The Current State of Connected Cars


Where we are as 2016 begins

connected car
8 min read

As we enter 2016, with all the exciting automotive technology that’s sure to come, we think now is the perfect time for a roundup of the current state of connected cars. Below, all of the latest trends, security concerns, and recent advancements, as well as what’s in the works for connected cars in 2016 and beyond.

The Latest Trends in Connected Cars

Mapping technologies are sure to be big in the coming year. As we’ve reported, major automakers and major tech companies are investing in navigation systems such as Nokia’s HERE: “The main draw of HERE’s mapping prowess isn’t navigation as we know it, but rather the potential for a leg up on the competition for driverless vehicles.” With every detail in the environment carefully mapped, cars will be able to focus on avoiding real-time obstacles (such as other cars, or pedestrians). We can expect HERE integration to begin in 2016.

5D Robotics has also entered the automobile navigation competition. The San Diego Union Tribune), says the company “has developed peer-to-peer wireless technology and navigation software for the military that pinpoints a vehicle’s location much more accurately than GPS — down to about 2 centimeters.” The technology is used now for detecting landmines and IEDs, but the company’s peer-to-peer positioning will allow cars to accurately determine the exact locations of every other vehicle and object around them.

Now trending: high-tech navigation, advanced sensor tech projects, and Augmented Reality.

Navigation and positioning are crucial for connected cars–and essential if driverless vehicles are ever to be realized–but another important element is sensor technology. Strobe, a Pasadena-based start-up with ties to Cal-Tech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, plans to improve upon the current best sensor tech–LIDAR. LIDAR “stands for light detection and ranging and uses light to create a 3-D image of a vehicle’s surroundings.” But LIDAR is too expensive (up to $80K per unit) and too bulky (larger than a basketball) for commercially sold vehicles. Strobe is working to improve upon both issues, while maintaining performance.

One of the connected-car trends we’re most looking forward to in 2016 is Augmented Reality: “Augmented Reality (AR) is the newest iteration of virtual reality. Instead of a completely virtual world, AR users are still present in reality, but that reality is supplemented—augmented—with computer-generated information to enhance the user’s experience of the world. In essence, augmented reality driving goggles will add a “digital layer” to whatever drivers look at—things like directions (with arrow overlays right on the road, making the way crystal clear) and traveling speed.”

connected car hacked

Connected Car Concerns: Security and Safety

This past year highlighted several of the downsides that come along with connected cars, namely safety and security concerns. Often dubbed “smartphones on wheels,” it turns out that cars connected to Wi-Fi and other remote operating systems (like telematics monitoring devices) are just as vulnerable to hacks as computers. When researchers remotely hacked a Jeep Cherokee this past July (as part of an experiment), the auto industry as a whole leapt to action. While the quick response was heartening, the vulnerabilities of connected cars were laid bare.

In particular, computer ports (called OBD-II ports), usually located under the steering wheel, are shockingly easy to hack and can have frightening results: brakes can be disarmed, and specific cars can be targeted by IP address. Luckily, as we previously reported, legislatures and car manufacturers are taking the matter seriously, with measures like the Security and Privacy in Your Car (SPY Car) Act.

Reuters reports that U.S. regulators are currently working on a protocol that would require all cars to be able to communicate with each other by 2017. WIRED says that wireless signals, “could allow cars to communicate with both each other and with highway infrastructure like roads or bridges,” and, “One NHTSA study in 2010 estimated that the protocol could prevent as many as 81 percent of all vehicle collisions.” And while the pluses of that kind of safety communication are obvious, experts fear the open communication will leave cars vulnerable and easy to track. Technology to mask each car’s identity is in development, but even the experts aren’t clear how exposed connected cars would truly be.

Leaders in Connected Car Advancement

BMW has made important technological strides this year both in their company acquisition and partnerships. Mini—now BMW-owned—will soon offer cars with augmented reality goggles, improving the safety and technological capabilities of drivers.

Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Toyota all have connected car concepts in the works, including recent acquisitions of major mapping technology. Chevrolet is working on technology which would allow its vehicles to self-diagnose problems even before the driver would be able to detect an issue.

As for technology companies, Apple and Google are both positioning themselves to be major contenders in the automotive future, showing real advancements in driverless vehicles and alternative fuel technology.

connected car navigation

On the Horizon for Connected Cars

Collaboration among automakers and technology companies that have entered the automotive arena will be critical in the future. As we’ve previously noted, one car—or even one company’s fleet of cars—cannot provide enough data to build meaningful pictures of current road conditions or daily traffic patterns; instead, every car on the road will need to share its data both with other cars and with a major over-arching information hub.

All of this connectivity will create very real data issues that must be solved. Forbes reports that, “Today, car makers might be downloading 100 – 200 kilobytes of data from a car, once a year, during its annual service. With the connected car, kilobytes of data can be downloaded every day. In addition, connected cars will have remote diagnostics capability to record data on-demand, so engineers can study anomalies in detail.” And with a predicted 250 million connected cars on the road by 2050, the auto industry will need to sort out which available data to collect and store (the answer probably won’t be “all of it”) and which to ditch.

Collaboration among automakers and tech companies in the automotive arena is crucial for innovation.

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles currently standing in the way of a completely connected driving experience is consumers themselves: many are wary of (and don’t use) features they find unfamiliar, like automated parking and heads-up displays. In fact, in August, J.D. Power conducted their own study and found that, “20% of new-vehicle owners have never used 16 of 33 of the technology features measured.” Why? Based on survey results, J.D. Power had some ideas: they say some technologies might not have been turned on when the cars were delivered to dealerships, some owners weren’t aware of all the features their new car had, while others said they hadn’t been shown how to use them. Some of the biggest tech never used by consumers: “In-vehicle concierge (43%); mobile routers for wireless Internet connectivity (38%); automatic parking systems (35%); head-up display (33%); and built-in apps (32%).”

Some of the disconnect between what consumers want and use and what automakers spend money and time working on can be chalked up to growing pains—using new connected technology means a change in driving routine for many people. But J.D. Power says, “The dealership plays the most important role in helping owners get off to a good start with the technology.”

For 2016, we’re looking at greater consumer integration of available technologies as well as new and improved offerings from automakers and technology companies alike.