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As in previous years, we’re seeing a lot of car connectivity news at the Consumer Electronics Showcase, but an interesting theme is emerging at this year’s conference. We’re starting to see the automobile take its place among the internet of things, connecting not just to smartphones, but also wearables, the smart home and even the roads and vehicles around them.
When a smart watch is also a key fob
You can connect a smartphone to a lot of vehicle these days. But [company]Hyundai[/company] has done one better. It’s linking Android Wear watches to its Blue Link infotainment and telematics system. The app will let you unlock and start your car with a tap of a screen icon or even a voice command. What’s better is this isn’t some concept tech. It will work on Hyundai Blue Link systems going back to its first generation in 2012 Sonata, and the app will be available for download on Google Play this quarter.
We’re also starting to see more linkages between the smart car and the smart home courtesy of Nest and Automatic, the maker of the popular plug-in module that will turn your unconnected car into a connected one. Now your Nest can coordinate with your Automatic module to set your home’s temperature. Instead of turning on the AC or heat when you walk in the door, Automatic can let Nest know when you’re 15 minutes from your garage based on your driving patterns and therefore start cranking the thermostat well before you arrive.
That’s a pretty basic application, but we’re starting to see more ties between apps in the home and car through services like IFTTT and after-market devices like Automatic and Mojio, but hopefully we can soon start eliminating those middlemen. At CES, [company]Ford[/company] demoed its new Sync 3 connected infotainment system publicly for the first time, and one of its features is the ability to talk directly to your home network through Wi-Fi. Ford is only using that connection for software updates today, but Ford executive director of connected vehicles and services Don Butler told me recently that Ford plans to use Wi-Fi as a bridge between the home and car in the future.
And lest we forget smartphones, we saw one of the world’s biggest automakers, Volkswagen, commit to supporting [company]Apple[/company]’s CarPlay and [company]Google[/company]’s Android Auto software in vehicles released this year in Europe and the U.S. Most of the auto industry is doing the same, though most automakers are being pretty vague on the timelines.
What’s interesting about the VW announcement is that [company]Volkswagen[/company] is already supporting an alternate smartphone overlay system called MirrorLink, and it will continue to include it in its vehicles. We’re starting to see automakers open up to multiple different means of connecting smartphones to a car, and based on my conversations with car OS makers like [company]BlackBerry[/company] QNX, this will be the norm among car companies. That’s great because ultimately it will give consumers choice, which is something we lack in a lot of connected car systems today.
Cycles, snowy roads and internet-connected salt trucks
[company]Volvo[/company] and POC were on hand at CES showing off their prototype cycling helmet, which can communicate with Volvo cars to help both cyclist and driver avoid collisions. My colleague David Meyer covered the technology last month, but as he pointed out the chances of it actually preventing accidents in the real world were pretty slim.
But I give credit to Volvo for experimenting with the concept of making cars part of larger transportation network. Of all of the automakers it’s been looking into ways to linking vehicles to infrastructure and the roads they drive on.
One of the most interesting examples is work Volvo doing with [company]Ericsson[/company] and local government agencies in Sweden to use embedded road sensors in its cars to determine snow and ice conditions on streets and highways. By crowdsourcing data from thousands of vehicles driving on roads in real times, city crews know where and when they need to send out their salt trucks to de-ice the pavement.