In-vehicle connected services: the moving computer

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A McKinsey study on trendsetting car buyers shows that 40% of respondents are willing to change car brands for better connectivity features. It is becoming evident that the ability to remain connected is no longer a luxury for most consumers­: it is an expectation, and one that now applies when travelling by car.

In-vehicle connected services are technologies that allow devices and systems within a vehicle to connect with one another, as well as with other external or remote systems. These have already been around for some time, before the rollout of electric and autonomous vehicles. Typically, these services can be divided into three broad categories: infotainment (a combination of information and entertainment which is fed back to the driver, for example via a media player), telematics (which allows the car to stay connected to the cloud) and vehicle-to-everything (or V2X, the communication between a vehicle and any other object that can be affected by the vehicle, enabling services such as automatic payment of tolls).

Now, more and more connected services technologies are coming to the fore, promising to disrupt and revolutionise the vehicle market. But car manufacturers must approach these services with an element of caution. It is not always about the most exciting offerings, but the ones that best meet the end-users’ needs.

The possibilities for in-vehicle connectivity

The modern car’s mobile connectivity makes it the ultimate connected device. Car manufacturers have had to respond to increasing consumer demands and expectations, which have driven even more sophisticated technologies. This has created a constant pipeline of new customer-centric services that go far beyond the driving experience.

Advanced infotainment is just one element in the connected vehicle services ecosystem: others include telematics and V2X

The possibilities for improving the in-vehicle experience are what drive today’s use cases. This is especially true for infotainment, with manufacturers trying to optimise all facets of the car journey, while ensuring passenger safety and vehicle security. A key technology that is actively being looked at in this area is biometrics. Biometrics can be used for vehicle entry and ignition. This is important because car theft is a major issue for cars with keyless ignition. Biometric-based authentication, which involves the use of biological markers like fingerprint, facial or pupil recognition, can provide a safer alternative for consumers. The use cases for biometrics can also be extended to ride-hailing firms, as these can be used to identify both drivers and passengers. Another area that is actively being pursued by automakers is wellness tracking, where sensors in the steering wheel can detect, for example, changes in heart rate, stress levels, fatigue and so on. This would ensure greater safety, as the car would be able to forewarn the driver of any cognitive impairment that could greatly affect safe driving.

Today, one of the most common use cases for in-vehicle connectivity services is telematics, a combination of telecommunications and informatics. Telematics data can be especially useful in the event of an accident by providing a better understanding of what happened in the lead up to the event. Telematics data can also be used for predictive maintenance and for creating more accurate insurance policies, especially for new drivers. Predictive maintenance can also vastly improve reliability and durability of cars, thereby increasing their re-sale value.

V2X will be hugely beneficial for navigation-routing and vehicle-to-vehicle communication. For example, information can be shared live with a car’s centralised back-end servers to calculate the best routes using the most recent road and traffic conditions. The information used to calculate instant re-routing can also be shared back to servers and between other drivers, as can information such as poor road conditions, road closures and parking space availability. This creates a ripple effect, whereby even cars that are not connected can benefit as traffic will be better managed from the data gathered.

The tech behind the tech

Connectivity has been revolutionising the way we drive and how we interact with our roads for many years. A SIM card, for example, allows services such as calls and texts to come through to the dashboard. But technology can now go much further than this.

With the global connected vehicle market forecast to treble in size by 2027 to US$49bn, now is clearly the time for manufacturers to explore how to capitalise on both the technology and growing demand.

Sensors, radars and cameras already form a huge part of the modern-day automobile. These connected devices, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), will be key factors in making cars autonomous. With the increasing volume, velocity and variety of data coming in, manufacturers will be able to leverage AI-and machine learning (ML)-based technologies to benefit the driver and passengers. A key example of this is the use of in-vehicle voice assistants. These can be used not only for hands free navigation but to play music, send texts and conduct vehicle controls searches. This also brings into play manufacturers’ partnerships with tech companies. For example, according to a recent survey by JD Power the majority of customers would prefer the same brand of voice assistant they have at home, so car manufacturers will need to partner with the same companies that develop the technologies consumers are already used to.

4G is yet another technology that has a big role to play. Most of the cars on the road today that have in-vehicle connections are only available thanks to 4G technology connectivity. Excitingly, a study by ABI Research has shown that the commercial rollout of 5G and other next-generation connectivity will have an even bigger transformative effect on worldwide roadways within the next three years by helping to develop smart cities, with cellular V2X tech. As connected cars increasingly become mobile IoT devices that can sense the local environment and communicate with cloud-based platforms, they will enable drivers to stay better informed about road and traffic conditions, helping to improve traffic flow and resulting in fewer accidents. With the introduction of 5G, there is much more to come.

The future of in-vehicle connected services

Compared with megatrends such as autonomy, the term ‘in-vehicle connected services’ certainly does not make sparks fly, but when viewed in depth, it becomes an incredibly exciting market that will have a huge impact on most of our lives.

Car manufacturers must approach these services with an element of caution. It is not always about the most exciting offerings, but the ones that best meet the end-users’ needs

A number of future possibilities are being explored right now, from using cars as an alternative retail channel, to brain-to-vehicle technologies, whereby brain wave activity is analysed by the car’s systems to predict and anticipate a driver’s reactions and behaviour.

Cars are already considered moving computers, but they are quickly becoming a lifestyle choice. It is no longer just about horsepower or engine size, it is about how they support everyday life and our overall lifestyle.

So, while the development of in-vehicle connected services has greatly accelerated the automotive industry and brought it firmly into the 21st century, with so many possibilities for its use on offer, manufacturers need to approach it with caution. It all comes back to the customer experience. For example, someone with a family and children will want to monitor different attributes and specifications in the car, such as geofencing, a location-based service in an app, to monitor a child who recently learned to drive. A professional who has to be on the road for work all the time, on the other hand, might want to be able to connect back into their diary and tap the best navigation to make the next meeting.

With the global connected vehicle market forecast to treble in size by 2027 to US$49bn, now is clearly the time for manufacturers to explore how to capitalise on both the technology and growing demand.

Rohit Gupta is Head of Products and Resources at Cognizant

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