Get Used to it: The ‘Smart’ Car Will Get Smarter

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 {complink 9077|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?

13 comments on “Get Used to it: The ‘Smart’ Car Will Get Smarter

  1. Ariella
    March 10, 2011

    Really, distracted driving is no joke.  It's beyond my comprenesion how anyone thinks it is possible to text while driving, but people do, sometimes with disasterous consequences. Outfiting a car to further  tempt drivers into engaging in such activities is not really smart.


  2. Wale Bakare
    March 10, 2011

    Actually vehicle infotainment technology is not meant for driver's enjoyment only but rather for passengers. Automotive industries are more concern on the safety of driving side:

    1 – How reliable can mechantronic functioning well to the optimum capacity to ensure good communication between gear box and tire for instance.

    2 – How reliable are ECUs – Sensing, microcontrollers and other electronics?

    3 – What OS will be best suitable to handle the multitasking, contexting switching and parallel communications?

    I believe OEMs are capable of handling all these complexities so also car makers will be bracing up for avalanche of customer service requests to deal with.





  3. jbond
    March 10, 2011

    As nice as some of these gadgets are, ultimately they are still distracting. Even if your passengers are viewing movies or talking on phones, this all affects the driver. The key focus should be on safety and reliability. The only downside to all of these enhanced features is when they have faults. You either have to make trips to the dealers, who need to have increased electronics and staffing, or you ignore the alarms. Of course if you choose to ignore the problem because you might not have the money, then your great safety features are of no use. 

  4. DataCrunch
    March 10, 2011

    Maybe we will be offered cars for free on day if we allow ads to pop up on screens throughout the car.  LOL.

  5. itguyphil
    March 10, 2011

    Even better, rotating ads that are outside of the car. It's not jsut for you… but to influence everyone around you.

  6. Mr. Roques
    March 10, 2011

    haha! That'll be the day!

    I'm not that concerned about smart cars that offer entertainment and other “value added” services… but what about smart cars that handle steering, and other essential elements of a car?

  7. Parser
    March 10, 2011

    Quite a few postings are focusing on what we know and how that can be applied to cars. This makes things funny. The idea of infotainment is only flashy and will not lead us to a fascination. We have the technology and we have to put together such a way that it is innovative, useful and safe. Having real time weather, road conditions, re-routing to lower congestions are the necessary things for the driver. Accident notification is a very good idea too. All these features need to be packaged and presented to the driver in very simple concise manner. I am not going to unveil new ideas here, because I don’t have them. We need engineers who look at the same thing and see it out of the box, just like Apple did with the first iPhone. They used technology, which was known to all cell phone manufactures and created new entity. Smart cars are going in the right direction and someone will find the right mixture of features by braking stereotypes and creating new meanings. 

  8. Parser
    March 10, 2011

    ECUs and sensing are very reliable and a lot of work is done to assure that.

    Typically ECUs do not use OS, but embedded software without operating system. Multitasking is achieved by interrupts when processor executes different part of a program not accessible without interrupts. The scheme is to assure safety since qualifying an operating system is very challenging process. There are some RTOS (Real Time Operating Systems), which are qualified for safety but their cost is very high. 

  9. Jennifer Baljko
    March 11, 2011

    It's always fun to see how the conversation revolves here, going from funny to more serious.

    On the funny (or perhaps not so funny) side, rotating pop up ads may not be far off…. look around the highway and you'll already see some strangely colored cars with also sorts of banner ads plastered around them. Maybe we'll start seeing cars splayed with multiple sponsor and brand names, like the professional race cars. Then again, many of use wouldn't even notice because we're conditioned now to not see/hear the marketing noise.

    Speaking of race cars, they also provide an incredible example of what's possible down the road for the more normal lot of commuters and roadies. The Formula 1 cars  are pure electronics genius. I'm a not a race car fan necessarily, but I do stand in awe when I see them move around a track at lighting speed, and am constantly shocked to see the drivers walk away from horrible crashes. If OEMs can figure out how to  “dumb” down some of that very sophisticated technology to the point where it's both cost-effective to broadly roll-out and can be easily managed by the user, then they'll be adding true value in multiple ways, but primarily on the safety side.

    That said, I'm also concerned that too much reliance on embedded technology that sees, hears and senses everything that's going on around us on the road, while make drivers lazy. If we assume the smart car will save us from oursleves, then we're certainly going the wrong direction.

    Oh, BTW, take a looks at this video to see how electronics are used in F1 cars. It's a couple years old, but you get the idea:

  10. Ariella
    March 11, 2011

    Mr. Roques, good point, we have to not lose sight of the essential function of the car, which is the key to its safety.  As for weather and road updates, that is usually what radio stations cover.  It should be possible to set up a radio station to pick up on local signals that focus on that particular area –even when it is not mentioned on the regular news.  Some places already offer that. I've seen signs that say “tune your radio to —” and in the tunnel from NJ, broadcasts from the Port Authority broke into the regular radio broadcasts. 

  11. Ariella
    March 11, 2011

    Taxi cabs in New York have ad displays that could handle rotating ads. As for individuals, some drivers get paid for wrapping their cars in signs that promote certain business, and some do it to promote their own business, though now it's already passe:

    'Paid to drive' primetime

    Paid-to-drive programs were very popular five to 10 years ago. Gas was cheaper, and people were spending more time on the road. There were plenty of Web sites devoted to these programs, including many fee-charging sites that acted as a middleman and promised to connect willing drivers with companies seeking vehicles for their ads.

    Then, fuel prices spiked and people weren't spending as much time in their cars, Clarke says. At the same time, online advertising became the rage.

    Read more: Make money by simply driving your car

  12. Barbara Jorgensen
    March 11, 2011

    Hi Jenn–thanks for the follow-up! I was attributing my attitude to my age…:-) I've never managed to master the cell-phone-while-driving thing and it's now illegal to text (DUH!) while driving in Massachusetts (did we really need a law for that?) I'm not sure the best electronics will ever offset distracted driving. Convenience is a great thing, but you are right–some things just don't belong in a car.

  13. Mr. Roques
    March 23, 2011

    I love location-based services… and even more when they have to do with my car (GPS is probably the most common LBS, but as you mention, weather and traffic are the clear followers). 

    Maybe someday we'll know who is in front of us and we can “BUZZ” them when they are still in a green light. That'll be the day! 

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