Gizmos & Gadgets: The Connected Car


No doubt you have heard about the various efforts underway to develop a fully autonomous or driverless car.  Seems everybody from the nation’s automakers to Google and even Apple have efforts underway to develop a vehicle brimming with that level of technology.  While that is all well and good, what you might not realize is that there is a battle for “dashboard space” in your vehicle.

Starting with the lowly AM radio of the 1950’s and 1960’s, entertainment in our vehicles has evolved from music and news to the addition of the FM band in the 1970’s, to DVD players in the late 1990’s, to the information and entertainments systems of today – generally now referred to as “infotainment systems.”  You would think that the evolution has pretty much played out by now, that isn’t the case.

In the last five years, both Google and Apple have been waging war – competing to earn the right to become the underlying system interface with you and the world – inside your car.   Working directly with the automakers, the first fruits of these efforts have been the integration of your iPhone with your audio system – allowing you to open files and hear music from your iPhone/iPod playlists through the vehicle’s sound system.  Continued efforts by the technology titans have resulted in phone apps that allow you to control vehicle functions remotely – i.e. lock and unlock the car, start the vehicle and even receive reports about the condition of various vehicle subsystems in your car.

This next wave of advanced technology is called the “Connected Car”.  (Interestingly enough, it’s also a whistle stop on the way to the automated car). A connected car is a car (and/or pickup truck, SUV or even minivan) that is equipped with Internet access, and usually also with a wireless local area network (Wi-Fi).  This allows the car to share internet access with other devices both inside as well as outside the vehicle. Often, the car is also outfitted with special technologies that tap into the internet or wireless LAN and provide additional benefits to the driver. Examples include: automatic notification of crashes, notification of speeding and safety alerts.

Typically, a connected car made after 2010 has a head-unit, in car entertainment unit, in-dash system with a screen from which the operations of the connections can be seen or managed by the driver. Types of functions that can be made include music/audio playing, smartphone apps, navigation, roadside assistance, voice commands, contextual help/offers, parking apps, engine controls and car diagnosis.

The Los Angeles Auto Show launched the Connected Car Expo on November 19–21, 2013 serving as an open forum, providing attendees with access to the key players, influencers and top media constructing the future of the connected car, to address the issues companies are facing in this evolving market.

On January 6, 2014, Google announced the formation of the Open Automotive Alliance (OAA) a global alliance of technology and auto industry leaders committed to bringing the Android platform to cars starting in 2014. The OAA includes Audi, GM, Google, Honda, Hyundai and Nvidia.

On March 3, 2014, Apple announced a new system to connect iPhone 5/5c/5S to car infotainment units using iOS 7 to cars via a Lightning connector, called CarPlay

Android Auto was announced on June 25, 2014 to provide a way for Android smartphones to connect to car infotainment systems.

Increasingly, Connected Cars (and especially electric cars) are taking advantage of the rise of smartphones, and apps are available to interact with the car from any distance. Despite various market drivers there are also barriers that have prevented the ultimate breakthrough of the connected car in the past few years. One of these is the fact that customers are reluctant to pay the extra costs associated with embedded connectivity and instead use their smartphones as solution for their in-car connectivity needs. Because this barrier is likely to continue, at least in the short-term, car manufacturers are turning more to smartphone integration in an effort to satisfy consumer demand for connectivity.

Ken Chester, Jr. is President & CEO of Motor News Media Corporation – an automotive news service founded in 1989 as The AutoBuyer Plus Corporation. Featured on numerous television and radio programs, viewers, listeners and readers alike relate to Ken's friendly manner and wealth of information about the many vehicles currently for sale in today's complex automotive marketplace.

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