Connected Cars

Connected Car Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Sep 2, 2016

This comprehensive look at the connected car in history, today and in the future will explain everything you need to know and then some.

From car insurance to Congress, the “connected car” is rapidly changing the automotive industry, car dealerships, eGovernment, transportation and business landscape. This begs a few questions, however. How will we get there? Will fully autonomous vehicles really bring about a virtually accident-free society? And will these self-driving cars bring mobility to those who either don’t or are unable to drive?

The main reason for creating an autonomous world – per everyone from auto industry to government experts – is that “talking cars” can prevent fatal accidents and injuries, which today number into the millions. But there’s more to this automotive innovation than safety; much more.

Here’s everything you need to know about the connected car along with a surprising futuristic peek into what the world of self-driving vehicles will look like by the year 2050.

First Things First: What’s a “connected car?”

The term “connected car” sounds so simple, yet it is highly complicated and has far-reaching implications. These consequences touch almost every aspect of our modern lives and will definitely transform how we live.

For example, Hewlett-Packard just developed a “black box” device for vehicles. HP claims its system not only stores and analyzes automotive diagnostic data, but can send your mechanic messages about your car’s condition, send information to other vehicles and communication “nodes.”

This cluster of findings can do things like warn other drivers about hazardous conditions such as potholes or ice, but it doesn’t end there. HP says this same information can be sent to city officials so they know exactly why and where the road needs to be fixed. It is a natural progression within the “internet of things” (IoT) that pushes the auto industry forward into the future of transportation.

In the beginning…

As you can see, the term “connected car” is rather broad.  The capability got its start back in 1965 when the now defunct American Motors Corporation (AMC) introduced a vacuum-controlled “Cruise-Command” feature on its cars. Now known as “Cruise Control,” this system was meant to autonomously maintain a constant rate of speed for the vehicle with the push of a button once the desired mph were reached.

This and all of the automotive technologies since have come together to bring us a truly connected car and world. These innovations  include the rise of satellite communication, the maturing internet and geographical information systems (GIS or GPS).

Through decades of trial, error and consumers wanting more and more embedded and interrelated communications tools, auto manufacturers now deliver some of today’s hottest technology to new car buyers. They do this through hardware, software and connectivity services via onboard diagnostics, heads-up displays, mobile app interface, telematics and infotainment.

And that’s just for starters.

The “connect” in “connected car”

There’s a lot to know when it comes to the connected car and its hardware, software and wireless linkages. For example, something called Over the Air (OTA) programming allows for in-vehicle software upgrades of GIS or GPS.

“Telematics” is an auto industry term for the hardware and software it takes to get information from the car to the driver (and passengers). These include digital gauges, touchscreens, and controls built into the steering wheel as well as the aforementioned heads-up display.

“Infotainment” (or in-car infotainment systems) is another word that’s frequently used by the automotive business and journalists. While telematics describes the more technical digital systems built inside the connected car, infotainment refers more to the information and entertainment technologies available in new vehicles. This includes satellite and HD radio, voice-activated GPS navigation and downloadable in-car apps (like Pandora).

Also Read: The Future of V2X and V2V Technology

Steering wheel and display integrated systems such as Ford’s SYNC and Fiat-Chrysler (FSA)’s UConnect bring in-car telematics and automobile infotainment together. The combination provides a rich and high-connected driving experience.

Most of today’s newer model cars now come standard with state-of-the-art radar and sensor technology for features such as rear view cameras and parking “assistants.”

However, self-driving cars use a mixture of both “light detection and ranging” or LIDAR radar for “seeing” far away and high-tech sensors for close up “vision” to successfully operate. The two technologies together form a 3D “cloud” around the vehicle and is what allows automobiles to “see” and drive by themselves.

In fact, one of the toughest technological challenges to fully self-driving vehicles is that blend of radars and sensors. The two become unreliable when faced with inclement weather, dirt and debris, or any obstacle. Car makers are currently working on solutions to counteract these problems. For example, Toyota claims it is building a “3D heads up display” to show drivers what the automobile’s sensors are actually detecting.

