5 practical connectivity applications
Connectivity is one of the four disruptors in the automotive industry, alongside electrification, sharing and autonomous driving. The bits and bytes behind this revolution are set to enhance the customer experience of digital-savvy drivers and carve out new business models for OEMs investing in data monetisation. Let’s look at the typology of connectivity next to five advanced technologies already available in current cars that set the pace for tomorrow.
Connecting cars to the outside world means that many features that previously had nothing to do with cars or mobility are seeping in. Consequently, the range of connectivity applications has become as wide as you can imagine. It starts with e-mail access on the infotainment screen, paying with a biometric device on the dashboard, tracking your mileage for user-based insurance rates or getting your vehicle up to the highest level of autonomy. Internet of Things (IoT) is the next big thing.
Since the connected car demands computing science, and a lot of it, OEMs partner with third parties specialising in data harvesting and cloud-based computing. Big tech companies like Google, Microsoft, and Foxconn are gearing up and discovering the customer inside the drivers with a myriad of smaller startups them. And the customer? They primarily expect a seamless experience between app and device - or service and car - just like on their smartphones.
On a general level, OEMs categorise connectivity into three types of applications:
- Customer-centric and general: think of in-car delivery, where you can open the trunk from a distance for a courier or fill your bathtub with a spoken command to Alexa from inside the car. It’s the outside world entering the vehicle.
- Customer-centric and mobility: here, you’ll find everything from telematics tracking driver behaviour or location-based services, giving OEMs the opportunity to team up with, for example, retailers and hand out discounts along often frequented routes. Under this category also belong car-as-a-payment or mobility apps.
- Vehicle-centric: these services are related directly to the vehicle and cover everything from predictive maintenance, upgrading your car with new options over the air, fleet management systems or personalised insurance.
Now let’s shine the spotlight on some real-world applications pushing the frontiers of connectivity.
A navigation-based linkage connects the vehicle with applicable legislative constraints in the immediate surroundings. For example, when a plug-in hybrid enters a designated zero-emission zone, the car can automatically switch to electric propulsion by recognition. Kia incorporates this technology called Greenzone Drive Mode in the latest hybrid versions of the Niro, where the designated areas can be stored personally by the owner.
Ford runs a pilot on geofencing connected with speed limitations, automatically adjusting top speed to what’s legally allowed. Some premium car brands also use the technology to adjust the shifting patterns of the gearbox to the road layout.
Over-the-air updates are getting more popularized but still have a long way to go. Now under introduction by premium brands like Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Polestar, and the like, customers can activate both hardware and software options after the purchase, also by subscription on a periodic agreement.
Tesla started the utilisation and monetisation of over-the-air updates which will play a vital role in the coming years because of its ability of retrofitting older vehicles with newer software versions for (semi-)autonomous driving.
One of the most promising connectivity services links electric cars to the home grid, transforming them into power stations. As such, they help intelligently balance the right power at the right time, shaving peak moments and delivering electricity as a supplier, becoming cash generators.
Several projects are running with, amongst others, the Nissan Leaf, Ioniq 5 and BMW i3, but Volkswagen will be the first to bring the technology to customers with the ID. range by the end of 2022. Further progress on big data harvesting remains a prerequisite to maximizing functionality.
4. SWARM INTELLIGENCE
Imagine a flock of birds simultaneously changing direction in the sky, while constantly on the move. Vehicles connected to a LAN network can behave accordingly on the highway, always ensuring a minimum distance relative to each and reacting on previously detected obstacles to ensure optimal safety.
Among wider applications, this self-learning system can also be connected to maintenance workers and inform them more promptly about road wear and hazardous infrastructure.
5. CAR AS PAYMENT
Ultimately, cars themselves will become payment methods like wearables. Credit card company VISA has already teamed up with Honda and Mercedes for in-car commerce, where beacons at fuel pumps or parking lots automatically detect the car, and help select the type of service (fuel quantity and so on) on the infotainment screen with automatic payment subsequently performed. Upgrading these concepts to road, tunnel and ferry tolling will facilitate the billing process for both commercial as corporate fleet management.
With seemingly endless possibilities around the corner for connectivity, carmakers will need to invest in partnerships or startups, from service providers to cybersecurity, to reap profits from these new resources as our cars become more and more autonomous. But fleet organizations should likewise address the impact of this evolution since it serves to protect their assets, lifts the user experience and brings about cost reductions.
Image source: Bosch