In his October 2017 update to investors, Ford CEO Jim Hackett noted that the company is moving towards smart, connected vehicles, predicting that by 2019, every new Ford made in the US will include connectivity features, with 90 percent of new cars in other global markets also including connectivity. It is likely that other automakers will follow suit.
This connectivity will take two forms: 4G connectivity between the car and the owner’s smartphone, providing services such as remote starting, locking and unlocking, and receiving routine maintenance information on a smartphone interface; and a broader level of connectivity that will include vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications.
The smartphone connection is already evident in for example, the OnStar smartphone app which provides users with routine information such as air pressure in tires, remaining oil life, fuel efficiency, when service is required, and a real-time location for when you forget where you parked.
The V2V and V2I option is where the real potential of a far-reaching automotive cloud comes in. Vehicles will not only talk to smartphones, they will talk to one another, and talk to the roads on which they drive, observing and interacting with their environment in real time.
Vishnu Andhare, Consulting Manager at ISG, a global technology research and advisory firm, says that “On the interoperability level, there are challenges. On the lowest layer, interoperability is established on a sensor-to-sensor basis, and that is already happening. What is not fully happening is at the higher level, of data and applications. There are standards coming, but it’s going to take time.”
That time may be coming soon. At CES 2018, Hackett announced that Ford is developing what it calls the “Transportation Mobility Cloud” with Silicon Valley-based Autonomic. In his keynote, Hackett described the new platform, which would create a common language that would enable V2I connectivity, overcoming one of the greatest barriers to date, which has been a lack of standardization. In a blog detailing the move, Ford VP of Mobility Product Solutions Rich Strader, along with Autonomic CEO Sunny Madra, said, “Building an ecosystem such as this requires the large-scale connection of bits of distinct data that flow from a variety of sources. And those sources – public transportation services, self-driving cars, cyclists, and even infrastructure – will need to speak the same language and communicate with each other if we’re to realize the true potential of this type of ecosystem.
Everything that moves
The sort of standardization discussed by Ford holds out great promise for not just an automotive cloud that unifies automobiles with their owners and with other automobiles, and with infrastructure including roads, and with real-time traffic information could, with a standardized platform, include many things beyond the automotive realm. “Everything that moves will become autonomic,” said Andhare. “It’s just a matter of time. We already have autonomic planes and ships. In the automotive industry, we will see this in nine to 12 months, as the big players move towards the future of shared mobility and mobility-as-a-service.”
Even with new standards and enabling technology, there are still limitations and barriers to be overcome. “In the future, it will not be limited by technology, but by the psychological barrier, and by public policy,” said Andhare. “There is a limit to which the human mind can go without some semblance of control.
Business Insider predicts there will be 381 million connected cars on the road by 2020, and that 82 percent of all cars shipped in 2021 will be connected cars. Further, it is estimated that there will be 10 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020.
The new connected car and the smartphone model
The new connected automobile model will have repercussions far outside the auto industry. According to Andhare, “There will be a lot of new, equal systems that will develop. For example, you can have automotive personalized insurance. The benefits go beyond basic function. For example, in a shared mobility concept, the economics bring a $40,000 car to less than 20 cents per mile, shared among users. One way for people to escape poverty is easy access to cheaper transportation.” Other innovations may include integration of payment mechanisms, which would enable payments to be made for gas and parking automatically; and for automobiles to communicate independently with the manufacturer and with repair shops to streamline any repairs or updates that might be necessar0y.
Since an automobile is more likely to take the smartphone model – with the car itself being secondary to its operating system and the apps that run on it – differentiation will be made not on design, but on the value-added apps which connect the car to the rest of the world. A compelling scenario would combine smart cars with other convenience apps, such as grocery stores’ recent “click and collect” innovations – imagine for example, a smart kitchen in the home knowing what needs to be ordered, placing an order automatically with the local grocery store, then relaying that order to the owner’s self-driving automobile, which would then drive to the store, where the groceries would be loaded and paid for transparently. The automobile would drive itself back home, park in the garage, and then send a text to the owner to unload the goods. The technology for such a scenario is already here. It’s just a matter of time before the connection is made and it becomes a reality.
Dan Blacharski is founder of Ugly Dog Media, NewsOrg.Org, the Independent News Organization & Social Report, and author of “Born in the Cloud Marketing: Transformative Strategies for the Next Generation of Cloud-Based Businesses.“