and it is sure to prove a competitive space for manufacturers in the future.

Connectivity everywhere

Amid the IoT boom, and the concurrent move towards all-encompassing connectivity, bringing the internet to vehicles, and providing a range of associated smart functions, is a logical progression for the automotive industry.

It has seen the coming together of the automotive and technology industries, with the further integration of smart devices, such as smartphones, smartwatches and tablets, likely to be a feature in new vehicle releases this year.

Certainly, there are a lot of potential applications both in and outside of vehicles that can be developed, as shown by manufacturers’ work in integrating connected cars and connected homes, with the industry poised for further growth in the coming years.

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