Although many people (myself included) may long for the good old days when cars were just cars, and phones were just phones, there are many others and companies who want to take the industry in the completely opposite direction. Based on current trends, Barbara Jorgensen's wish for fewer electronics in her next new vehicle would only be fulfilled if she bought a horse and buggy. (See: One Car: Hold the Electronics, Please.)
Let's face it: The smart car is getting smarter, and a wide range of new technology applications being introduced by automotive OEMs and their suppliers will completely transform vehicles over the next five years. Already, in Europe, governments are requiring manufacturers to include electronics-based safety devices in all new vehicles. This is in addition to the mobile communications products and sensors that gauge such things as tire pressures, rear-view cameras, and other high-tech products automakers themselves are already designing into vehicles to distinguish their products.
The smart car is certainly evolving beyond what anyone used to ride in just a couple of decades ago. The 21st century vehicle will go well beyond a means of getting from Point A to Point B; it will become the extended hub of your entire mobile life. That’s what many exhibitors at the recent Mobile World Congress want us to understand. Apparently, every facet of life now falls into the "mobile" category, even products that have been mobile since the dawn of time when someone figured out how to attach wheels to a bar.
And how do these automotive and technology experts expect to achieve this feat? It’s not only by making fancy electronic keys, navigation systems, or back-seat entertainment units. There’s today talk of advanced operating systems with apps, wireless communication platforms, and smartphone integration. Clearly, this is not your Dad’s car. The transformation of the automotive is being pushed by components manufacturers, including semiconductor suppliers, whose products are making possible our dreams for safe and enjoyable driving.
Browsing through the GSM Association’s embedded mobile page, it’s easy to get caught up in all this "goodness." Embedding mobile connectivity (a.k.a. telematics) directly into vehicles has many benefits, according to the organization. People in the car, for instance, could be fed real-time weather and road conditions; they could locate missing and stolen vehicles; and -- get this -- they would have "on-demand videos, television, music, social networking and Internet access." Really? Isn’t that a bit distracting -- tweeting wirelessly while watching a YouTube Inc. flick and making sure you don't side-swipe the car in the next lane?
With all that "stuff," we’ll very quickly need programs like eCall to become the global norm. Using pre-installed equipment and sensors, Europe’s eCall system would automatically trigger an emergency call if the car was involved in a serious accident by routing vital information about the location and a description of the vehicle to medical response teams. The initiative is rolling out now.
Manufacturers also have a lot to gain by embedding more technology into their cars or sub-systems, according to the GSMA. They’ll have opportunities to sell ongoing services; maintain post-sale customer relationships; and have access to better information on vehicle usage and performance, which will lead to further product improvement. Maybe that means someone will soon figure out why the automatic door on Barbara's friend's car keeps randomly sliding open.
Here are some facts to keep in mind about the marriage of automotive and technology:
- Worldwide, penetration of telematics systems in vehicles will climb from less than 10 percent in 2010 to 23 percent in 2015.
- In Europe, all new cars are set to ship with embedded mobile connections, up from 2 percent in 2010, due to implementation of eCall.
- When all European cars are fitted with an automatic emergency calling system, 2,500 lives a year could be saved.
If all that wasn't enough to skew the scales, consider this: More than 60 percent of European consumers say the availability of a smartphone kit will be an important factor when deciding to buy their next car, according to a survey by consultancy SBD's Telematics and ITS Research Group.
I'm all in favor of using technology to save lives and smooth out life's bumps (intentional pun), but sometimes I think we let the technology spin us into the guard rails. I’m curious to see, though, how auto and sub-system makers respond. Will their in-car mobile connectivity integration solutions adequately feed the tech-hungry consumer and deliver this promised greatness? Or will we all be collectively smacking the dashboard when that annoying alert signal flashes incessantly, for no good reason?