According to a study conducted by ABI Research, the number of connected cars (equipped with remote information and communication systems) is expected to increase from 45 to 210 million between 2011 and 2016, thus rising from 5 to 18 % of the world's cars in five years.
This is evidence of the changes occurring and the gradual transformation of vehicles into communicating objects which are able to communicate with each other (V2V or vehicle-to-vehicle connection) and interact with road infrastructures (V2I or vehicle-to-infrastructure connection) and also connect to smartphones, tablets and PCs and businesses' services, tourist facilities and other services in the area.
The advent of this intelligent and interconnected "smart car" is now resulting in increased convergence and partnerships between vehicle manufacturers, telecoms operators, web giants and content and interactive service providers.
This demonstrates the strategic and industrial importance of the connected car. Competition is multi-faceted:
In their early developments, interactive vehicle technologies mainly applied to road safety. There are a wide variety of solutions. These include:
This is one of the keys to the success of the connected car: its ability to exchange useful safety information in real time with other vehicles (V2V) and road infrastructures (V2I) (obstacle in the road, patch of black ice, road surface in poor condition, accident, slowdown, etc.). To achieve this, quite powerful, fast and reliable technology, architecture and protocol are required to connect vehicles which are simply passing each other or following each other for a short time. Partnerships, alliances between countries, vehicle manufacturers and telecoms operators are all striving to create the industry standard. In Europe, for example, twenty or so vehicle and equipment manufacturers (from Daimler and Renault to Delphi and Bosch) have joined forces to form the Car-2-Car consortium. In the USA, the CAMP (Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership) consortium brings together 8 vehicle manufacturers (including General Motors, Ford, Honda, Nissan and Toyota). Their shared goal is to develop and impose their vehicle-to-vehicle communication standard throughout the world.
Example: The US Department of Transportation is carrying out the Safety Pilot Model Deployment in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is a program to test the efficiency of interconnected vehicles implemented by the CAMP consortium. For a year, several dozen smart cars and trucks which communicate among themselves and with road terminals, will travel around in normal real-life traffic conditions. These test vehicles can exchange several types of information: road works, slow traffic, vehicles approaching intersections, overtaking opportunities, etc. With this real-life experiment, the authorities aim to determine and quantify the impact of V2V and V2I on road safety and learn more about drivers' tolerance for the information emitted by their on-board computers.
In Europe, a similar project called SAFESPOT has been in place since 2007, led by the European Commission with a budget of 38 million dollars. SAFESPOT has 51 public and private partners including Renault, Daimler, Volvo and Bosch.
- Reporting accidents
In the event of a crash, the vehicle automatically sends a message to external service providers or the emergency services giving information of a varying degree of detail depending on the system and the subscription package.
Example: The OnStar system, on board numerous Genral Motors vehicles (6 million subscribers), activates an automatic assistance system when the vehicle sustains an impact. The driver is immediately connected to an advisor via the car's microphone. If the driver is unable to respond, the device notifies the emergency services and sends them information such as the vehicle's location, points of impact, speed at the moment of impact, etc.
- Identifying obstacles and correcting driving error
On-board camera, optical guidance, sensors, radars, laser detector, GPS... cars are increasingly equipped with devices enabling them to identify obstacles, hazards or landmarks on the road and to adapt the driving or suggest corrective action to the driver. This is a development towards the robot-car, with its own steering systems: cruise control, automatic emergency braking, trajectory maintenance assistance, assistance at intersections and even automatic steering, etc.
Example: In partnership with the Advanced Science and Technology Research Center at Tokyo University, Honda has developed technology which records the car's acceleration and deceleration parameters, monitors their possible involvement in causing traffic jams and offers the driver a smoother drive, avoiding frequent stopping and starting. According to the vehicle manufacturer, this system increases the average speed by 23 % in heavy traffic and reduces fuel consumption by 8 %. Eventually, it is expected to interconnect with other vehicles to synchronize their respective speeds and improve traffic flow.
