In addition to offering vehicles powered by a number of alternatives (fuel, battery or both), car companies are going to win customers in the future based on the networked services they offer drivers and passengers and how well these services are delivered, says Nancy Gioia, Ford Motor Co.'s director of Sustainable Mobility Technologies and Hybrid Vehicle Programs. Ford's SYNC in-car communications system offers several features that ng Connect is proposing for its version of the connected car, including vehicle health reporting and the ability to have text messages, news, weather and other personalized information read aloud to the driver. The data is sent via the driver's cell phone connection, which means it will be able to leverage 4G whenever the driver's cell phone provider upgrades to that generation, says Doug VanDagens, Ford's director of connected services.
Not so fast
Of course, there are still a number of items that need to be worked out to determine whether 4G networks keep their promises of being fast and reliable. This includes designing automobile antennas that can receive 4G signals and deliver unfettered access to the electromagnetic spectrum to broadcast these signals (currently being fought for by scientists, technology companies and government agencies).
The cost of all this technology is also an open question. Carmakers have to install antennas, flash memory, video screens, modems and other components to make the connected car a reality. There will not be a need for expensive hard drives or large storage devices, however, because most of the software and content will be delivered to the car via the wireless network and stored in back-end data centers, West points out. The cost of the content itself will likely be worked out between the companies providing the streaming video games, movies and other services, and the drivers themselves, independent of the carmakers.
Automakers also have to be mindful, however, of when in-car content can become too much of a distraction, an issue being studied by government that could eventually lead to laws against distracted driving. As the amount of information available to drivers increases, the driver's interface to that data will become crucial. A likely option, QNX's Gryc says, is to restrict nonessential services available to the driver while the car is in motion, and freeing them for use when the vehicle is parked.
There are still several years for technology companies and carmakers to hash out all of the finer details, because connected cars are not likely to hit the road en masse before 2012, and 4G networks will roll out incrementally between now and 2014, West says. What is important at this time is for groups like ng Connect and car companies to discuss where the technology is headed, he adds, so that they can make plans for future models.