The Connected Car: Welcome to the Next Computing Environment

kitt380Since the launch of General Motors’ OnStar service in 1996, vehicles with embedded cellular connections have become part of the connected world — an era of smart, connected products and infrastructure. Now, vehicle manufacturers are preparing to significantly increase the prevalence of these connections in their new products, and — more importantly — to employ high-speed broadband in place of the narrowband modems of the past. The connected vehicle is now emerging as a unique computing environment, distinct from the office, home, and on-the-go not just because it’s in motion, but also because of its significant constraints and its composition of both user- and vehicle-driven elements.

But, already buffeted by weak global economic conditions and regulatory pressure to improve energy performance and safety, carmakers will face significant challenges as they seek to leverage this new environment and meet customer expectations. As high-speed connections become a default vehicle feature, more advanced computing activities will start to occupy some (or all) of the 80 minutes that the average U.S. driver spends in the car each day. Forrester maintains that in-vehicle computing will be comprised of:

Infotainment and Media Computation. Today, vehicle occupants primarily use smartphones, tablets, laptops and other consumer electronics much as they do when out and about: Browsing the Web, entertainment such as streaming audio and general communications dominate. New vehicles with embedded connectivity will allow applications like Pandora to become fully integrated with the vehicle.

Telematics, Safety and Security. Broadly, telematics technologies involve services and activities that support the vehicle’s core purpose — transportation. Telematics services will mainly focus on safety and security, such as automatic emergency alerts in case of airbag deployment, route planning, turn-by-turn navigation and remote control of the vehicle.

Vehicle-to-X Communications. This capability will capitalize on the car’s rich array of sensors to reduce accidents, optimize traffic flow and create new business opportunities. Take your car’s E-ZPass for example — dedicated short-range communications will soon enable vehicles to break the local firewall and exchange information directly with infrastructure such as traffic signals and toll plazas.

Autonomous Operation. Look no further than Google’s self-driving cars as proof of concept for fully autonomous vehicles. There are already a number of technologies today that automate some driver tasks, from intelligent cruise control to rain-detecting wipers to lane departure detection. In some cases, current innovations such as parallel parking in Lexus LS models demonstrates that autonomous systems can already surpass the capability of the average driver.

Irrespective of how they get used, applications will continue to be the innovative force that enables new experiences. But the real engine (sorry) of the connected car experience is the transformation of vehicle and user data into usable and actionable information. That’s why all manner of automotive outsiders, from infrastructure vendors to cloud specialists to analytics providers, are vying to position themselves as uniquely able to supply the mix of skills and tools needed to perform this alchemy.

Already, insurance companies have realized that data analysis and brokerage represent a significant opportunity to drive new revenue. Progressive was among the first to enable its consumers to benefit from their cars’ information about driving behavior via an external device plugged into the On Board Diagnostics (OBD) port, and competitors like State Farm, powered by a partnership with Verizon Wireless, have now followed. The next opportunity is to offer real-time pricing based on this rich information — from marrying vehicle speedometer data with location to verify speed limit compliance to identifying tailgating by tapping into next-generation cruise control units. Insurers will also offer services that arm parents with information about their children’s driving habits in real time. Curious about whether or not your first-time driver is shuttling friends around, in violation of many U.S. states’ restrictions? Cameras that can detect this are closer than you think, since they are an enabler of gesture-based controls.

Persistent broadband connectivity, abundant sensors, powerful analytics in the cloud and rapidly evolving technologies have revolutionized many industries, and the auto industry is no exception. The widespread addition of connectivity to vehicles will catalyze seismic shifts, disrupting entrenched players like carmakers and their suppliers and creating significant opportunities for new, nimble entrants from a range of industries. Even car owners will, over time, think of the act of transportation in a fundamentally different way.

Charles Golvin is a Principal Analyst serving CIOs at Forrester Research. To learn more about this research, visit the full report.

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