What Will the Car Connect To?

In a world dominated by mobile it′s impossible not to be connected at all times. We seem to live off of those few minutes before a meeting starts to text, call, and consume away. We want more. We need more. But when do we have time? As a Los Angeles driver I could tell you time stands still during that 35 mile, 2 hour commute with nothing to listen to but the radio and your thoughts. Introduce the Connected Car. What will it connect to? You name it; mobile devices, the Internet, and eventually, the electric grid.

Mobile Devices:
I cant begin to tell you how many drivers I have noticed texting away while racing down the freeway at 70 miles an hour. Now I cant say I havent sent out my fair share of texts while driving, but for the first time, I have felt how dangerous it could actually be. Let me add some perspective. Are you ready? The average human walks at a rate of 4 feet per second. Pretty quick right? On the freeway, following a speed limit of 65 mph, drivers are flying at a rate of 95 feet per second. Take a minute to remember all of those slips, trips, and bumps we have all had while walking and texting on our phone. Imagine what could happen at 21 times the speed in a 4000lb death trap. Savvy?

Because safety is the number one concern on the road, the mobile device will be the most crucial piece for automakers to integrate. We are already seeing products in the market like Fords MyFord Touch with over 10,000 voice commands, audible text messages, and hands free music search. Ford did a great job integrating Microsoft Sync Technology. Hint hint automakers, dont rely on your own engineering staff to create something they never have, let the experts like Microsoft and Nuance figure out voice while you worry about system architecture, APIs, and most importantly user interface.

The Internet: :
Welcome to a new marketplace, developers wanted. Apps, very quickly, will infiltrate your in-car infotainment. We′re already getting a peek with the Mini Cooper′s integration of applications like Mog. Next will come content providers for audio books and podcasts to help us alleviate the pain of commuting. Eventually, though, a whole new genre of smart applications will take shape, built specially for the car. Imagine telling your car you are driving to Las Vegas and on the way you want to eat, shop, and fill up gas or charge your electric vehicle. Your smart car could plan the whole trip curating food and shopping favorites, making reservations via Open Table, all while keeping track of when a fill up or charge is needed. Apps like this will definitely pave the way into the sustainable, iRobot future of smart highways (without the cost of major infrastructure) and self-driven vehicles. Sure existing smart phones could accomplish a similar feat but the connected car will need to be the host for this environment because as it evolves it will become a part of the city Tony Stark′s father once dreamed of.

OnStar, one of the industry leaders, has already begun their approach to the internet with deep integration into the connected car. Two products that I find to be of significant value are Automatic Crash Response and MyLink. Via smart apps and the Internet, OnStar is really showing the potential that modern technology has to offer. Add the possibility of an automated message to a loved one that you were in an accident, along with which hospital you are being taken to and you can see that when Chris Dixon, Co-Founder and CEO of Hunch, said that “Predicting the future of the Internet is easy: anything it hasn’t yet dramatically transformed, it will.” He was not kidding.

The Electric Grid:
Utilities all around the world are preparing for the electric vehicle (EV) impact. Whether we like it or not, the technology will be sticking around. Southern California Edison is a great example of a utility who has put a large effort into preparing themselves and customers for bringing home an EV. Why so much effort? Car companies campaigning their zero emission vehicles are doing a great job at making it seem easy to come home and simply plug in the EV. Well, it′s not. Charging a mid-sized electric vehicle, like the Nissan Leaf, consumes the same amount of power as an entire home does on a peak summer day. Working at a utility, I could tell you that this is going to cause critical infrastructure issues all the way up from distribution to transmission. This is the reason utilities such as SCE are doing their best to prepare for the loading issues that are sure to come.

Currently there are many different solutions being worked on. The real critical piece will be communicating to vehicles directly to charge only when electrical load is at a minimum (11pm to 5am). The piece that is unknown is how utilities will be communicating to the vehicles. I am sure many are aware of the Smart Meters currently being installed onto homes. Energy Management Systems, like Control4′s, will be able to communicate to these meters and bring intelligence to the consumer. This will give the ability for utilities to send out pricing signals and engage customers in demand response programs including EV charging. The vehicle, through some means of communication like Wi-Fi, Zigbee, PLC, etc., will be able to receive control signals of when and when not to charge. The tough part will be satisfying standards and regulatory concerns around the concept. It may eventually turn to third party companies using the Internet to communicate to the vehicle, bypassing direct relationships with utilities. I can′t say for certain what the future will hold, but I will say it is going to be very important for automakers, utilities, and third-party vendors to start working together and sharing knowledge.

The Elephant in the Room:
Security! Words cannot express the importance of this issue. Security will need to be integrated into the building blocks of the connected car. This will be the piece that is going to slow down the industry moving forward. (Technically it is slowing down every industry, but that’s neither here nor there). To give a quick example; a friend of mine lost his key miles from home. He drives a Lexus IS250 with the new intelligent key that stays in your pocket. He called AAA, but thought he would be out of luck and drive home to get the spare key. Oddly enough the tow truck driver came equipped with a spare Lexus intelligent key. He simply programmed the key on the spot and handed my friend a brand new key.

Could you imagine that power? It makes the movie Gone In 60 Seconds seem like a joke. In 10 years, we may all have the Internet connected to the car. Could you imagine someone hacking in and being able to control freeways and cause catastrophic accidents all over the world? Hacking into bank accounts is one thing, but endangering innocent lives should be of top concern. I hope automakers question their own abilities and have hack-a-thons allowing individuals every attempt to break into that car before it is released into the hands of the public. It is safe to say that lawyers will be ready.

Automakers really have their work cut out, but it is definitely time for change in this industry. It will be interesting to watch how they change their business model as technology advances. Should automakers become a service industry? Currently once the car is purchased the hope is that customers will return and pay extra money to mechanically service the vehicle. But what about the OnStar model and building apps? The OnStar service definitely needs a competitor, so why not the people who made the car themselves? Theoretically automakers only need to worry about creating a great hardware product, like Apple, and let third party developers do the rest of the work. No need for complicated navigation systems and terrible user interfaces. Let users decide what app suits them and make some dollars off their purchase. Give a break on the total cost of the car and sign them up for an amazing service they cannot live without. Does this mean Apple or Google are already approaching them with an OS? Anything is possible. Right now automakers should concentrate on building well tested hardware products, APIs, and strategic partnerships and ventures like BMW and MyCityWay.

The future will be interesting. Perhaps hydrogen powered cars that will produce energy to the electric grid? GM seems to think it’s a possibility.

Jul 2011


COMMENTS 25 Comments

25 Responses to “What Will the Car Connect To?”

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    Fascinating! Thank you for the introduction to the Connected Car, Raj!

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  21. Even with the growth of the exciting technologies described above, issues remain. One of the biggest concerns is connectivity: While data networks are quite fast in urban areas, some rural locales are still far behind the curve. This is a problem for the connected car, as many in-vehicle features depend on a steady Internet connection.

  22. Connection Keeps Cars Current — AutomaticallyAnother quandary for automakers is how to stay current with consumer electronics. A technology lag time has long been the Achilles heel for OEMs since vehicle production cycles are measured in years, whereas in consumer electronics it’s measured in months. The connected car could also solve this problem.

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