The recent Consumer Electronics Show served as a showroom for the connected car, showing how connectivity taking the auto experience down a similar path paved by the Internet of Things for smart homes and the Industrial Internet for machines.
Connected cars have arrived. That’s one of the main takeaways from the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, with Ford, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Audi and others showing off the latest and greatest features of their newest models.
While some are closer to arriving in the showroom than others, virtually every major auto manufacturer is developing a self-driving car — with the latest features such as lane assist and self-parking acting as a prelude to fully autonomous operation.
“The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space,” Mercedes CEO and President Dieter Zetsche said, as the company showed off its F 015 Luxury in Motion concept car. The futuristic-looking vehicle resembles a lounge, with four comfy seats facing each other.
In equally dramatic fashion, Audi’s prototype A7 embarked on a two-day trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas, arriving in time for the show. The company’s R&D chief, Ulrich Hackenberg, also guided the Prologue Concept hybrid car on stage during a press conference using an LG smartwatch.
Experts say we’re still another 10 years or so away from commercial viability, given the regulatory hurdles and extensive safety tests driverless cars face. In the meantime, connectivity will increasingly become part of the auto experience — in the same way that the Internet of Things is making the smart home more a part of everyday home life, or the Industrial Internet is helping airlines fix jet engines before they break.
“Now we’re talking about how to get from the Internet of Things to the Internet of Cars,” says Stefan Ponikva, marketing director at BMW.
“When we talk about connectivity and consumer electronics coming to our world, we don’t talk about a trend anymore,” he says. “Connectivity and the connected car has to be a standard.”
Here are several emerging trends to watch:
1. Cars are integrating more fully with smart devices.
Our cars’ infotainment systems look and feel a lot more like our smartphones. Ford’s SYNC 3 system, on display at CES, allows the user to pinch to zoom, scroll and swipe as we do with our smartphones, for example. Many manufacturers, including Ford, Volkswagen, and Jaguar Land Rover are working closely with Apple AirPlay and Android Auto to integrate apps into infotainment systems.
“We’ve mashed up navigation, texting, tweeting and music in vehicles — where you can say, ‘Play The Beatles,’ or ‘Find me coffee,’ and the car will do that for you, thanks to our partnerships with Spotify and Yelp,” said Peter Virk, head of connected technologies and apps at Jaguar Land Rover.
In addition, we’ll be able to operate our vehicles through our smartphones. BMW, for example, has an iRemote app for its i3 model that allows drivers to lock the vehicle’s doors and preactivate the air conditioning. Or summon i3 to pick you up with a smartwatch and watch the fully automated Remote Valet Parking Assistant steer the car with the help of laser scanners.
2. Gesture controls are gaining traction.
The music and navigation system in Volkswagen’s Golf R Touch concept vehicle is operable through a few simple touch-free gestures, making operating the display easier than ever before. Open your palm in front of he screen to activate the controls and gesture in one direction as a shortcut to changing features in the car. BMW’s iDrive interface is also gesture-based; twirling a finger raises the music in the i3 model. Both systems use technology similar to Xbox’s Leap Motion.
Gesture-controlled systems “allow for intuitive operation no matter how complex the system behind technology is,” said Peter Thul, head of brand and product communications for Volkswagen. “Driver distraction will be reduced even further.”
3. Cars are becoming more predictive.
GM unveiled OnStar’s Drive Assurance feature, which predicts when certain engine parts might fail and warns drivers. “This is a new chapter in our pursuit to provide customers with convenience and the best overall service in the industry,” said Alicia Boler-Davis, General Motors senior vice president, Global Connected Customer Experience. “Using our innovative OnStar 4G LTE connectivity platform, we can actively monitor vehicle component health and notify our customers if covered vehicle components need attention.”
Expect to see more predictivity, with sensors tracking the battery, starter motor, fuel pump and other parts feeding data into algorithms that assess the part’s condition and flag potential problems. The service will become available in select 2016 Chevrolet Corvette, Equinox, Suburban, Silverado, Silverado HD and Tahoe models.
Cars that can drive themselves and anticipate problems…coming to a showroom near you.
(Top GIF: Video courtesy of CES)