Connected cars coming to a road near you soon

Connected car

Weather conditions, the state of traffic, and engine software updates will be handled automatically by connected cars. (Picture © Continental)

If you’re lucky enough to drive a car that has its own mobile internet network, you’re ahead of the curve. You’re driving what’s known as a connected car. As time passes, these vehicles will become fundamental to everything we do on the road. They’ll revolutionise how we think of transport and spend time in our cars. They’ll speed up the likelihood of full self-driving cars. And they’ll cut the number of crashes, one day maybe even making road deaths history. Here’s all you need to know about the connected car.

The beginnings of the connected car

Virtually every new car enables its driver or passengers to connect to it in some way, either via Bluetooth or using a USB cable. Doing so enables them to use the functionality of smartphones and MP3 music players on their cars. This is becoming ever easier to do with the development of apps such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Smartphone apps also enable some drivers to connect to and control their car when they’re not in it. They might be able to check the state of the battery on an electric car, or activate the climate control remotely.

Taking things a step further

Just as your smartphone can connect remotely to the internet using the mobile network, so can a connected car. But giving users access to the internet, by turning the car into a wifi hotspot, is only a fraction of what the connected car is about.

The benefits of connected cars

Imagine we’re in the world of connected cars. The vehicle in front’s tyre blows out suddenly. The car behind crashes into the barrier trying to avoid it. You’re a few cars behind but your car instantly receives information from the crashed car. If you don’t brake, your car knows that’s the most prudent thing to do and will take over if it has to prevent a crash. Cars a few hundred metres away will already know about the crash and that drivers approaching the scene of the accident are hitting their brakes. Five miles down the road, my car is warned of the crash and the navigation instantly shows me a better, less congested route.

It’s a possible scenario. But in the world of connected cars, it’s unlikely there would have been a blow out in the first place. As the car is connected to the internet, when its tyres approach the minimum 1.6mm legal tread depth or suffer irreparable damage, a tyre retailer would have been notified. A self-driving car would even take itself to have its tyres replaced.

Everything from anticipating weather conditions to knowing when there’s an update due for a car’s engine software will be handled automatically by the connected car. They will also be fundamental to the future of self-driving vehicles. If cars can talk to each other they can do what’s called ‘platooning’ where they move as one. And compared to current motoring where thousands of cars travel independently, it’s much safer for cars to travel with a single electronic brain overseeing them. In the US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration believes the connected car could save around 1100 lives a year. And that’s before it’s used in conjunction with self-driving vehicles.

Connected cars

Car-to-car communication will soon be possible. (Picture © Continental)

When is this going to happen?

According to automotive technology company Continental, there are expected to be 250 million cars that will connect to the internet by 2020. The number will increase virtually every time a new car hits the road. In the US, it’s about to be made law that newly registered light commercial vehicles must be connected.

How new is this?

The first maker to have a connected car was General Motors with various US Cadillacs in 1996. Its OnStar system linked cars fitted with it to help centres. It meant if the car was in a crash, assistance could be summoned instantly. Remote car diagnostics were introduced in the early part of this century. In 2014, Audi became the first maker to offer 4G wifi hotspots with its cars. Now Vauxhall’s latest version of OnStar provides a wifi hotspot, smartphone connectivity, vehicle tracking if the car is stolen, automatic crash response and vehicle diagnostics. But it’s only when our motors become part of the so-called ‘internet of things’ that we’ll all feel the benefit of connected cars.


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