It’s hard to believe, but connected vehicles are almost 20 years old. Yet after all that time only now are we beginning to realize the promise and potential of vehicle connectivity. Why? Because vehicles are only as smart as what they’re connected to, and in the Internet-of-Things (IoT) world we all live in, that connection point is increasingly the Cloud.
Vehicles Are Not Like Other Connected Devices
It’s not widely known, but automotive was the first industry to start doing IoT—at scale—by leveraging connected vehicle technology and services to differentiate vehicles from the competition and enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty. At scale is important because the automotive industry manufactures a very large amount of vehicles with a wide range of models and options. According to LMC Automotive, automakers will produce 94 million vehicles worldwide in 2016, and 110 million in 2020. However, unlike other high-production volume “devices” like smartphones and gaming consoles, vehicles are incredibly complex, highly regulated, and made up of thousands of hardware and software components from a myriad of suppliers. Not to mention that we, as drivers, rely on our vehicles to ensure our safety, and the safety of others – something that cannot be said about the smartphones in our pockets or gaming consoles in our living rooms. Having said this, one thing connected vehicles do have in common with other connected devices is a reliance on the Cloud to become intelligent, because the Cloud is where the data management, predictive analytics, and computing power reside to simultaneously light up hundreds of millions of cars navigating the planet
Clouds Are Intelligent – The Internet Is Not
So what’s so special about the Cloud? And isn’t the Cloud just a new and trendy name for the Internet? There can often be confusion about the difference between the Cloud and the Internet, and for many people they seem like the same thing. But that’s definitely not the case, especially as it relates to connected vehicles and the services that steam into them. Keeping things simple, the Internet is a global network of computers that enables businesses and individuals to connect and communicate with other businesses and individuals. The Cloud is a global network of highly specialized services—made powerful and intelligent by technology, data, and analytics—that use the Internet to connect and transact with other businesses and individuals. The Internet doesn’t provide an intelligent service in and of itself like the Cloud, and the Cloud is where value generation happens for the businesses and individuals that operate and consume Cloud-based services.
Knowing the Cloud is the intelligence epicenter for connected devices, and the services that stream into them, there’s three areas of Cloud maturation that are major catalysts for the evolution of Cloud-based services, and connected vehicle services in particular:
- Multi-Party Cloud Ecosystems: Clouds come in many shapes, sizes, and flavors, and in some cases what we think is a single Cloud providing a service can actually be a multiple Clouds working together in a seamless way. Connected vehicle services increasingly rely on highly coordinated and tightly integrated multi-party Clouds to generate value for consumers, automakers, and extended ecosystem participants.
- Automated Service Delivery: As millions of devices become connected, Cloud services will be essential for automating the end-to-end process of data collection, aggregation, and distribution. For example, automating the delivery of over-the-air (OTA) software updates from the Cloud enables automakers to deploy system, component, and application level software updates quickly, efficiently, and at scale – saving money and time for drivers, dealers, and automakers alike.
Enough About Clouds, Let’s Talk About Services
As more and more connected vehicles come off assembly lines around the world, and consumer awareness of connected vehicle features increase, the industry will soon transition from the Early Adopter to Early Majority technology adoption stage. But the connected vehicle experience most consumers know today—which is heavily influenced by infotainment delivery services like Spotify for streaming music and Facebook for social media—will pale in comparison to what’s coming next: Driving Centric Services. This transition will occur well before full autonomous driving arrives (no steering wheel, brakes, human control) between vehicle model years 2030-35. So far the connected vehicle industry has gone through two significant phases of evolution – we’re about to enter the third, and there surely will be more phases to follow. Here’s a summary of the first three phases:
- Phase 1: Basic Connectivity – Connecting vehicles to mobile network operators with built-in Telematics Control Units (TCUs) to reach emergency response and concierge call centers, connecting vehicles to brought-in cell phones so drivers can talk and text hands-free while driving, and enable basic remote services like door lock/unlock.
- Phase 2: Infotainment Delivery – Evolving the vehicle-to-phone connection to accommodate more powerful and capable smartphones, and extending the non-automotive mobile device world into the vehicle to provide access to popular apps and services.
- Phase 3: Driving Centric Services – Leveraging existing vehicle connectivity to pull on-board vehicle and driving behavior data up into the Cloud for analytics powering new services that are 100 percent focused on automotive, and pushing the services from the Cloud back down to the vehicle to enhance consumer driving and ownership experiences.
Driving Centric Services are going to be a game changer because they allow connected vehicles to proactively provide real-time, highly-contextual, hyper-personalized information and recommendations that consumers can use to enhance the travel portions of their daily journey. This is also when connected vehicles make a fundamental evolutionary transition into “intelligent vehicles.”
Our vehicles, like so many other devices we rely on, are becoming more intelligent, interactive, and proactive every day because of the Cloud. Isn’t it ironic that automotive, an industry that has received criticism for being slow and archaic, is actually at the forefront of IoT and Cloud-based service delivery? I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for what’s down the road between now and the arrival of full autonomous driving. There’s so much opportunity for technology innovation and the creation of exciting user experiences. That’s what gets me up in the morning.
Scott Frank is Vice President of Marketing at Airbiquity, a provider of connected vehicle services and developer of automotive telematics technology and solutions.