Connected Cars: An Era Of Digital Innovation In Personal Mobility

At the on-going Consumer Electronics Show 2016 in Las Vegas, global automakers and component manufacturers are busy taking a dig into the future of mobility by displaying a variety of connected technologies and research models. For instance, BMW has presented intelligent Open Mobility Cloud that connects networked systems such as a car and a smart home, along with BMW Connected (prototype of a personalised digital assistant for individual mobility) and BMW i Vision Future Interaction – Concept Car with networked cockpit and the user interface of the future. Audi’s e-tron quattro concept has pledged for electrification, digitalization and piloted driving. VW has presented a zero-emission BUDD-e van concept with full connectivity.

Apparently, the idea of a “connected car”, along with electrification and autonomous driving, is revolutionising the entire automotive ecosystem. Experts predict this to be a ‘disruptive technology’ that will upend traditional auto industry structures, usher in new business models, and change the nature of the car business.

What is a “Connected Car”?

In recent times, we’ve heard a lot about the so-called Internet of Things. It’s nothing unpredictably new – the idea that every objects that we use ought to be internet-connected, lap up data and share it to each other, and sensing our needs much before we can. Take for an instance your smart watch; the way it hooks up with your smart phones, tablets, or wifi is simply cool. But what we are talking about here isn’t really a device you can carry or install at your smart home; it’s a car that can connect with all other devices or cloud servers. In other words, connected car is designed with direct access to the Internet, enabling automated links to all other connected objects, including smartphones, tracking devices, traffic lights, other motor vehicles, cloud systems, and even home appliances. What is interesting here is that the automobile is rapidly becoming a “thing” in the Internet of Things.

Future Mobility: A car-powered connected lifestyle is imminent

And the aforesaid idea is being worked out in millions of ways and for various applications; it’s pretty much sure that a car owner will never be off the grid considering the way every major car firms are moving ahead with their unique innovations. Even mass-market auto makers are trying to incorporate basic digital capabilities on a cost-effective basis. In fact, many new cars, at least in Western countries, are already equipped with sensors and are connected to highspeed wireless networks. They share loads of valuable data and facilitate a wide range of digital and customer services like engine diagnosis or locating vehicles.

Functional areas of Connected Cars

The 2015 annual Connected Car Study* conducted by Strategy&, the strategy consulting team at PwC, observes digital innovation in connected cars continue to centre on seven functional areas as follows:

#1. Autonomous driving: Piloted driving abilities, either partial or full, like self-parking cars, motorway assistance, and the transportation of goods by trucks on well-delineated routes.

#2. Safety: The ability to warn the driver of road problems and automatically sense and prevent potential collisions. Examples include danger warning signals, lane assist, emergency braking and call functions.

#3. Entertainment: Technologies that provide music and video to occupants like smartphone interfaces, Wi-Fi or LAN hotspots, access to social networks, and the “mobile office.”

#4. Well-being: Optimization of the driver’s health and competence through technologies like electronic alerts that detect or mitigate fatigue, and other forms of individual assistance like ‘Attention Assist’ feature in the Mercedes E-Class.

#5. Vehicle management:
Support for minimizing operating cost and increasing comfort. For instance, remote control features, displays of service and vehicle status, transmittal of traffic and navigation data, and fleet management services for commercial operators.

#6. Mobility management: Guidance on faster, safer, economical, and fuel-efficient driving using data collected from vehicle. Other examples include real-time traffic information displays, displays of repair and service related information, and the transfer of usage data to OEMs and other agencies.

#7. Home integration: Links to homes, offices, and other buildings, for instance the integration of the cars into home alarms or energy monitoring systems.

The aforementioned study titled “Connected Car Study 2015: Racing Ahead With Autonomous Cars and Digital Innovation”* expects connected car technologies to generate €40.3 billion in end-customer spending
in 2016, with safety and autonomous driving accounting for about 61 percent of the whole. It also predicts the annual sales of connected car technologies tripling to €122.6 billion by 2021.

In 2015, Volkswagen and Daimler led the industry in this regard with high levels of innovation in infotainment systems and safety-assistance technologies. Auto makers are now increasingly seen as providers of mobility services rather than simply as product suppliers, opening up new businesses and revenue streams especially in key areas like entertainment, commerce, and vehicle management. In Europe, EU has mandated emergency calling technology (eCall) in all new cars by 2018 that can automatically alert authorities in case of an accident and send data about the collision. As eCall technology evolves in time, it can provide a platform for a wide range of additional digital services.

Of course, it’s not only carmakers (OEMs) who are tapping the digital opportunity. We have seen tech firms like Google and Apple are fast developing in connected and autonomous car market. Component suppliers such as
Valeo, Denso, Continental, QNX Software Systems (subsidiary of Blackberry), etc. have presented their products at the ongoing CES 2016. Partnerships between OEMs and suppliers and service providers are also increasingly found – take for instance ties like Ford and Amazon, Volvo and Microsoft, Mercedes-Benz and Nest (owned by Google), etc.

However, concerns on data security remains to be a critical issue to the development on connected cars. How protected are our data from unscrupulous sharing and usage? Security concerns may undermine consumer’s trust on connected car technologies in the days to come, thanks to the vulnerability of internet-connected cars to hacking. OEMs and other stake holders involved in the development need to make connected cars far more reliable by secure designs and security measures.

Also Read: Self-Driving Cars: Better than you, but what’s the hold up?

So, in the years to come, a car-powered connected lifestyle is imminent. You can monitor your kids at home on the way from office inside your car, or do some housekeeping works like turning on lights or air-conditioner. Your house and your cars may not remain as separated worlds as they are now. Connected car techs may become useful, intuitive, and equally empowering.

Photos Credit: Govtech, Telematicswire, Ericsson

Reference: Connected Car Study 2015: Racing Ahead With Autonomous Cars and Digital Innovation by Strategy&, PwC | * Connected Car Study 2015 as quoted in Auto Tech Review, December 2015.

Dhiyanesh Ravichandran

Editorial consultant (Automotive and Technology), academic, and blogger based in India. He can be reached at

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