- Protecting pedestrians
In an interconnected system, cars equipped with radars, cameras or lasers are able to detect pedestrians or cyclists which the human eye cannot see or sees too late (due to darkness, fog or blind spots, etc.). Pedestrians and cyclists are warned about approaching vehicles which could damage their health. How? Using their smartphones, which interact with the approaching vehicles and send a message or vibrate to alert the driver in case of danger. This, of course, relies on the development of a universal technology and communication standard between cars, two-wheeled vehicles and passers-by. There are several trials in progress. One of the more advanced is being carried out by General Motors and uses a WiFi standard.
- Managing vehicle maintenance
The car of the future is expected to benefit from continuous technical monitoring: sensors will check the condition of the various parts and the status of important parameters and regularly transmit data to the owner or predefined service providers (mechanic, car dealer, breakdown assistance center, etc.) in order to ensure targeted maintenance and take immediate action if there is a risk. Some companies already use this type of innovation. American car manufacturer Ford has marketed a software solution designed for car fleet managers. This delivers real-time information about the company's vehicles in use throughout the USA: tire pressure, oil level, seatbelt use, airbag activation, etc. and also the driver's driving style (moving off or acceleration, maintaining a straight line, etc.) with a view to achieving more environmentally friendly and economical driving.
- Monitoring the driver's condition
According to the ASFA (French highway company association), a third of fatal highway accidents and 15 % of road accidents in France are caused by tiredness at the wheel. In the USA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that, based on police reports, this same problem causes 100,000 accidents, over 1,500 deaths and more than 700,000 injuries every year. To reduce these statistics, vehicle manufacturers are trying out new interactive technologies. A futuristic car interior would be equipped with biometric sensors which are able to detect physical weakness in the driver (see example below). Some models now have detectors recording numerous driving parameters (e.g. steering wheel corrections). If this information differs from the driver's usual behavior, they emit a signal encouraging the driver to take a break.
Example: In January 2012, Ford and Microsoft signed a research partnership for the development of biometric sensors able to gather information about the driver's condition, (blood pressure, heart rate, driving style, etc.). This data and other data transmitted by the driver via voice recognition can activate various devices: tips, warning messages, help from a medical assistance company, alerting the emergency services, etc.
- Putting up virtual barriers
Geofencing technology involves the vehicle owner defining an area on the map of their on-board computer. As soon as the car goes outside of this area, it sends a warning message (text message, e-mail). What is the benefit of this? Parents who lend their car to their child, for instance, can ensure that they stay within the defined area: an application which is offered in particular by mbrace2, an interactive platform built into various Mercedes Benz models. Companies and organizations already make extensive use of geofencing to ensure that their vehicle fleet does not go outside the designated area or to check the positioning of standby vehicles.
- Driving comfort and performance
In addition to passenger and vehicle safety, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) enhance driving comfort and optimization. There is a wealth of innovations and solutions. These include:
The connected car can have systems and sensors which record driving style, braking, deceleration and start-up patterns and clutch use. The on-board computer provides advice for achieving smoother and more fuel-efficient driving and can automatically correct swerving.
Example: Renault has designed the R-link, a web-enabled touchpad built into several of its recent and future models (Clio 4, Zoé). In addition to TomTom route navigation services, this multimedia tool offers over 50 apps in every area. In particular, the "Driving Eco" driving aid which analyzes the driver's behavior in real time and offers advice for saving fuel.
- Head-up display
Head-up display (HUD) is a high-tech system which, like in fighter planes, projects information onto the driver's windshield. Still only available in premium models, HUD is expected to be gradually rolled out to family cars. Currently, the information displayed mainly relates to driving comfort and safety: exceeding the speed limit, maintaining a safe distance from the car in front, identifying an obstacle or pedestrian, mechanical problem, which way to go, etc.
Projecting a movie or video game in front of the driver's eyes is, of course, out of the question. But why not on the passengers' windows? And why not, in time, transform this window into a touchpad providing passengers with information and entertainment at their fingertips. That is the subject of a research project conducted by General Motors.
- Remote-controlled maneuvers
In addition to driving-assistance systems involving a growing number of parameters (trajectory, braking, speed, risk detection, intersection, etc.), the connected car can integrate systems to help with tricky maneuvers.
