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Remaking the car in a connected world

Author: Gavin Conway
Category: Insight & Vision
Published: 19/05/2016

There’s a significant transformation going on that will change our relationship with cars in ways previously thought unimaginable. Cars that can warn each other about icy road conditions; cars that technicians can fix remotely; and driverless cars that take you to work as you sip your favourite coffee and scan the papers (online, of course) …

This is the connected car revolution.

Connectivity comes to cars

It’s about the way your car interacts with the world around it, and crucially, how it will make your life safe, secure, convenient and more enjoyable.

Huge progress has already been made in connecting cars with the world around them – one senior industry CEO even suggested last year that they could eventually even replace mobile phones as smart devices.

Virtually all of the big brands are developing autonomous driving technologies that could eventually lead to driverless cars

Connectivity is already having a transformative effect on how we travel – in-car apps enable access to literally thousands of radio stations, as well as the live streaming of your favourite tunes. And sophisticated mapping means you can literally ask your connected car to find the nearest restaurant, petrol station and shopping centre.

Central to much of this is the smartphone. Today, with many newer models, it’s now possible to use a smartphone to check your fuel level, as well as whether or not the doors are locked. You can even use a smartphone to preheat or cool the cabin. And some manufacturers even offer a service that detects if someone’s breaking into your vehicle – and then track or immobilise it.

Likewise, connectivity is having a huge impact on safety. Many manufacturers offer a feature that will automatically call the emergency services if you’re involved in an accident. And parallel technology that allows for automatic braking, acceleration and steering in city traffic is already transforming the daily commute for thousands. 

Progressing towards autonomous movement

This is just the beginning. Virtually all of the big brands are developing autonomous driving technologies that could eventually lead to driverless cars. Large-scale trials of such prototypes are already being conducted in Europe and America. In fact, industry chiefs say that much of the technology for autonomous driving is already here and that the only thing holding them back is the challenge of how to regulate such vehicles.

When I first experienced automatic braking on a new car launch, the engineer sitting with me told me to drive at another parked car and not to touch the brakes

Convincing drivers to trust this technology is still a huge barrier to overcome. The key question people ask is, “Is it safe?” I understand why. It’s still alien. When I first experienced automatic braking on a new car launch, the engineer sitting with me told me to drive at another parked car and not to touch the brakes. It was very difficult to do the first time, but after a while, it felt totally natural. It just takes time.

Safety to be a big game-changer

There is technology that will dispel such safety fears, with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication particularly lauded. This feature will enable cars to share information with each other, such as their speed and location, allowing each car’s system to identify risky situations.

As it develops, V2V will eventually include automatic interventions using steering and brakes, as well as ‘over the horizon’ features whereby drivers will receive a warning of a possible hazard.

The American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) thinks V2V is so crucial to safety that it is pushing hard for laws to make it mandatory on all new cars sold in America. For older vehicles, the NHTSA says smartphones could be used to enable V2V.

A roadmap to a connected future

In the near future, expect connectivity to be a standard feature, with cars not only connecting drivers and passengers to one another, but also to the cities they move around in. This smart way of travelling will seem normal. Whether it’s more efficient journeys or more relaxed and entertaining ones, a safer, more enjoyable and technology rich way of getting around is emerging.

What we could only have dreamed of a few years ago will soon be a reality.