Different stages of vehicle autonomy

In 2013, then NHTSA Head Strickland wrote groundbreaking policy on what’s now known as the “Four Levels of Automation.” To summarize:

No-Automation (Level 0): The driver is in complete and sole control of all vehicle operations.

Function-specific automation (Level 1): At least one command function is automated such as electronic stability control (ESC) or what is called “pre-charged brakes,” which automatically assist with faster braking.

Combined Function Automation (Level 2): At least two automated “primary control” features work together to relieve the driver of actual driving. This may include combining something such as adaptive cruise control (ACC) with lane centering abilities with automatic emergency braking (for when the vehicle in front comes to a sudden stop).

Limited Self-Driving Automation (Level 3): These autonomous vehicles are in full control of all driving, safety and monitoring functions. However, it may be necessary for the driver/passenger to take over depending on traffic, weather and other conditions. Think Google’s current connected car innovations.

Full Self-Driving Automation (Level 4): Someday occupied and unoccupied vehicles won’t even have a driver’s seat. Fully autonomous cars perform all operator functions during the entire trip while the “passenger nee driver” only provides destination input.

Surprisingly, most automobiles  today are still at Level 0 or Level 1. Only luxury cars are equipped with or offer the option of Level 2 functions (a combination of two automation technologies) while Level 3 vehicles are, at this time, only conceptual. A recent “transportation outlook” report by Navigant Research determined that Level 4 autonomy won’t be viable until the year 2025.

Connected Car “Talk”: V2X, V2V and V2Gov

Autonomous vehicles get that way through their communication skills. They are a part of the IoT, which means they are able to reach out beyond themselves and “talk” to the world around them. There are three specific forms and degrees this technology takes: V2X, V2V and V2Gov.

Sharing diagnostics with V2X

Most auto industry insiders consider any 2011 and newer model a “connected” car because these vehicles are equipped with everything necessary for vehicle-to-external communications or V2X technologies.

Using “dedicated short-range communications” (DSRC), vehicles equipped with V2X tech can receive and transmit real-time data. It is this V2X information that is building what the Navigant report calls our coming “intelligent transportation infrastructure.”

V2X began with GM’s OnStar services in the 90s. Back then it was called an “embedded telematics system” as this was the first time cars relied on cellular communication to connect with a centralized data center.

Today, V2X communications technologies are a patchwork system of wireless connectivity along DSRC “exchanges.” In fact, V2X now affects everything from hardware to software to app developers to security and more. Digital mobile companies are even using it to create a link among prospective owners, dealers, financial institutions, insurance companies and government entities during the car buying process.

All of these key components for in-car connectivity now come standard in most luxury automobiles and are offered as an option in those that are lower-priced. Even fleet vehicles (from 2011 model year on) are being equipped with these autonomous driving technologies.

But what about older cars? Those from model year 1996 and after are all equipped with V2X capabilities. The only thing missing for earlier models is a “bridge” that connects them to the DSRC network (not Bluetooth). But now owners can purchase an affordable aftermarket connectivity product such as Mojio.

These palm-sized units easily plug into your car’s dash and bring your older vehicle into the modern age. It does this by transforming it into a wireless hotspot and “telematics-enabled automotive device.” This allows it to retrieve engine diagnostic information, download apps and even save you money on your auto insurance by monitoring your driving habits and confidentially reporting them to your coverage provider.

Also Read: How Ann Arbor is the Next Connected Car Paradise

The path to full autonomy through V2V

The most connected car of all is the fully-autonomous or self-driving car. Vehicle-to-vehicle communications or V2V is the technology behind the evolution of the “connected” car into a fully autonomous vehicle.

V2V is what allows cars to “talk” to each other using wireless communications. Cadillac was the first to pioneer this capability in 2006. Also known as Vehicular Ad Hoc Networks (VANETs), V2V technologies are set to become mandatory in every new car by 2017. This is due to the fact that they are capable of such things as helping avoid accidents by “seeing” and alerting drivers to blind spots.

Streamlining process thanks to V2Gov

Also known as eGovernment or eGov, V2Gov is an emerging industry.

It all began in the late 90s with Electronic Toll Collection (or ETC). Also known as “EZ-pass transponders,” these boxes sit on a car’s dashboard and relay fee information to government agencies so drivers can pay automatically without stopping at a toll booth.

