While the flying cars from 'The Jetsons' cartoon series might still be a few years away, the automotive industry is undergoing a rapid transformation to introduce cars with highly connected and immersive technologies.
Looking at the global perspective, several leading car manufactures, such as BMW, Audi and Toyota, have already unveiled vehicles with embedded connectivity applications. In fact, as per the 'Connected Car Industry Report' published by the telecom operator Telefónica, in 2013-14 around 10 per cent of cars globally had some levels of built-in-connectivity platforms and this figure is expected to grow to about 90 per cent by 2020.
Even the technology vendors are eyeing the automotive sector to power their next phase of growth. This is evident by the launch of new in-car platforms such as the 'CarPlay' from Apple and the 'Android Auto' and 'Projected Mode' from Google (now Alphabet). All of these allow a better integration of the mobile phone into the car's systems, thus creating safer way for drivers to interact with their phones while driving.
To add to this is Microsoft's 'Windows in the Car' platform and in December 2015, Microsoft and Volvo announced a global partnership to jointly develop technologies for the connected car.
In fact, the connected and autonomous cars were one of the key themes during the recent concluded Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2016 in Las Vegas. The show featured cutting edge car technology such as cloud-enabled personalised driver experience (from Airbiquity Choreo), next generation self-driving computers (from Nvidia) as well as a renewed commitment towards artificial intelligence (AI) to support safer driving, most notably from Toyota. Earlier, in November 2015, the company had, announced a five-year, $1 billion investment in AI research, by establishing the Toyota Research Institute.
Even the regional landscape for connected cars has been very active in recent times and a few manufactures have already launched 'Smarter Cars' in the UAE. A prime example of this was Ford, which as far back as 2011 launched the Ford Edge 2011 that featured the MyFord Touch technology (developed in partnership with Microsoft). MyFord Touch enabled drivers to seamlessly integrate their mobile phones and digital media players into their cars.
Following this up, the Nissan Altima 2013 featured the Nissan Connected Infotainment Platform, which incorporated features such as Google point-of-interest locations and Pandora radio. Further, the Dubai International Motor Show 2015 saw the global launch of the 'Nissan SmartCar' mobile application. Developed in partnership with etisalat, the app allows users to gain access to features such as remote control of locks, horn, headlights, windows and the vehicle's air conditioning etc.
In fact, as per a Statista 2015 report, the connected car market is set to grow rapidly in the coming years, and within the Middle East and Africa region, will be worth around $950 million by the end of 2016.
Looking ahead, the Dubai Water and Electricity Authority (Dewa) is working on the Green Charger initiative. This is Dewa's one of the three sustainability goals for the coming years (till 2017) and is aimed at making Dubai ready for electric charging vehicles. Most of these electric vehicles, as and when they hit the Dubai roads, will definitely have moderate to advanced levels of connectivity modules, especially for in-car entrainment as well as some amount of engine diagnostics.
However, apart from this, any more advanced applications - such as predictive traffic monitoring, seamless and automatic traffic mapping, vehicle to vehicle communication, advanced remote diagnostics and repair etc - are at least about five years away from main stream adoption.
There are many reasons for this, the prime among them being that of data privacy and ownership. Connected cars are bound to generate large amounts of data and the proper ownership and cataloguing of this can help in remote diagnostics and flagging potential issues. However, for this to happen one prime question that needs to be addressed is about who owns the data - the car driver, the car owner, the technology or connectivity provider or the car manufacture?
Here, the data ownership will determine who needs to pay for the investment towards data protection and integrity and with whom ant potential future profits (arising out of higher car efficiency or longer lifetime) need to be shared. The business models around connected cars need to be evolved by addressing these basic issues first.
The other big challenge around the connected cars is that of hacking and security breaches. This was brought to fore in July 2015, when Fiat Chrysler had to recall 1.4 million vehicles in the US after it was discovered that they could be controlled and disabled remotely, by hacking into the car's Internet-connected entertainment system. In fact, other leading car manufacturers might also be susceptible to similar vulnerabilities. Security, thus, could become a real stumbling block for the growth of connected cars.
Another aspect of the connected car ecosystem that needs to be developed to foster their growth is that of policy and support infrastructure. Issues such as differential road taxes (such as tax concessions for better traffic management enabled via connectivity), insurance coverage and the ways to identify and apportion blame in cases of accidents - all these and other related matters need to openly debated and common solutions need to be adopted across the industry value-chain.
Overall, the outlook for the connected cars is positive, both globally and within in the Middle East region. The UAE is a large market for vehicles and it is only a matter of time before some more the connected cars are seen widely on the country's roads.
By Abhinav Purohit
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