Real Time Communications Featured Article

Real Time Communications and the Connected Car

February 03, 2015

In the future, your car will talk both to the Internet of Things (IoT) and the cloud to do everything from find a parking space in a crowded garage to safely drive itself on the highway.  Better security, safety, and lower insurance rates are all on the menu, with automobile manufacturers just starting to explore what can be done.

Already, GM is giving away its OnStar Basic package for five years on new U.S. 2015 model vehicles.  Buy a new GM car and you get vehicle diagnostics and dealer maintenance notifications via email and/or mobile app for five years.  For sure, this works to the benefit of consumers and GM and dealers.  You car can "tell" you when it and why it needs service and preventive maintenance, GM gets a Big Data picture for reliability and replacement part stocking across its lines, and dealers (hopefully) get a steady flow of business for oil changes and other service.

At CES 2015 last month, the automotive industry sketched out its roadmap for vehicles moving from slightly autonomous operations to nearly "hands free" driving by people.   Some models today can perform low-speed tricks such as automatic parallel park by simply pressing a button.  In the near future, drivers will be able to get out of the car and press an app button to auto-park the car without being in it, so the vehicle can go into the home garage or a regular parking space on its own.

Over the next five years, more sensors and advanced intelligence will be put into the typical automobile so it can handle more complex operations at higher speeds as capabilities evolve.  A traffic jam chauffeur mode could handle the stop-and-go modes encountered during city commutes -- and might result in yet-another rewrite of laws for distracted driving, since you should be able to use your phone while your car is paying attention to the road.   Ultimately, cars should be able to handle full speed highway traffic on their own, leaving the driver as more of a passenger than operator for the daily commute.

But like other IoT devices, the connected car will work better when it communicates with other cars and devices, rather than operating as a stand-alone piece of hardware.  Your car will clearly communicate what is going on in front and behind it via a combination of sensors and video, with real-time communications feeding the "driver's view" on your smart phone when you go to remote park it. The phone and/or your smartwatch will act as virtual keys to unlock and start the car, so you'll have one less thing to shove into your pocket and lose at home.

Video is a relatively untapped field for the auto industry, but I suspect that's going to change rapidly.  For better or worse, insurance companies would like to have video recording of the front and back of the car for accidents and theft protection. Further improvements could happen with in-car video from both the driver and passenger seats.  A 5 second "start up" snapshot could be taken each time your car is started and uploaded to the cloud. If your car is stolen, there is photographic evidence of an unauthorized driver behind the wheel.  Disabling the electronics has the dual threat of making the car more complicated to steal and lowering its potential resale value.

In emergencies, the OnStar service can -- for a fee -- provide airbag deployment notification, with an immediate call back to the driver to ascertain if first responders should be dispatched.  A video camera could provide a snapshot of the driver's condition if he is unable to verbally respond to a call.

Finally, there are the "fun" aspects to car cameras.  If you are driving by a particular landmark or see a beautiful sunset, you will be able to tell the car to take a picture or roll the video, rather than having to risk life and limb by juggling a smarphone and driving.  Passenger side and backseat cameras provide a way for videoconferencing while in route.   The driver may also be able to actively participate if the car is in autonomous mode driving down the highway or stuck in traffic.

Everything I've said sounds a bit Jetson-like, but it's a simply an extension of real-time communications from mobile and tablets applied to vehicles.  We have the technology and as drivers spend more time as passengers rather than operators, it's not crazy to think that in-route conference calls can take place even if you are stuck in traffic. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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