While driving my daughter to yet another event in her hectic social calendar last weekend, I remarked that I was looking forward to the time when she would ferry me around instead. Then I realised that when she was old enough to drive me around (seven years and counting), driving would be completely different from how it is now.
I told her she would be able to ask the car anything and it would have the answer, and in many cases it would have known what you were going to ask even before you did.
We went on to discuss driverless cars and automatic braking, before she feigned sleep. But only after we had talked about the Chinese engineers who had just announced a system which allowed you to control a car simply by the power of thought.
The system can read brain signals and move the car accordingly. My daughter’s concern that it would automatically drive into an Indian restaurant whenever I saw one was very real, but the system is advanced enough to recognise an impulse versus a sense of purpose.
But while the ‘thought car’ is some way off from the forecourts of your local dealership, ‘the connected car’ is already a reality and one whose development is accelerating rapidly. A connected car is equipped with internet access and a Wi-Fi network, which allows the car to share internet access with other devices inside the vehicle and out.
The car is where we spend the most time, other than at home and at work, making the potential opportunity here massive. That’s why it’s become such an important component in the Internet of Things (IoT), the network of physical objects embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity which enables them to collect and exchange data.
Connectivity is great for your mobile phone apps but arguably even better for what goes on under the bonnet.
Imagine your garage is a docking station for your car, so overnight your car wakes up and syncs with the latest software update via the Wi-Fi, just like all your other mobile devices. Just imagine how much more convenient it would be to fix software-based technical issues remotely via an update, rather than the current logistical nightmare a recall brings.
Speaking recently with one of the most experienced car reviewers in the UK (not the violent one), I asked what had been his favourite car to review in 2015. Without hesitation, he shot back “The Vauxhall Astra”. After I had clambered back on to my chair, I asked him why. The simple answer was technology.
The Astra is fitted with OnStar, General Motors’ connected car technology, featuring a 24/7 call centre which uses your connectivity to supply a bewildering array of services. With 75 percent of global GM vehicles estimated to have OnStar connectivity by 2020, the connected car market is going to be enormous.
There are real safety benefits too. Connected car technology links to the car’s on-board computer to automatically contact the call centre if the vehicle is in an accident that triggers the airbags. Occupants’ relatives are automatically contacted, while the emergency services are also called and sent details of the car’s location and severity of the incident.
When linked with telematics technology, the so-called ‘black boxes’ that record vehicle activity, the connected car suddenly has very real financial implications. Octo Telematics, the global telematics leader, recently announced a partnership with Onstar to allow the development of advanced usage-based insurance (UBI) scoring services, monitoring driver behaviour, with their consent, for cheaper insurance.
Consent is a real issue here. There is a lively debate about whether the connected car is Big Brother or Guardian Angel. The answer depends on how much information you want to share and with whom you want to share it. Clearly the benefits have to outweigh the downside for subscribers to make it a success. Privacy concerns will persist and will need to be addressed head on by service providers.
But if we can measure everything about our driving, and we’re willing to share this information with others, then surely it’s a short stop from there to having a comprehensive personal risk profile and payment plan.
U.S. firm Skymeter is working on this right now with its Financial GPS solution. Its ultimate goal is for consumers to get one bill at the end of the month for every car-related cost: their parking, their insurance, their lease, their tolls, even full repairs coverage. According to Skymeter, everything would be paid automatically per minute or per mile, based on your actual driving and parking. Drivers could then control their costs and not driving for a week would save money on their lease and insurance.
There are security benefits too. Stolen cars can be tracked with the ability for the police to slow the vehicle remotely. Owners will also be able to check if their car is locked and lock it when they are abroad.
But when you put your car online, you can have other security concerns. Hackers have been testing the limits of connected car security for some time, occasionally finding gaping holes in the protection. Thankfully, they have been sharing these with automakers and regulators, leading to legislation in the U.S. on minimum encryption standards.
But for me, the beauty of the connected car lies in having an advisor on hand 24/7. They know who you are, where you are and what you like, all because of the connectivity. They will tell me where my nearest curry house is, what the reviews are like and how long it will take me to get there. And to top it all off, if I think I might need to call it a day after my visit, they will book me a hotel room locally in advance.
Now, that’s what I call connected.
Hudson Sandler represents Octo Telematics in their corporate communications.