Modern day smart phones are testament to the advancement of portable connectivity and computing technology. Beyond simply making calls and sending text messages, today’s smart phones incorporate a very wide range of functionalities – camera, Internet access, video conferencing, music playback, and so on – that they have evolved to become very comprehensive multimedia communication tools.
Other electronic devices have also adopted similarly wide-ranging functions as well – we have television sets that connect to the Internet to watch streamed videos; we have full-fledged DSLR cameras that latch on to Wi-Fi networks for easy uploading of pictures to your various social media channels. Indeed, it logically should follow that automobiles, in which many of us spend a great portion of time in, should embrace similar levels of connectivity.
Electronic mapping of engine and transmission behavior is already common place for over two decades, and modern day engines have the computing power of a space ship – the F10 BMW M5, for example, has not one, but two interconnected electronic engine control units to manage the two banks of cylinders of its 4.4-litre V8 engine. Even more recent developments include the integration of satellite navigation data with automatic transmission control algorithms to optimize gear selection based on road conditions – transmissions so equipped can anticipate an impending downshift ahead of an upcoming corner.
Developing concurrently with increasingly sophisticated drive control systems are similar advancements in the development in other parts of the vehicle such as infotainment as well as safety. In fact, the internal IT architecture of a modern vehicle can include as much as 100 different mini-computers operating up to a whole gigabyte’s worth of onboard software controlling various functions ranging from in-car entertainment and connectivity, right up to safety.
Besides being wired with impressively sophisticated computers and electronics, modern vehicle are also engineered with the ability to accurately perceive their surroundings through a network of sensors and cameras. We’ve seen such technologies being used in service of various active and autonomous safety features such as adaptive cruise control, auto braking, and active park assist – in each of these technologies, the input from the vehicle’s network of sensors are used to facilitate active intervention into steering, brake, and throttle control in brief isolated instances.
The abovementioned developments show the necessary infrastructure are already in place for the next big leap in vehicle connectivity. Advocates of this development will first point to safety as being the biggest gain – with effective car-to-car communication, drivers have to means to effectively pinpoint the presence and intention of all other surrounding vehicles, significantly reducing the chances of an accident. At the same time, effective car-to-infrastructure navigation can be used as an effective means of traffic dispersion much like how Waze is used by drivers today, diverting traffic away from congested roads.
To facilitate such levels of connectivity, the Internet is an easy and obvious platform to do so. Estimates suggest that as of 2013, as many as 15 billion devices of all kinds are connected to the Internet worldwide. By 2020, this number could reach over 50 billion, and the car is indeed well-placed to account for a crucial fraction of that figure – global automotive supplier Continental has on its own helped equip 26 million vehicles worldwide with some form of Internet connectivity, and the company is determined to grow that number significantly.
The advancement of vehicle connectivity is a crucial component to facilitate the eventual development of autonomous driving. From where we currently stand, there needs to be an evolution in both the technological and legal aspect for this dream to be realized, and industries that contribute to the vehicle’s supply chain that were previously separate will need to learn to work together.
To that end, Continental has formed three such major alliances within 18 months. The topic of big data analysis in the backend will be looked at together with IBM. Information on the surrounding area will come from Nokia HERE. The expertise of Cisco will be incorporated to ensure secure connectivity. These alliances will give rise to applications that are based on connectivity.
In Silicon Valley, U.S.A., Continental has established a new business unit called Intelligent Transportation Systems with a view to developing more connectivity-based solutions for safe, clean, and comfortable driving.