8 Oct 21

The connected car of the future

What will the connected car of the future be like? Will it fly, hover, rumble along the road, or transport itself via some other method, as yet to be imagined? Will we recognise it from the car as we know it today or will it look more futuristic?

There are many concepts around today that look very different from what we’re familiar with but are still recognisable as cars, buses, helicopters, drones, aeroplanes and the like. Every motor show unveils some notional concept of what the car of the future will be. These concepts, however, hardly ever make it to market and that’s deliberate on the part of the OEMs.

Futuristic car concepts showcasing the possibility

Rather than being commercially viable, these designs showcase a car manufacturer’s capability or future technology, and inform, in some way, a direction in which transport may go. Additionally, they provide something of a welcome distraction to the “issues of the day”.

In terms of transport, the issues of the day include congestion, pollution, crowded cities, traffic jams, accidents, delays, frustration, stress and so on. The future, we imagine, includes none of these. The cars of the future will drive us, autonomously, calmly and effortlessly, round an ever-flowing network of transport links, through towns and cities in which the air is as clean as in the mountains and we will arrive at our destination relaxed and refreshed. But that’s in the future. How do we get from here to there and how will cars evolve in the meantime?

The cars of the future will not only be connected but networked and those networks will be able to sense, compute, learn, reason and act on intent, autonomously. They will use artificial intelligence (AI) to enable automation, manage complexity, scalability and leverage data from distributed systems in real-time. And (unlike humans) this system will learn from the outcomes of its own choices and behaviour. The cars of the future will merely be transport “devices” on this network.

Extended capabilities of full autonomy

Insights from prediction algorithms will enable these devices to plan their own maintenance and communicate with mechanics and specialists who may also assist them with their own repair and maybe even control the operation to fix a broken part using haptic touch.

The automated vehicles of the future will be targeted towards different purposes, such as transporting people and goods, and utility and infrastructure management. Their design will reflect this, and vehicles will look very different in accordance with their environment, how they operate and their purpose.

In vehicles that transport people, real-time data will enable increased situational awareness. Vehicles will be able to “see” and navigate around their environment, while interacting with other vehicles and “things” within the environment, harmoniously and safely. The enormous amounts of sensor data generated by such vehicles will be exploited offline to improve safety and operational efficiency.

Cars are already being manufactured with sensing technology in the cab (or cockpit). Natural language processing and computer vision means they can read and interpret human inputs. In the near future, they will be able to understand body language, tone of voice so they can recognise when a driver is tired or distracted and react accordingly with an alarm or corrective collision-avoidance action. Taking information from sensors in the seat, the car of the future could, for example, understand when a driver isn’t feeling well and predict an impending stroke or heart attack. It seems the possibilities are only limited by our collective imaginations.

What does this mean for lease companies and fleet managers?

It is, of course, impossible to accurately predict the future but from developments that are happening now, the future will be less about providing vehicles for individuals and more about providing transport and mobility services within conurbations, urban areas, campuses and city centres, for many different segments of user - business commuters, transport passengers, university campus users, shoppers and so forth.

In addition to cars and vans for individual drivers or corporate fleets, lease companies will have to adapt to funding a whole range of mobility options, including transport pods, buses, drones, eBikes, scooters and whatever mode of transporting people or goods may be developed in the future.

More than anything, what connectivity adds to the role of the fleet manager is data analytics. There’s no doubting that the role of the fleet manager has evolved (and still is evolving) beyond anything imaginable only a decade ago. Managing cars is only part of the role. If asked if they ever thought data analysis would be part of their role, most FMs would say no. The good news is that this can (and should) be outsourced to the companies like Wejo, Otonomo, Geotab and others whose job it is to help FMs make sense of fleet data.

People’s attitudes towards car ownership will continue to change as towns and cities become increasingly less friendly towards private car users and public and commercial transport starts to offer real, cost-effective alternatives, such as user-friendly schedules and an increased number of routes complemented by end-to-end mobility. In the meantime, let your imagination go wild in terms of what your connected car of the future will be like.

Image of the concept of a future connected car dashboard, courtesy of Shutterstock

Authored by: Alison Pittaway