With today’s V2Gov tech, car owners can and will be able to do more things digitally and automatically beyond ETC. Less expensive electronic vehicle registrations, renewals and titling are already available via companies such as Motor Vehicle Software Corporation (MVSC).

Just some of the industries V2Gov tech is transforming now and in the future include emissions verifications and payment, “stickerless” license plates and license plate recognition readers, parking and ticket transactions, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reporting.

Safety, Security and the Connected Car

“Blackhat” or car hackers were just beginning to be taken seriously when recent prison-for-life car hacking legislation was created. It sends a very clear message: the crime can be fatal so it comes with heavy consequences. Other “in-vehicle cyber security” measures are being beefed up and tested as V2X, V2V and V2Gov technologies converge, especially in autonomous vehicles.

Also Read: Why Connected Cars are the Next Big Target for Scammers

The Industry Implications of the Connected Car

Autonomous vehicles are coming. It’s only a matter of time. It does make you wonder, however, just what a self-driving car might mean to your auto insurance rates, fuel efficiency and driving in general. Some businesses are preparing, some are investigating and others are already testing the waters in real, actionable ways.

Best laid plans of (self-driving) auto insurance

The car insurance industry is already gearing up for the decline of personal vehicle ownership and the increase of ride sharing, ride hailing and partial-to-fully autonomous fleet services. But before that tipping point happens, V2X and V2V technologies are now able to communicate national highway traffic safety and miles-driven data straight to your auto coverage providers for potential monthly payment savings.

A better use of energy with less petrol

The rise of the self-driving and connected car is transforming both energy efficiency and the fuel industry. Assistant professor Constantine Samaras and Ph.D. student Avi Chaim Mersky of Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering recently disclosed these findings: self-driving cars have the potential to cut fuel costs by 10 percent. How? They can do this by revamping emissions standards tests “to account for the early autonomous vehicle (AV) technologies likely to be offered in the coming years.” Just some of those AV technologies include adaptive cruise control (ACC) and other acceleration-deceleration “predictive” capabilities. V2X, V2V and V2Gov convergence will also make projections on traffic congestion based on real-time data, which will also save on fuel costs.

The winds continue to change for fleet

On-demand mobility services are already revolutionizing the fleet business. GM recently announced an investment of $500 million in Lyft. Not only could this make the ride hailing company the “preferred provider of short-term use vehicles,” but the car behemoth and upstart app tech group are working together to develop a network of on-demand autonomous vehicles.

Ford Motor Company declared in mid-August 2016 their intention to create a self-driving fleet of cars by 2021. These are meant to be truly driverless, because they will not include pedals or a steering wheel. The car company sees this as a natural progression within their storied history. Per Ford CEO Mark Fields, “The next decade will be defined by automation of the automobile, and we see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago.”

Fields continued to say that Ford is “dedicated to putting on the road an autonomous vehicle that can improve safety and solve social and environmental challenges for millions of people — not just those who can afford luxury vehicles.”

Ride-share innovator, Uber, has also made a significant leap into this constantly expanding world of the connected fleet car. In May 2016, the San Francisco based company announced it had begun testing self-driving cars on the streets of Pittsburgh, home of Uber ATC (Advanced Testing Center). This arm of the business’ elite engineering team is using Ford Fusion Hybrids armed with radar, cameras and lasers for capturing data. The endeavor is making good on a project begun back in 2015 with the Carnegie Mellon University robotics department by putting the test vehicles through real world situations and recording their performance. But it doesn’t stop there.

On August 18, 2016, Uber announced they would move from test to fully operational with their self-driving project in Pittsburgh in just a few weeks. While the cars will include an engineer in the driver’s seat and a co-pilot to monitor things in the early stages, riders will be able to hail and experience being driven by an autonomous vehicle.

These ventures show a marked forward motion into a future once viewed as mere science fiction.

Commercial transportation gets a tech-lift

Commercial vehicle fleets and how they operate will change dramatically as well. V2X and V2V technologies are already interconnecting dealerships, fleet owners and managers. They’re even gaining access to traffic flow and other important transportation data via V2Gov technology, which will also help streamline and address such processes as bulk vehicle registration, toll payments and various safety concerns.

