Where Connected Cars Are Headed – Fast

Jim Poole

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It’s a busy time if you’re an evangelist for the automobile’s connected future.

The auto industry is gathering at the North American Auto Show in Detroit this week, after making a splash at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. For years, we’ve been hearing about the car’s transformation to a “smartphone on four wheels,” and judging by what’s been on display in Detroit and Las Vegas, cars with the capabilities of a smartphone are the least of what’s ahead.

“Consumers want increasingly more technology,” Autotrader analyst Michelle Krebs told the Verge in the run up to the Detroit show. “Specifically, they want technology that keeps them safe and connected.”

What does that look like on the road? Well, all car makers are preparing for a tomorrow that’s driverless, though some are pumping the brakes on expectations for when that can happen (pun intended). But even in a driver-filled near future, carmakers are ready to offer a connected experience that’s a leap ahead of what we’ve seen to date.

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For instance, how about a car that monitors its owner’s driving-induced stress level, and then acts to lower it? Or knows when a driver is tired and engages him or her in conversation to keep the driver alert? Or a system that enables you to change the temperature in your house from your car (or in your car from your house)? It’s all either here or coming.

Here are a few connected car features and concepts that have been recently introduced or highlighted and gotten our attention:

Safe in a swarm

Honda’s “Safe Swarm” concept, which the company introduced this month, is preparing for a day when most cars on the road are able to communicate with each other via dedicated short range communication systems. The concept sees these vehicles mimicking the behavior of a school of fish to better navigate complex driving situations. Essentially, cars in the network would be able to pass on information to others in close proximity, and this data would accumulate and filter down and through other cars in the network, long before they actually encountered the various driving conditions. This would give plenty of time for the drivers “downstream” to act cooperatively to avoid congestion or dangerous situations.

We need to talk

Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, told a CES audience that a car that can completely drive itself is a “wonderful, wonderful goal” that “none of us in the automobile or IT industries are close to achieving.” So Toyota’s efforts are about making life better for drivers while they’re still actually driving. Its onboard AI system, Yui, uses sensors to read human emotions and adjusts accordingly. If it senses you like to drive, it might direct you from a highway route to a more interesting, winding road and give you facts about the local area. Tired? It starts talking to keep you alert. Bored on a dull stretch of highway, after the partially automated driving feature has taken over? The seat may recline and initiate a back massage.

I’m sensing you don’t like traffic jams

Hyundai’s “Health + Mobility Cockpit” – which is still in concept stage – also relies on sensors to monitor the physical and mental state of the driver. It could, for example, detect posture, respiratory rate, breathing depth or heart-rate variability, all possible signals of discomfort or road-related stress. Facial recognition or eye tracking monitors alertness or emotional state. And once it figures out where you’re at, it could take a variety of actions. Shifting posture or the seat could improve focus. Releasing lavender-based aromas can calm a driver. Dashboard lighting can simulate the light at dawn and increase alertness, as can well-directed jets of cooler air. Music volume can suddenly increase during an “alert burst.” Meanwhile, softer, acoustic music can augment a “calm burst” for when traffic is terrible.

Alexa, turn up the heat

Ford, Volkswagen and Hyundai have all announced plans to bring Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based voice service, into their vehicles. Its functions will vary, depending on the capabilities of the individual carmaker apps that enable it, but in general, it will enhance control of both home and auto environments. Want to start your car so it’s warm by the time you finish your morning coffee? Ask Alexa. When you’re on the road and want check the weather or play audiobooks, Alexa will get it done. And if you want the smart lights on, heat turned up and security system off by the time you get home, let Alexa know.

Of course, making features like Alexa a seamless part of both the home and car environments requires superior interconnection, meaning the cars must be able to securely access clouds, networks, partners and data, from anywhere, any time. As carmakers present us with different visions of a connected future, one unifying fact is that traditional IT architectures aren’t built to handle the connectivity these cars need. A car’s mobility is why it exists, and a connected car continuously redefines the network edge. Fixed and siloed corporate IT architectures can’t keep up with that. A new strategy is needed.

An Interconnection Oriented Architecture (IOA) strategy is a proven, repeatable engagement model that can bring connected cars close to the people, locations, clouds and data they need to function properly and safely. An IOA strategy takes advantage of Equinix’s presence in 40 markets, as well as the access to thriving industry ecosystems and network and cloud density on Equinix’s global interconnection platform. It offers access to the enhanced interconnection that connected car concepts need to become reality.

To learn more about interconnection at the network edge, read the Equinix IOA Playbook.

Jim Poole
Jim Poole Vice President, Business Development, Equinix, Inc.