This article is part of the ‘Think Further’ series sponsored by Fred Alger Management. For more ‘Think Further’ content, please visit www.thinkfurtheralger.com.
The idea behind the Internet of Things is providing connectivity to everyday items. Many of these items are things that we interact with repeatedly throughout the day. While it’s becoming common to see new items come to market ready to be connected to the Internet, collect data and be controlled remotely we are still moving through the integration process for existing items to be brought online.
One such item is the vehicles that we use to move around our environment. The vast majority of us don’t upgrade our cars every year, and the average age of cars on the road is trending upward, which means most of us will be waiting a bit longer before we slide in behind the wheel of a brand new connected car.
Connecting our vehicles to the Internet of Things can offer a fair amount of benefit if the right technology and platforms are put in place; which is why finding ways to integrate connectivity into legacy cars is a challenge worth confronting.
While auto manufacturers can outfit new cars with connectivity, computers and sensors that provide valuable, actionable data for the driver, the owners of legacy vehicles have to find ways to augment their current rides. They need devices capable of tapping into the current on board computers to capture data, they need platforms that can analyze the raw data and convert it into actionable information and they need ways to move it to the cloud so they can access it remotely.
Connectivity and capacity
The medium to connect vehicles to the Internet making them part of the Internet of Things is a fairly obvious choice. The almost ubiquitous nature of mobile networks around the world makes them ideally suited for the task. Of course mobile coverage, as wide reaching as it has become, it’s not 100%, which is why an opportunistic approach would have to be taken. Using mobile networks when coverage is available; which for most of us would be the majority of the time. Jumping on known and trusted Wi-Fi networks when possible. The last option would be buffering data when there is no network available, sending the data later when a connection can be established.
Providing connectivity to legacy vehicles in this way could be established in a few different ways. The primary option would be to embed a SIM card in the device being used to capture the raw data from the vehicle so it could connect directly to mobile networks when they are available. This would require a mobile data service plan of some sort, but since the amount of data would be relatively small the cost would be low and the capacity for use cases such as this could be moved to a legacy 2G or 3G mobile network as to not impact capacity on more advanced networks used for handsets and other devices requiring more bandwidth.
The second option would be to embed Bluetooth technology into such devices and pair them to the drivers’ smartphone to take advantage of the existing data plan. This solution would likely provide a cheaper alternative and would make it easier to identify different drivers depending on which phone was used. But, it would not have the benefit of offloading capacity from the handset network. This model would also be dependent on the driver having his or her own smartphone, having Bluetooth activated and having to ensure it is paired with the device.
Where Mobile Comes into Play
Though the drivers smartphone might not be the ideal choice to provide connectivity for a connected vehicle they do have a role to play, and an important one at that. Like many devices that fall under the Internet of Things umbrella there is not always a way to directly interact with them. The devices being used to make a legacy car a connected car fall into the same category. The device likely won’t have any physical output or input method; this is where the smartphone comes into play.
In much the same way the smartphone enables us to interact with other smart devices it will likely take on the form of the user interface for a car that has been augmented with connected technology.
In many ways the smartphone is the perfect choice to act as the user interface for the Internet of Things. It’s a device that is common and one that the user is familiar with. In most cases the interactions with the smartphone are intuitive and become second nature to the user.
Familiarity and pervasiveness are not the only reasons that a smartphone is the perfect fit to drive the user experience for a connected vehicle. Having the user interface based on a smartphone makes it easy and convenient to communicate with the user.
Wearables Are a Nice Fit
One of the great aspects about the Internet of Things is that interactions are not limited to a single device and a human. A key feature being that multiple devices can work in concert to improve the user experience. To this end wearable technology seems to be the best fit to further augment the connected car experience.
It is easy enough to start simple, an RFID or power harvesting NFC chip embedded in a ring or smart watch to unlock or start a car. That technology is already well developed, easy enough to implement in a vehicle and serves to accomplish a well-defined function. Replacing a traditional key for something smaller and more functional would be a welcome benefit for most, and if paired with a second factor authentication like some biometric marker could add another layer of security.
But there is no reason to stop at simple wearables when talking about interactions with the connected vehicle. Wearables that offer augmented reality could improve the drivers experience but also their ability to operate the vehicle safely. By displaying dash information directly in front of the driver preventing them from having to take their eyes off the road. There is no need to stop at displaying dash info though. Augmented reality could also take up the role of providing additional safety information about things like road conditions and weather to help the driver make better decisions in real time.
The Smart City
Our cars are just part of the equation, and connecting them another. Much in the same way we can count on interactions with other tech like smartphones and wearables to enhance the experience we can also look forward to our vehicles interacting with the very environments we use them to traverse.
The visions of smart cities are far and wide, everything from how buildings are powered to the way trash is collected and streets are cleaned falls under this umbrella. But lets think how our cars interact with the smart city of the future.
In a truly smart city our cars will talk to each other as well as the roads, crosswalks, tollways and parking structures. Vehicles will communicate with each other, knowing how far they are and keeping a safe distance while staying informed of communicating traffic patterns, as they are experienced in real time. Sensors in the road will feed back information about their current state so the car can calculate how the surface temperature will impact tire performance. Crosswalks will send out signals informing cars of pedestrians in the walkway so they slow their approach.
One of the biggest benefits our connected cars will bring us in the smart city of the future will likely be in how we store them, also known as parking. Our cars, once connected will be able to communicate with the smart cities parking meters and parking structures so we know where the nearest available parking spot is. There won’t be any more guesswork, no more slowing driving around the block with the hopes of maybe, just maybe finding a spot. Just by preventing people from that action of slowly driving around looking for a parking spot a great deal of traffic could be mitigated, making the smart city a much nicer place to drive your connected car.
More Than Just an Alarm
Like with anything connected to the Internet, security has to be more than just considered, it has to be implemented from the ground level. Connectivity opens up vulnerabilities, as the cars we drive become more computer and less steam engine security means a lot more than keeping a thief out of the drivers seat. The data generated by the vehicle has to be kept just as protected, if not more.
The cars systems need to be isolated to help prevent attacks on the data and the drivers themselves. As exciting as any new technology is, it is not without its weaknesses. If these weaknesses are allowed to be exploited it could cause significant risk. This is why security for any connected device needs to be paramount.
Tying it all Together
As the Internet of Things continues to bring connectivity to more devices the picture becomes clearer. The connected car will reach far beyond the dashboard and the inner workings of your ride. Sure, the connected car of the future will be able to help us improve driver behavior to be safer and friendlier to the environment, but it will also work with other tech as part of process. It will work with our wearables to make the driving experience easier and safer, it will communicate to us through our mobile devices giving us updates on how our car is doing when we are away from it and it will talk to the city it is in to help us stay safe and save us time.
Connected car technology has a long way to go, and it will come in waves. New cars will have it integrated right from the sales floor, while older cars will be augmented with a number of devices. Since cars are staying on the road longer, a trend that is likely for the foreseeable future it’s a good idea to put standards in place sooner rather than later so cars from different eras of connectivity can still talk to each other and their surroundings.
The benefits that the Internet of Things will bring to the car are clear, getting there will be the challenge. There are a lot of moving parts to the puzzle for the connected car; but as they begin to fall into place the possibilities will be infinite.