Example: French equipment manufacturer Valeo has developed a "Park4U remote" solution: before parking, the driver gets out of the vehicle and triggers the app from his smartphone, which is connected to the car's electronic sensors. The car then carries out parallel or angle parking on its own. The driver can also remotely control maneuvering the car out of the space. Before it can be marketed, such a system will probably require the highway and insurance code to be changed.
- Contactless door opening
Opening a car door from a smartphone which is transformed into a virtual key is one of the solutions developed by Orange Labs and ADM Concept using Near-Field Communication (NFC) contactless technology. An innovation which should facilitate car-sharing schemes in particular: the car "key", with its secure code, can be transmitted between users' smartphones.
- In-car entertainment
The connected car is also designed to be an infotainment space which is web-connected and with a wide range of interactive services, entertainment and information available on subscription or supplied free of charge with the vehicle. The difficulty soon becomes clear: how can more on-board services be provided without distracting the driver, compromising safety or violating road regulations? Vehicle manufacturers and telecoms and Internet operators are responding by developing technologies enabling the driver to carry out various operations without taking their hands off the wheel or taking their eyes off the road.
The most advanced technology is voice recognition which is already operational in numerous models, mainly in the USA. The principle is simple: the driver tells the machine what to do: "Call John", "Send this message to Paul: meeting in an hour", "Play a Lady Gaga song".
Numerous partnerships and commercial agreements between automotive manufacturers and Internet and new technology players have been created relating to this technology. In the USA, for example, Apple has recently announced that nine vehicle manufacturers are going to integrate Siri, its voice-activated platform, into their future vehicles.
Another, more experimental, process is gesture recognition. Here the on-board computer interprets a quick movement using its optical sensors in order to carry out the corresponding task. This area has been explored by Audi in particular to control different levels of augmented vision displayed on the windscreen.
These "hands-and-eyes-free" technologies need to be developed before in-car infotainment can be introduced.
- On-board Wi-Fi
Make the car a traveling hotspot offering permanent Wi-Fi connection to passengers' tablets and computers as well as the control panel and on-board computer - this solution has already been implemented by various automotive manufacturers and is gradually being rolled out to numerous models. According to research company iSuppli, worldwide sales of Wi-Fi-equipped cars are expected to reach 7.2 million units in 2017 compared with 174,000 in 2010.
Example: Alcatel-Lucent, Toyota and QNX recently presented the first car - a Prius hybrid (which is still in the experimental phase) - with built-in high-speed connectivity. It can receive 3G and 4G signals without interruptions traveling at speeds of up to 120 km/h (75 mph). It is equipped with several touch screens which passengers can use to access all kinds of interactive web services: information, music, Internet shopping, video, games, GPS, communication, etc.
- A smartphone on wheels
For telecoms and Internet operators, joined by some vehicle manufacturers, the connected car needs to be an extension of the smartphone, exchanging all sorts of services with it: calendar, routes, playlists, address book, etc.
Example: Sync, Ford's interactive platform, which is built into 4 million American models, enables the motorist to transfer different apps from his cell phone to the on-board computer via Bluetooth or USB stick: telephone, texting, route navigation, radio, news, social networks, etc. All these services are controlled by voice recognition, thus keeping the driver's hands on the wheel.
- Tourism and shopping
In the medium term, and this is already true for certain models, vehicle passengers who are looking for a restaurant, hotel or store receive information and routes corresponding to their request. These leisure, cultural or shopping facilities could send promotions or messages to the screens of WiFi-enabled cars traveling in the area.
Example: For its 208 model, Peugeot launched the Connect Apps solution integrating 10 interactive services onto the car's touch screen. This includes access to the Michelin Guide and Michelin Travel so users can choose a leisure location linked to a route planner (ViaMichelin) to get there easily, a messaging system and a Bluetooth connection to make a reservation. The solution is operational in 17 European countries.
- Concierge services
On certain top-of-the-range models, the driver can connect to concierge services around the clock (to buy flowers, book a tennis court, etc.).