The Connected Future Is Now

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Mobile Intelligence, Connected Cars

Transportation systems have rapidly evolved with smart technology. Similar to the way phones evolved into smartphones, cars are rapidly becoming “connected cars.”

Just as we expect our devices to serve as an intelligent compass leading us through everyday life, connected cars are becoming both an extension of the functionality of smartphones and a product for enriching our lives.

To help drivers safely focus on the road while still taking advantage of their smartphones, Apple’s iOS in Car lets drivers integrate their devices with their in-dash systems, leveraging the car’s built-in display and controls. Drivers can take a call, change the music,or navigate through the car’s in-dash system rather than fumble with their mobile phones.

The rapid evolution of smartphones and tablets has put a great deal of pressure on automotive companies to update their infotainment systems. To this end, Google recently launched the Open Automotive Alliance, a collaboration between the technology giant and automotive companies Audi, Honda, Hyundai, and GM, to customize Google’s popular mobile operating system for vehicles.

Whether it’s keeping drivers hands off their phones or simply modernizing our dashboards, our roads become safer when our interactions with technology are considered. Carmakers are also increasing safety by using sensors to monitor the biometrics of drivers. Manufacturers are already testing technology that can feed a driver’s heart rate, blood pressure, and other biometric responses into the car’s computers to determine when drivers are too drowsy or overwhelmed to operate the vehicle. Ford’s SYNC even alerts diabetics to low glucose levels through audio alerts and notifies people with allergies when they drive through locations with a high index level of pollen.

This new found ability for cars to connect with the surroundings in real time is fundamentally changing how we get around. For instance, when a driver with a dash-mounted smartphone running SignalGuru approaches an intersection, the camera can detect when the signal is going to change and tell the driver exactly how fast to drive to hit the next green light using the least amount of gas.

With ridesharing services like Uber, Hailo, Sidecar, and Lyft, drivers use their mobile phones to connect themselves to a network of passengers in need of a ride. After opening up any one of these apps and requesting a ride, passengers alert drivers to their exact location, creating a more efficient and cost effective system than existing taxi services.

Rich analytics about how the vehicle is driven can also be uploaded and viewed on mobile devices through dongles like Automatic or Dash, which plug into a car’s diagnostic system under the dashboard. These insights help people learn more about their driving behavior and can prove hugely beneficial for anyone relying on ridesharing networks as a way of subsidizing his or her income.

MetroMile provides a similar plugin device, but rewards drivers with more than just driving statistics. MetroMile sells insurance to drivers based on the number of miles the owner actually drives rather than the one-size-fits-all approach of traditional insurance companies.

In recent years, automakers have leveraged the abundance of new sensors to introduce semi-autonomous functions such as self-parking, lane-departure warnings, and adaptive cruise control. With outward-facing cameras and robust computer intelligence, the car is getting smarter, more self-sufficient, and, most importantly, more aware of its surroundings. The next step is introducing fully autonomous vehicles that operate independently and communicate with other vehicles.

Volvo recently completed the first public trial of its SARTRE Project, which allows vehicles to communicate with each other to form road trains behind a lead vehicle operated by a professional driver. This trial highlights a key challenge for the auto industry: before cars can become fully autonomous, there will be a transitional phase where old and new technology will have to work together. As such, carmakers have introduced autonomous technology carefully, aware that having too little to worry about behind the wheel can be just as dangerous as having too many distractions. Until we have completely autonomous vehicles, we need technology that enhances drivers’ abilities rather than makes those abilities obsolete.

Auto manufacturers are making strides in the leap between semi-autonomous vehicles and completely autonomous vehicles. Google is at the forefront of consumer consciousness in the autonomous vehicle space, with dozens of its driverless cars having racked up over 300,000 miles in the past two years. But automakers such as Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Audi, and General Motors are all making steady progress in the field. Of all the automakers, Volvo’s “Drive Me” project is the most aggressive yet, with the Swedish company planning to put 100 autonomous cars onto the roads of Gothenburg in 2017.

–JS & AW.