Most people have heard of or seen a “driverless” vehicle and perhaps may have taken a ride in one, but what about a “connected” vehicle? What are they? Who is using them now? More importantly, what are their implications for the future of the automotive industry and travel itself?
The concept of a “connected” vehicle is not really new. If you have ever heard a commercial for OnStar (developed in 1996 by Cadillac) or have an OnStar type device in your own vehicle, you have some knowledge of one way a vehicle can be “connected.”
OnStar’s initial primary purpose, according to Cadillac, was to provide safety to the driver of the vehicle and others inside the car. At first, its technology was voice-controlled. Anyone who was conscious in a vehicle after an accident or another serious situation could summon help rapidly. (The technology has now evolved to a point that a person does not have to notify emergency personnel of an accident. The situation on-board or outside the vehicle can be picked up by sensors inside and outside the vehicle and transmitted.)
Brief history of how “connected” vehicles progressed through the years
In 2001, remote diagnostics were introduced on the automotive scene. A person or another device could then remotely communicate with another person or device with results in seconds or less. Within two years “connected” car services included reports on the health of the vehicle, sophisticated direction systems and many other features. By 2007 “data-only telematics” were added to the mix. This enabled additional sophistication in the features offered to the driver and others inside and outside of the car.
In a few years after that, Audi offered Wi-Fi “hotspot” access inside the vehicle with no additional devices required to connect to the Wi-Fi. The office could easily be taken almost anywhere one could imagine.
What is a connected vehicle?
A “connected” vehicle is one equipped with internet access and, in most cases, is also connected to a local wireless area network. IHS Automotive forecasts that there will be 152 million activity-connected cars on global roads by 2020—only three years away. The Huffington post website, in an April 19, 2017 publication, predicted that by 2022 there will be a sevenfold increase in the number of cars manufactured with built-in mobile connectivity.
This growth will be partly due to the result of a “smartness surge.” By 2018, it is projected car makers will have sold 32.1 million vehicles “to infotainment admirers”—those who combine their sources of information with various forms of entertainment. All of these are examples of “connected” vehicles.
According to a white paper (business report) published by SAS Institute, Inc., a firm that has a vested interest in the future of “connected” vehicles, there could be two billion connected cars on the world’s roadways by 2025.
The key words in the last few paragraphs may be “global” and “world.” It is true there may be numerous “connected” cars in the world eight years from now, even one year from now. Many are already on the roads, but is SAS also including all prototype vehicles in its two-billion count and vehicles that can be made much less expensively in other countries than in the U.S.?
Some industry analysts believe “connected” cars will outpace population growth in the world within the next 10 years. There is little doubt the demand for connectivity, especially inside the car, is something many of today’s consumers are seeking and most of them are willing to pay for it. In some cases, the consumer does not have to be “willing” about anything. Many new cars include these features and the consumer gets them whether or not they have chosen to have them.
How does the “connected” vehicle compare to “driverless vehicles” also known as autonomous vehicles, self-driven cars, etc.
There are differences and similarities in the technology between “connected” and autonomous vehicles. One could state with confidence that the technologies involved are not the same thing.
Driverless cars “sense” their surroundings using technology such as LiDAR (a technology that measures distance via laser light), radar, global positioning systems (GPS), computer vision and other technologies. This sensory information is then processed to the vehicle’s navigation system to designate appropriate pathways for the vehicle to take on the highway, street, etc. that it is traveling.
This vehicle is also “programmed” to avoid obstacles, obey road signs, etc. as it traverses those roadways. The vehicle’s digital map is constantly updated by information coming in from the sensors.
This is, of course, a simplistic explanation of a complex process.
Paul Goodman of axleaddict.com wrote an article in November 2016 predicting driverless cars would likely be out of the price range of the average person in the near future. When introduced to the mass market, driverless vehicles will cost $100,000 or more, Goodman claimed. (Tesla has a driverless car that apparently costs much less, but that is another article.)
As technology moves forward, the price tag Goodman mentions could rapidly go down, especially if the demand for driverless vehicles is high. There are also several ideas on how driverless cars could function to benefit the general population, including abandoning single car ownership as a consumer concept.
Proponents of both “connected” and driverless vehicles identify their main benefit– fewer accidents and an overall drop in highway fatalities.
Does the general public in the U.S. believe in the “connected” cars of the future?
According to eetimes, a website that regularly publishes a ‘Topic Teardown’ listing the pros and cons about an automotive issue, more than 50 percent of persons surveyed in Germany, Brazil and China answered “yes” to the following statement:
“I am afraid that people can hack into my car and manipulate it if the car is connected to the internet.” (Source: McKinsey, 2014)
When the same statement was presented to drivers in the United States, 43 percent of those surveyed said they were afraid the software in their car could be hacked. (This is only one survey, but one could conclude people in the U.S. have a greater belief in the technology of cars of the future. It is also possible that those in the United States may have fewer concerns about infringement upon the security of their vehicle.)
