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Auto connectivity: More than just a better car


Guest post by Arthur Cole

Auto connectivity is one of those rare technologies that seems so obvious in hindsight and yet has caught an entire industry off guard. How else can you explain the reaction of automakers across the globe, now that this technology—a staple of science fiction since at least the 1930s—is a reality? Only 39 percent of auto executives say they are prepared to deliver advanced features like auto connectivity, but 77 percent of executives say these features are key to brand loyalty, according to the 2015 EY Changing Lanes survey.


The leading car makers are kicking their development processes into high gear to be the first to push connectivity past entertaining features like video and music streaming and into practical features like automated driving and self-repair. According to market research firm BI Intelligence, about 75 percent of cars shipping in 2020 will feature Internet connectivity in some capacity, a 45 percent compound annual growth rate. This should put some 220 million connected vehicles on the road in less than five years, although BI Intelligence estimates that less than half of drivers will activate their available services.

The race for auto connectivity

With this need to fill the application gap, we have the frenzy of activity among car makers—not only to foster auto connectivity but also to devise the compelling use cases that will make it a hit with consumers. Initiatives like Ford's Smart Mobility plan and Toyota's Mobility Foundation are researching ways for connectivity to enhance the transportation experience and provide concrete benefits, such as improved traffic safety, lower fuel consumption, and less gridlock.

"We see a world where vehicles talk to one another, drivers and vehicles communicate with the city infrastructure to relieve congestion, and people routinely share vehicles or multiple forms of transportation for their daily commute," said Ford CEO Mark Fields at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2015. "The experiments we're undertaking today will lead to an all-new model of transportation and mobility within the next 10 years and beyond."

For the auto industry, though, the connected car represents both an opportunity and a challenge. Revenue from advanced applications and services will be the next big growth area, leading some analysts to reclassify the entire industry as a software-driven mobility industry. It remains to be seen whether today's car makers or lightweight, app-centric startups will capture the potential revenue streams.

App and infrastructure innovations

Car companies are not taking connectivity lightly, especially in the sphere of personal driving assistants. BMW, for example, recently released its Connected app, which features intelligent algorithms that can do things like predict optimal routes by analyzing current and historic data sets, and perhaps even chart your next destination without having to be told. Meanwhile, Volvo is looking to replace the venerable ignition key with a mobile app, leading to all sorts of car-sharing possibilities for people who don't own personal vehicles, according to WIRED.

None of this is possible without the right infrastructure, which is why the field's greatest minds are already pursuing upgrading the automobile's data networking capability. The IEEE IoT Brain Trust series recently published a standard that supports 100 Mbps (megabits per second) Ethernet connectivity over twisted-pair wiring. This should not only put the car on the same networking basis that fuels the broader Internet of Things, but also essentially converts it into a mobile data center, capable of supporting undreamed-of applications that would have exceeded the capabilities of the most advanced data infrastructure just a few years ago. At the same time, it reduces both the complexity of the in-car network and the amount of wiring needed to support it.

It may be tempting to think that auto connectivity is just the latest in a long list of enhancements to our favorite mode of transportation, like power steering, anti-lock brakes, and, well, headlights. The difference now is that these new technologies are changing the entire driving experience and redefining the relationships that exist between our cars, ourselves, and—by extension—our local, regional, and even global communities.

There is still a lot more work to be done before we will see mass transit on the connected car, but this is simply a matter of execution. The infrastructure, and much of the software development, is already in place.

For more on the race to create hyperconnected cars, watch this short video about how IAV, one of the world's biggest suppliers of automotive parts, is working with HPE to help car manufacturers create digital driving experiences.

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