Connected cars can now communicate with other smart devices around them, including those that might control the heating, door locks or lights at home. Some systems can even advise whether the kids have left for school. There is a clear convenience benefit and for many it will provide peace of mind when away from the nest. But is car-to-home connectivity more than a fancy trinket, and do the benefits come with any challenges?
Both the automotive and big tech industries are still trying to work this out as they begin connecting smart devices at home with the car’s in-vehicle assistant. Some of the biggest names in both spaces—Amazon, Google, Bosch—are heavily involved in car-to-home connectivity, and new cars in the premium segment already support such functions.
Mercedes-Benz has been working with Tier 1 supplier Bosch to pair the MBUX voice assistant with Bosch Smart Home, the supplier’s portfolio of intelligent home products. In-vehicle voice commands can control everything from smart plugs and thermostats to shutters, motion detectors and light controls.
Cars can even communicate with sensors that check whether a door or window in the house is shut properly. The driver can use the ‘Hey Mercedes’ prompt to ask the lights to be turned on in the garage, a radiator in a particular room to be made hotter or colder, or the blinds in a room to be lowered or raised for privacy. Status requests can also be made via the car, such as “is everything okay at home” or “are all the windows at home closed.”
Toyota has similar aspirations. Charan Lota, Vice President and Executive Chief Engineer for Toyota Motor North America Connected Technologies, explained that while there are many applications for this kind of connectivity, obvious interactions include the opening and closing of garage doors or gates, or the control of home lighting as the vehicle arrives or departs. Importantly, a home assistant can also communicate with the car while it is stationary, with commands such as “start the car” or “lock the car”. Navigation requests could be sent to the car before it gets going, and music can flow seamlessly from home to vehicle.
Much of this can already be done via a smartphone, but the clinch is that drivers cannot use their phone while driving. And importantly, queries can be actioned: did I turn the lights off? (Yes, would you like me to turn them off for you?) Are all the windows closed at home? (Currently, all contact sensors are closed). Can you turn the thermostat in the living room to 22 degrees? (No problem!).
By accessing the largest expense in a person’s life—their home—you can also access the second largest expense in their life—the car
Cammi Tran, part of the Bosch Smart Home marketing team, explains that the goal is to make a connected life more convenient, and to transfer the experience that drivers might be used to at home into the car. “Voice is an interesting control option in the smart home that is enjoying growing popularity,” she told Automotive World. “We also want to meet this customer need with the option of controlling the Bosch smart home system from the car.”
Experts recognise that as more devices become ‘connected’, the opportunity for a cyber attack grows. Hackers will take any opportunity to monetise vulnerable systems, be it in the home or the car, and the risk of extortion, ransom or theft of personal property remains real. By linking the car with the home, is the industry asking for trouble?
Fay Goldstein, Strategic Communications and Development Manager at Upstream Security recognises that there are indeed risks associated with vehicle-to-home connectivity, but that the industry is at least aware of the problem and what needs to be done. “By accessing the largest expense in a person’s life—their home—you can also access the second largest expense in their life—the car,” Goldstein told Automotive World. “It is not farfetched to say that Alexa could be asked to unlock the car, unlock the house, open the garage, manipulate the thermostat and potentially set the house on fire.” In theory, she says, the home office could even serve as an entry point to a global organisation, and all through a “relatively simple hack”.
But like many of these concerns surrounding the IoT space and connected cars in particular, the industry is actively working to ensure that convenience does not compromise safety and security. “We are by no means against this kind of technology, which is making our lives easier and more advanced,” affirmed Goldstein, “we just need to secure it.”
Functional or frivolous?
The trickle-down effect generally sees cutting-edge technologies hit the mass market once costs fall and demand grows. But will smart home connectivity come as standard in new vehicles moving forward, or will it remain a party piece for luxury marques? Not everyone has access to a private garage or the cash for smart home upgrades.
Initially, says Bosch’s Tran, this kind of functionality was only possible within the Mercedes S-Class. “We are aware that the S-Class is a luxury car,” she explained, but in 2021 other models within the Mercedes-Benz portfolio will gain similar functionality. Tran emphasised that Bosch aims to offer smart home-to-vehicle connectivity “to as many users as possible.”
“The hardware and capabilities exist in even basic platforms, so ideally this should be a standard feature,” added Toyota’s Lota. He observes that the overriding goal is to create a “seamless user experience” between connected devices, be that car, home or anything else.
We must balance the benefits and convenience for the customer with what they find valuable
Vehicle-to-home connectivity could be the start of a growing trend as smart devices become increasingly common in the home and other lived spaces like the workplace. Although Bosch’s smart home strategy is understandably under wraps, Tran highlighted that existing solutions are “naturally being expanded” into more areas of everyday life.
“Plenty of opportunities exist,” agreed Lota, but drivers must not be bombarded with messages coming from devices outside of the car. “We must balance the benefits and convenience for the customer with what they find valuable and with driving safety.” The broad variety of IoT devices and smart home platforms could make standardisation of vehicle-to-home connectivity a challenge, but Lota remains bullish that vehicle and consumer platforms will merge to create “value-add experiences.”