Automakers Looking to the Cloud to Make Cars Safer, More Connected

Automakers are looking to the “cloud” to make cars of the future more connected. Wireless access to the cloud would offer expanded data storage capabilities and allow motorists to stay connected to their homes, computers and smartphones. Cloud data storage and access could, for example, allow drivers to customize the ride and handling characteristics and climate settings instead of having to choose from a limited number of manufacturer-specified modes or settings.

Ford Motor Company’s chief technical officer Paul Mascarenas said, “Having to carry all that memory in the vehicle wouldn’t be practical.”

Ford demonstrated the potential of cloud-based technology with its Evos plug-in hybrid concept car at last month’s Frankfurt auto show. Mascarenas said the Evos incorporates technologies that are already in use as well as some that are still in development.

“The cloud exists. All these technologies exist,” said Mascarenas. “It’s not like we have to invent this. It’s already here.”

Most automakers agree, however, that it may take up to five years before they’re able to take full advantage of the cloud’s capabilities.

Mascarenas said a car equipped with a GPS system wirelessly connected to the cloud would be able to adjust steering, braking and suspension characteristics to match road conditions in real time because it “always knows where it is, and always knows what’s ahead.”

Ford is also exploring ways the cloud might help reduce safety threats. By embedding a cloud-connected heart rate monitor in the driver’s seat, Ford is exploring ways to incorporate the human element. For example, the vehicle could automatically disable the cell phone and extraneous gauges if data from the heart rate monitor, GPS and onboard computer indicated that the driver was driving too fast for the current road conditions.

General Motors Company and Toyota Motor Sales USA are also developing similar Internet-based capabilities.

GM recently unveiled its CUE touch screen system which minimizes instrument clutter by combining multiple radio and entertainment functions into just four touch buttons. The CUE system can also control up to 10 Bluetooth-enabled devices.

Toyota’s vice president of advanced technology Jon Bucci said the company is developing vehicle-to-road and vehicle-to-vehicle applications. He said he is cautious about allowing such applications to dictate a vehicle’s driving characteristics. “If it’s something that’s mission-critical,” said Bucci, “that’s a lot different, that’s more onerous, more intrusive,”

J.D. Power vice president of global vehicle research David Sargent said, “The key is, everything has to be intuitive. A: it has to function as designed. B: it has to be simple.”

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