Estimes concluded that what may currently be only a theoretical risk may be viewed as a distinct, real world threat in the connected car of the future. The website reported that a hacker who gets into a trivial automotive system, like the car radio, could seize control of the brakes or any other vehicular system.
For those who make and sell cars, the future of “connected” and driverless cars appears to be very healthy.
Ford CEO Jim Hackett remarked at a summit meeting of automotive industry CEOs, held just this past week in Michigan (November 9, 2017), that cars with brain power (smart cars) will “keep up” in the future.
There will be “no dumb cars in the future,” Hackett told the summit (bloomberg.com).
Although, there may be no “dumb” cars on the roads in the future, the proliferation of new vehicular technologies has raised the issue of benefits and concerns surrounding their development.
More than 80% of states have recently taken a look or enacted legislation regarding the issue.
How many states have pursued or enacted legislation concerning the new technological developments?
In the past five years, 41 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) have considered legislation related to autonomous or driverless vehicles. Twenty-one states and D. C. have passed legislation related to the topic.
Governors in five states have issued executive orders regarding “connected” and self-driven vehicles and the right to drive or not to drive them within the state. (Source: National Conference on State Legislation (NCSL)).
Benefits of “connected” cars
“Connected” cars are often vehicles enabled with features that provide the means to improve driver safety as well as vehicle performance. For example, a “connected” car can monitor the performance of various automotive parts and inform the driver or owner of the car when one or more of those parts are likely to fail even if that event would not be happening until six months down the road or more.
The Center for Advanced Automotive Technology (auto.caat.org) points out some advantages to “connected” and automated vehicles:
- “Connected” cars purport to provide crash-free driving changing the concept of driving as most of us know it.
- Self-driven vehicles reduce the need for building new infrastructure and reduce maintenance costs on our roads.
- There is greater dependability and productivity in travel times because there will be real time predictive assessments of travel times on all routes. (We already have this with GPS systems, do we not?).
- Improved energy efficiency will occur because vehicles will be lighter, and more fuel efficient.
- There will be expanded opportunities for vehicle sharing.
- New business models and scenarios will emerge from the new technology.
On the other hand, CAAT says there will be “challenges” with the newer automotive technology such as:
- Security (primarily “hacking” where someone, usually outside the vehicle, is capable of gaining control of the vehicle’s essential functions.)
- Privacy (What it being done with all of the data being gathered by the various sources?)
- Data analytics (The integrity of the software must be at an extremely high level so that the autonomous car does not crash of its own accord and injure or kill occupants of the vehicle. It is not an impossibility to build a vehicle with systems that likely will never fail, but crash facts will continue to be tabulated.
- “Aggregation” of various types due to the abundance of data associated with operating these vehicles.
The Markey Report
With the first two challenges to new technologies in mind–security and privacy—Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass) and his staff prepared a report on new technologies in the automotive industry. They sought to explore what is being done to secure vehicles against hacking attacks and how personal driving information is being managed.
The Markey team began by contacting 20 major automobile manufacturers with questions regarding technology, security precautions and privacy policies. All manufacturers were asked the same questions. Hyundai and Toyota provided detailed, question-by-question responses which contrasted with the “generic statements” provided by Mercedes Benz and Porsche. Sixteen manufacturers responded to the questions of the congressman and his staff. Three did not—Lamborghini, Tesla Motors and Aston Martin. The fourth—Volkswagen and Audi—were treated as a single responding manufacturer. The other manufacturers contacted were BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru and Volvo.
There were many findings in the report, both positive and negative concerning the car manufacturers. The major findings indicated:
- Nearly 100% of cars on the market at that time (2013) included wireless technologies that could pose vulnerabilities to hacking or privacy intrusions.
- Most of the manufacturers studied were unaware of or unable to report on past hacking incidents.
- Security measures to prevent remote access to vehicle electronics are inconsistent and haphazard across all automobile manufacturers surveyed.
- Only two manufacturers, in the evaluation of the report writers, were able to explain their capability to detect and respond to intrusions to a car’s electronic systems in real-time.
- There are large amounts of data collected by automobile manufacturers on driving history and vehicle performance.
In response to the questions posed in the Markey report, some of the members of the automobile industry acknowledged inconsistencies and deficiencies between manufacturers that said they have now corrected or are working to correct. It is difficult to state which of the manufacturers did not respond in this manner and/or for what reasons they did or did not.