By James O’Brien
The advocates of an entirely different way of driving will tell you that we’re within sight of the threshold, and connected cars are coming. But maybe not before manufacturers and developers agree on how different kinds of cars and apps will link together.
Industry standards are buzzwords in the connected-car universe. Developer A wants to be able to code a great app once and then have what they design work in any manufacturer’s in-vehicle system.
“An industry standard for cars will do the same for autos as the USB cable has done for the computer world,” says Jake Sigal, CEO at Livio, which was acquired by Ford Motors in September to streamline the connected car concept.
Meanwhile, the promise of a connected car, for many drivers, sounds like a dream — but when will it come true? Let’s take a look at the possibilities that are on the table, and which ones are next in line from some of the developers involved.
Why Connect? The Future of Driving
Consumers used to approach their cars as mechanical devices. More and more, though, they now sit in a vehicle and expect a whole experience to surround them. And like almost everything else in the 21st century, that experience is required to be interconnected.
“This ties in with the drive toward smart adaptive environments and the Internet of Everything,” says Mike Vidikan, on the Trends & Foresight team at Innovaro. He gives one example of what that means: “You will want your car to communicate with your home so the AC can kick on and cool the house just before you arrive.”
That’s one proposition, anyway, among a list of other features designers want to include.
- Connected cars will self-diagnose their problems, report on them and tell you where the nearest mechanic or auto part store is located.
- Your vehicle will begin to proactively navigate you away from traffic snarls and other delays.
- Safety benefits: your car will become a reactive partner during your drive. It’ll say, “Hey, watch out for that van on the left.”
And if recent examples serve to illustrate a trend, this portfolio of features and capabilities will come from team efforts.
Better Search, Best Parking
Kim Fennell, president and CEO of deCarta, is leading a company that’s hard-charging for a place at the front of the connected-car pack.
deCarta has patented software that will search the road you’re traveling, and show results within 20 minutes of where you are, and no more than a few minutes off the road you’re traveling. No more old-nav results such as a gas stations that are technically close, but really two miles back the way you came.
“The technology exists today to create driver-centric solutions,” Fennell says.
Not that one company has to come up with all of it on their own. deCarta has brought on new partners to add more features to the platform it hopes will become a mainstay of in-car interfaces.
Ben Sann, founder of Best Parking — a company that’s logged more than 1 million downloads of its parking-space location app — has signed on to put their tools right into the system that Fennell wants in everybody’s car.
“You do not want to be driving and searching for parking via a separate app, it’s a distraction,” Sann says, referring to drivers pulling out a mobile device to use Best Parking on the road. “If it’s all integrated into your dashboard, your vehicle knows exactly where you’re headed, it knows when you’re going to get there. The only thing it will need to ask you, as a consumer, as a motorist, is how many hours do you want to park.”
Are We There Yet?
If the next generation of onboard driving experiences, like the ones that Livio, deCarta and Best Parking — among others — are working on, sound like your kind of trip … well, you’ll likely have to wait a little longer.
Even if you set aside other potential challenges that come with the connected car — data security, safe driver behavior and software reliability — we come back to industry standards.
“You have all these different standards,” Sann says. “It’s challenging. Very challenging. We don’t want to be programming and coding for all the different automotive environments.”
But there’s progress underway. Whether it’s through Livio, or the expectation that Apple will unveil its iOS for Cars in 2014, the impetus for connected cars as the next norm is there. Now, what do developers want? Their own version of that link-anything USB.