Connected cars will soon be the norm, experts say

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Ford Sync

Ford was the first of the Big Three automakers to provide connectivity with its Sync platform. Image: Sinchen/Lin/Flickr/CC BYSync

The Computer Age is upon us in full force, and the automotive industry will never be the same again. “Connected cars” will someday dominate the roads, experts agree.

Connected cars create industry

As consumers become more internet savvy and more “connected” to “connectivity,” they are demanding more and more electronic gadgets in their rides. That is spurring a whole new industry that is growing at a rapid rate: Car connectivity technology. And that growth is particularly evident in the economy of the Pacific Northwest.

According to Paul Sciame, general manager of Tweddle Group Technologies of Bellevue, cars are just starting to grow up in the Computer Age.

“The most interesting spot in technology right now is the confluence of an automobile and wireless services. Automakers have been around for over 100 years, and they have a very prescribed approach to the business. The product cycles are very long. We’re trying to marry that approach with one of the fastest-moving technology spaces, that being mobile services.”

Other Pacific Northwest companies thriving as a result of the push to get cars connected are Bellevue’s VoiceBox Technologies and Kirkland’s Inrix.

Automakers develop connections

Ford was the first of America’s Big Three automakers to develop mobile services for mass-produced cars with its Sync technology.

Last month, Toyota entered the game with its Etune platform, which uses a smartphone connection to pull in driver-specific applications.

Also in July, Honda announced its HondaLink, which also uses a smartphone connection. It will be installed in the 2013 Accord.

There is little doubt that other automakers will soon follow suit.

Tweddle was a major contributor to Toyota’s Etune, and the company has grown as a result. It now employs more than 100 people.

Kush Parikh, a senior vice president of business development at Inrix, says that it will take a few years, but that connected cars will become the mainstream norm, and a multi-billion dollar industry.

Merging technologies offers challenges

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One problem this technological explosion has encountered is the differing timetables between the automotive and the high-tech industries. The lifecycle of a particular model of an auto rates about four to five years among manufacturers. But mobile technology changes nearly on a daily basis.

Mobile consultant Chetan Sharma said of automakers:

“To be relevant, they have to adopt the pace of the cellphone industry. So either the new innovation needs to be an aftermarket product that can keep up with the changing pace of apps, or it just needs to be handed over to the cell phone.”

Higher-end automakers will build connectivity into the car itself. But consumer cars produced for the mass-market are likely to lean more on smartphones for connectivity. That brings its own set of problems, as user’s mobile minutes can get quickly eaten up.

MIT graduate student Alex Cornejo is working on a solution that will allow motorists access to cloud services without running up astronomical bills. He and his associates have developed an algorithm that could allow the compressed data going to hundreds of cars to be sent over over a single cellular connection.

‘The ultimate mobile device’

There is a long way to go before the bugs are ironed out and every car becomes a rolling computer. But Inrix spokesman Jim Bak says the day is not too far off when cars will become “the ultimate mobile device.”





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