What are Connected Cars?

There’s a lot of buzz about connected cars, but what does it mean? In this three part series, I’ll take you through what it means for cars you can buy today, and later in the near and medium future, making sure to cut through the hype along the way.

Connected to what?

The concept of connected cars is a little fuzzy, but essentially it means cars that communicate with the outside world and other cars, for various reasons. They connect to your phone or mobile device, to the internet, or use sensors to be aware of their surroundings and connect with other vehicles or services. We’re pretty used to GPS and in-car displays now, but the technology of connected cars is still in its infancy.

Connected cars today

Right now, connected cars are not exactly a revolution, but they are showing signs of what will come in the future.

Spanish car company SEAT has a system called Easy Connect, which will arrive this summer. At the moment it works with Android devices (they have partnered with Samsung). Italian manufacturer Fiat also has Uconnect. Both offer a similar range of connected features and are good examples of what is available now. Google’s own Android Auto, pictured above, is also available with many manufacturers, allowing you to connect your device smoothly to your car. Check out the Android Auto promotional video below:

No more smartphone distraction

Connecting your device, your car will adapt its display for various smartphone features. This has the advantage of stopping you being distracted by your device’s display, and keeps your eyes on the dashboard and road.

So, you can make and receive calls, control your music, and receive social network and email updates and so on. SEAT’s system will read emails etc out loud to you, again, as a safety feature. You can also use your device’s internet connection to get news stories and headlines.

The general idea here is to keep you connected to the outside world while you’re driving, without distracting you from driving itself.

Better driving and maintenance

Using GPS data, todays cars will take data from journeys you make and help you be more efficient. Especially with the trips you make regularly, connected cars will act almost like an Apple Watch. You’ll get advice on how to make your journey more efficient, cheaper and better for the environment If you have a habit of high-revving, for example, the car will suggest you change up a gear to save fuel.

Today’s connected cars will also tell you when they need maintenance, and in some examples send reports to your service provider so they know ahead of time when your car needs attention from a mechanic.

In the case of accidents, systems like BMW ConnectedDrive send important information, like location and important damage data direct to emergency services. This will become standard on all new cars very soon.

At the top end of the car market, we are already seeing cars that are aware of their road position. They maintain safe distance between cars and can brake, faster than humans are able to, to avoid accidents. This technology is proven, but its cost means it will take some time to spread down to more affordable cars.

Controlling your car from your mobile device

You can use apps to control your car from a distance. Set climate control, find out where it’s parked and even configure your car for different personal profiles. SEAT, again, will allow you to set up a variety of profiles, so whoever gets in the car finds everything just as they like it.

You can, of course, lock and unlock your vehicle with these car connected apps. Though there’s very credible debate over whether this makes your life easier or not!

You are still in control… for now

Despite all the news we read about driverless cars, these are some way off yet, and we will cover why in a later article. The connected car of today is not a radical proposal. Having social media, emails and so on read out to you, or visible on your car dashboard are simply help to keep your eyes on (or at least nearer) the road. But advice on how you can drive more efficiently is great, and an excellent use of in car data.

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Follow me on Twitter @jonathanriggall

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