Fleet vehicles will be increasingly sustainable electric and equipped with state-of-the-art telematics. Eventually, futurists envision commercial automobiles transforming into driverless transport caravans that operate mostly at night. They will take advantage of hypermiling (using the aerodynamics between closely-driven vehicles to gain fuel efficiency) via V2V communications.

Transportation’s Steady Progress

The connected cars of today are merely a step in the evolution to vehicles becoming fully autonomous. Navigant’s report reveals that self-driving autos that no longer feature controls for a human driver won’t be viable until 2025. This isn’t necessarily due to the automobiles themselves, but because road markings, signage and even GPS mapping techniques need to be standardized and maintained for universal system readability.

Auto makers are just beginning to ramp up the increase in fleets as personal vehicle ownership will decline in response to the demand for convenient and affordable ride hailing services. These companies will continue to specialize in niche markets like parents who need  a certified child care worker to ferry their kids (HopSkipDrive) and women who seek the extra security of a female driver ( She Rides or She Taxi).

Still, many industries and government entities have to come together to realize a fully-connected transportation system. The advances are coming so rapidly now that it’s hard to keep up. On-demand mobility via smartphones and apps is not only changing how we get around, but how we shop and eat (think mobile delivery services such as Postmates and GrubHub).

The Magic Number: 2050

Futurists say that our transportation world will take on a whole new look and feel in the year 2050. That’s when vehicles will finally be truly autonomous. While many of us may not be around 30+ years from now to see a fully-automated transportation planet, the belief is that our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will benefit from a zero driver distraction lifestyle where there are virtually no traffic jams or accidents.

Navigant Research’s Transportation Outlook: 2025-2050 report paints an even larger picture about what a huge difference a world full of self-driving, virtually sustainable on-demand fleet-owned vehicles is going to make in how we do big and even little things. It also predicts that the way people get around will depend on where they live not what they “drive.”

Per Navigant’s findings: 

Urbanites will call up a sustainably-fueled, self-driving electric vehicle (EV) via their smartphone (a NHTSA Level 4).

Suburbanites will use a combination of on-demand autonomous vehicles and/or personal self-driving cars, which they can either share when operating themselves or make available to others (a NHTSA Level 3-4).

Rural Dwellers – because of unmapped roads that are hard for technology to decipher – will most likely still have to actually be in control when driving their cars (no higher than a NHTSA Level 2 ).

All of this technology is connecting more than just vehicles. Car manufacturers, the ride hailing industry, internet, software and information companies are having to come together to get government to move on the legislation that will support the future of the automobile.

These experts are discovering they have better leverage if they unite to bring about a virtually accident-free future for the connected car. This is a tomorrow that features self-driving vehicles that talk to one another while passengers sit back, relax and do whatever they like as they’re “driven” to their destination.

Bonding over innovation

Various powerhouses across different industries are each pushing to expand “the connected car” for many reasons. The main obstacle to this, however, has been government regulation. Making significant legislative change happen alone is virtually impossible, but together? Creating a united front could possibly move the needle of progress forward that much faster.

Introducing SDCSS

In April, Google, Uber, Lyft, Ford and Volvo formed an alliance to create a federal autonomous cars policy called the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets (SDCSS). Per the press release shared at the league’s launch, the SDCSS has partnered to work “with lawmakers, regulators, and the public to realize the safety and societal benefits of self-driving vehicles.”

The coalition chose former National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) head David Strickland to spearhead this effort to change laws.  “Self-driving vehicle technology will make America’s roadways safer and less congested,” says Strickland. “The best path for this innovation is to have one clear set of federal standards.”

The “Where To” of the Connected Car

In the end, connected cars are just one more cog in the wheel of innovation and progress. It’s clear that the IoT is transforming a lot more than how we get around. It’s changing just about everything.

Want to know more about the future of automotive technology? Here at V2Gov.com, we discuss, consider, comment upon and answer your questions on how autonomous and connected cars will affect the entire vehicular landscape – from cyber-security to the insurance industry and government legislation to fuel efficiency and more. Join the conversation as we journey through the present into the future of transportation.