Jun 30


In the world of IoT (Internet of Things), a car is deemed ‘connected’ when its on-board electronic systems are not just ‘stand alone’ but have some form of real-time internet access. Connected Cars open up a whole host of ‘smart’ applications and design possibilities.

In a report published earlier this year, analysts Gartner have forecasted that there will be a quarter of a billion connected vehicles on the road by 2020.

Once a car is connected (typically using 4G/5G mobile technology and dedicated short range communications) it is no longer an island of automotive electronics. It can now interact with other systems and even with other cars, to provide real-time updates for satnav, traffic information, driver assistance, in-car infotainment, black-box safety systems and automated links to emergency services, while paving the way to self-driving cars!

Insurance companies are already offering cheaper insurance for careful drivers if they agree to fit a ‘black-box’ telematics system to their vehicle. These units sense the car’s geographic position, speed, and acceleration, and can monitor and record driving behavior and performance. Some even have dashboard mounted cameras. The data is collected remotely and careful drivers are rewarded with lower premiums. Even data recorded before and during a crash can be used to help determine the cause of the accident. This kind of monitoring system could also be built-in to a connected car in the future making the ‘black-box’ approach even more widely adopted.

Today’s on-board computer (engine management system) which looks after the engine’s performance and the car’s electrical system are usually closed, self-contained systems. A series of sensors monitor the engine while the unit can make adjustments to it using electrical actuators to ensure the engine runs at its optimum performance. This unit assists in diagnostics when connected to a dedicated computer at the service center, but a connected car will be able to continuously send secure performance data over the internet, directly to the car manufacturer or dealer’s service department, whilst the car is being driven!

Any problems with the engine or the car’s road handling would immediately be detected and diagnosed remotely, with minor adjustments made in real-time to the car. The system may even book the car in automatically for its next service and update the driver! Accidents or breakdowns could be averted by the system when safety critical problems sensed in advance could trigger an alert, instructing the driver to take appropriate action.

Once a car is connected, passengers can enjoy real-time updates to their latest music and videos, access their emails and social media through their smart phones and tablets – oh yes, I didn’t mention the option of using the car’s own in-car wifi router to provide an internal local area network making access to the internet, and other passenger’s devices easier. However, there is on-going discussion about how much in-car infotainment systems could distract drivers – safety is of course paramount.

Data security is an on-going concern for designers of these systems, especially for safety critical applications. Both internet communications and car to car connections will need to be highly robust adopting secure encryption methods. In my next blog I will take a look at driver assisted systems and self-driving cars. Will there really be a day when we will see driverless cars roaming the streets with none taking the wheel? How far will automation take over? What about the legal and ethical issues which need to be addressed along with the technology? What are your thoughts?

See also:

‘Admiral seals connected car agreement with Redtail Telematics’; Andy Sharman, Motor Industry Correspondent, (June, 2015)

‘ Gartner Says By 2020, a Quarter Billion Connected Vehicles Will Enable New In-Vehicle Services and Automated Driving Capabilities’; Gartner Newsroom, (Jan, 2015)

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