This article was written by John Coutts and published in the Innovations magazine #5.
Connecting cars to data networks promises to revolutionise road travel. But could it bring new dangers as well?
If the car you drive isn’t connected yet, chances are it soon will be. Technology analysts Gartner claim that one in every five cars – a quarter of a billion vehicles – will have some form of wireless network connection by 2020.
Connected cars are now one of the fastest growing manifestations of the Internet of Things (IoT). The fusion of cars, communications and data promises dramatic improvements in safety, journey times and environmental performance – paving the way for smart cities, intelligent transport systems and ultimately, driverless vehicles.
As with any disruptive technology, separating the hype from the reality is not always easy. Pivotal questions include how connectivity should be provided for connected cars and who should provide it. This is a commercially complex area, particularly for car makers.
“In the market right now, you’re talking about using narrowband connectivity for non-critical systems like phone calls and radio, and that’s about it,” says Joel Grundy, head of strategic growth opportunities in research, technical and innovation (RTI) at Thales.
Currently, built-in connected car services – such as navigation tools and stolen vehicle tracking – depend on a mobile internet connection. This is exactly the same type of connection already being used by smartphones.
But the mobile internet is too slow for the safety critical applications envisaged for the near future, such as collision warnings and traffic control. These depend on cars “talking” to other vehicles and infrastructure in real time. Short-range wireless data transceivers would be
used to provide lightning-fast vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications.
While the car industry and government agencies are actively pursuing this technology, the costs and complexity of implementation mean that V2V and V2I are not expected to enter the mainstream for at least five years.
“What’s interesting is the immaturity of car connectivity,” observes Grundy. “If you compare cars to aircraft, for example, there’s a huge capability gap. An aircraft has multiple sets of communications systems: satcoms, radio with high levels of redundancy, cellular, data streaming and voice streaming. It’s a rich picture of connectivity. That’s not the case with cars.”
The lack of a stable business model for connectivity further complicates matters. For car makers, the prize is capturing recurring revenues through connectivity built-in to vehicles. Car buyers, though, are reluctant to be tied to manufacturers in this way. This is forcing car makers to make provision for “bring your own device” (BYOD) connectivity, with in-car systems piggybacking off of users’ smartphones.