Connected cars: Objects in the future are closer than they appear

By Elena Perez, Analyst, GigaOm Research

Today, because some connected products are more clever than critical (see Budweiser’s smart refrigerator) while others generate more buzz than users (see smartwatches), it can be easy to believe our universally connected future is still some distance away. But one device is coming around the bend more quickly than the rest: the connected car.

There is a spectrum of connectivity for cars. On one end, there are the‘reasonably’ smart cars that connect to a phone or other device to, for example, play music. On the other end is the car that is so smart that it drives itself. While companies like Google and Tesla are innovating on the latter, our very near future lands more in the middle of the spectrum, with humans behind the wheel of a vehicle that is equipped to collect and share data with drivers, other cars and even the broader infrastructure.

A number of factors are fueling interest here. For one, like our smartphone appendages, smart cars offer convenience. The ability to, for example, program your air conditioner to turn on when your vehicle is x miles from home, has a certain amount of appeal. Even more welcome are software updates, such as Tesla’s recent “autopilot” update, that can instantly improve the functionality and value of a vehicle long after purchase. But an even more celebrated benefit is safety; whether through intelligent monitoring of car operations or vehicle-to-vehicle data transfer, the connected car is more consistently and effectively alert than even the most conscientious driver. And, last but not least, the collection and analysis of smart car data also presents a significant opportunity for improvement to our infrastructure, allowing for better traffic control, as well as environmental benefits like reduced emissions.

The infrastructure upsides, in particular, have not gone unnoticed. Last month, as reported by Popular Science, U.S. transportation secretary Anthony Foxx announced that $42 million dollars will be invested rolling out thousands of connected cars in the US. This initiative, the U.S.’s largest vehicle-to-vehicle pilot program, promotes collaboration among the stakeholders—which range from private companies to states to transit agencies—and opens the door to research on what will prove to be a wealth of data gained from the smart cars. The investment represents a meaningful leap forward in our connected car future.

But how ready are consumers? According to a new AT&T Drive Studio and Ericsson study, eighty percent of car buyers globally would opt to delay the purchase of a new car by a year in order to get connected features. Three-quarters of those surveyed considered connectivity features important to their next car, with the ability for the car to serve as a Wi-Fi hotspot ranking most in demand. In other words, we’re ready for our cars to be as smart as our phones, independent of our phones.

This doesn’t come without concern. For all the benefits of connected cars, there are well-documented hacks and cheats that paint a picture of connected cars that is closer to Stephen King’s Christine than Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT). We’re already being exposed to the dark side of our bright and shiny connected future. Is that enough to slow things down?

Not likely. As the public’s initial resistance to “Motordom” in the early 20th century serves to remind us, danger alone is not an impediment to progress. Just as traffic lights, speed limits and stops signs were conjured to mitigate the dangers of the motor age, so the rise of connected cars will prompt a new set of measures to minimize risk. That risk can’t be fully eliminated, but we’ll learn to adapt because the benefits of connected cars—from day-to-day conveniences to less traffic, reduced fuel consumption, and fewer accidents—are simply too great to resist.

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.

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