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Figuring out the Automotive World's Place in the Internet of Things

June 3, 2016

For plenty of veterans of the automotive world, the bond between technology and this industry is one that doesn't seem like it makes a ton of sense at first glance. After all, cars and trucks have stood as works of mechanical ingenuity for over a century now, while computers, WiFi, and the rest of the tech gang are still relatively new to the mix in terms of being major facets of our everyday lives.

It's a classic case of the "oil and water dynamic" in that the two just don't mix, right?

As appealing as it might be to buy into this "back in my day" narrative, the truth of the matter is that the next line of cars and trucks rolling out onto your showroom floor are on the cusp of diving headfirst into our increasingly interconnected modern lives and taking their rightful places within the constantly expanding Internet of Things (IoT).

"Indeed, the auto industry is on the brink of a revolution, and the driving force is the suite of technologies known as the Internet of Things (IoT)."
– Deloitte University Press

Think we're missing the mark on this one? If you give us just a few minutes to talk about exactly what the heck the IoT is, as well as where the automotive industry fits into the big picture of this digital landscape, then we have no doubts that you'll be singing a different tune in no time. From here, you'll have all the insight you need to not only plan accordingly for this growing shift toward tech-friendly vehicles, but also fully embrace the reality that the Internet is most certainly ready to hit the open road with tomorrow's car buyers.

Defining the Internet of Things

So what exactly is the IoT? As the team over at TechDaring explains, this buzzword (and subsequently handy acronym) covers the network of physical objects that connect with one another – and the Internet – to transmit or receive information, sense something from their environments, or interact with other components and objects.

The graphic pictured above from the TechDaring team helps illustrate the core concepts that we're trying to impart here, in addition to providing you with a look at the sheer scope of what falls into this growing network. (Hint: Pretty much every modern device that taps into the Internet fits this billing.)

As far as showcasing real-life examples of the IoT goes, here's a quick list of some prime instances of this technology in action that you probably already utilize during your daily routine:

  • Learning thermostats that track, log, and adapt to your preferences while also helping to reduce energy consumption.
  • Smart lightbulbs that integrate with phone apps to provide different lighting based on your mood or current activities.
  • Wearable tech (Fitbit, Google Glass, etc.) and their related device and web-based applications.
  • Internet-connected refrigerators that offer the user access to touchscreen apps and notify you when it's time to run to the store for more milk.

Basically, if the device or item in question proudly wears the "smart" label (or has access to the web), then it most likely has a spot somewhere in the greater IoT road map.

Tomorrow's Smart Car Today?

Now that we've laid out a solid understanding of what the IoT is, as well as given you a few examples of this network in action from across your daily life, it's time to tackle the next big topic: Is the automotive industry's future really tethered to this tech-centric outlook?

While you'll soon see that the answer to this question is a definitive "yes," the truth of the matter is that we're really only telling half of the story by framing the discussion from this perspective. As Simon Ninan, Bharath Gangula, and the rest of the team from the Deloitte University Press note, the impact of this emerging technology isn't just relegated to some obscure point in the future; today's marketplace is also heavily influenced by IoT-connected cars and the related demand for these products.

"Our cars have been connected for years, in ways that by now seem routine: They seamlessly link to our smartphones, register real-time traffic alerts, stream our Spotify playlists, and offer emergency roadside assistance at the touch of a button."
– Deloitte University Press

Believe it or not, manufacturers from all corners of the marketplace have been developing (and integrating) this technology into recent models for years now – thereby showing a keen understanding of the fact that apps and other inclusions go a long way toward enhancing the consumer experience and meeting the growing demand for these inclusions.

From the original variation of OnStar and Ford SYNC, to Progressive's Snapshot and the current test runs of self-driving cars, there's no denying that the IoT – as well as all manner of tech-based advancements appearing in the latest editions of industry-leading cars – is firmly entrenched in the DNA of the modern automotive industry.

Projecting the Future of the Bond Between the Internet of Things and the Automotive World

In terms of projecting the current market for cars that fit into this category into the near future, the experts from the Deloitte University Press go on to sum up this portion of the conversation with four simple – and powerful – points:

  • Drivers of the next generation want cars that act as "smartphones on wheels."
  • Being productive and connected with the web while they're on the go is also important to this demographic.
  • Many view fully-connected vehicles as one of the most beneficial futuristic technologies.
  • These drivers are also ready and willing to pay a sizeable amount for vehicles that meet (and exceed) their technological needs and wants.

If this insight isn't enough to convince you that the automotive industry's future is heavily intertwined with that of the IoT, then we'd like to point you in the direction of a report from the research firm Gartner regarding the role of connected cars within the expanding physical – and digital – borders of this burgeoning network. Specifically, the Gartner research group uncovered the following conclusion:

"By 2020, there will be a quarter billion connected vehicles on the road, enabling new in-vehicle services and automated driving capabilities, according to Gartner, Inc. During the next five years, the proportion of new vehicles equipped with this capability will increase dramatically, making connected cars a major element of the Internet of Things (IoT)."
– Gartner, Inc.

Going a step farther, the Gartner team also projects during this timeframe that the number of installed connectivity units in vehicles around the world will jump by an astounding 67 percent, with consumers in general following suit over the same period by nearly doubling their spending on these features and tools.

The moral of the story here? Ready or not, the automotive industry is a growing segment of the IoT – both now and in the future.

Understanding the Implications of This Technological Leap Forward

By now, you've probably noticed that we've been pretty cheery and optimistic when it comes to the tone of our discussion regarding the game changing nature of smart car technology and the IoT. However, it is important to point out that having access to the web from anywhere on the road isn't without its own unique set of concerns.

In particular, it's time to shine a spotlight on the security and safety issues facing down this technology as wireless connections and ports become more and more prevalent in cars across the country.

"As the two hackers remotely toyed with the air-conditioning, radio, and windshield wipers [of the Cherokee], I mentally congratulated myself on my courage under pressure. That’s when they cut the transmission."
– Andy Greenberg, Wired Magazine

In case you missed it, Wired magazine's Andy Greenberg and two intrepid hackers (Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek) set out to accomplish a monument task back in July of 2015: Hack a Jeep Cherokee. The crew leveraged a clever exploit found within the firmware of the Cherokee's Uconnect Internet system to achieve this goal and remotely control the vehicle via WiFi and cellular networks from several miles away.

Simply put, this test proved that just like any other member of the IoT community, smart cars and their related devices can – and ultimately will – face down threats from the less than savory elements of the digital world.

Want to see the hack in action? Let's pause for a minute and watch Greenberg's video of a Cherokee being hijacked over on the Wired YouTube channel.

The actions of Greenberg, Miller, and Valasek eventually led Chyrsler to recall 1.4 million vehicles and spur the U.S. Senate to contemplate legislation aimed at increasing automotive security safeguards and industry standards. In other words, demonstrating the perils that come with tapping into the IoT has helped supercharge the discussion surrounding digital safety in vehicles in ways that "what if" scenarios and other abstractions never could.

Fitting the Automotive World into the Internet of Things

So what's the big takeaway from this look at the automotive world and its connection to the IoT? The answer to this question can be boiled down to the following three key points:

  • Internet-friendly cars (and integrated parts) are not only part of the future of the automotive industry, but also a major factor within its present prospects.
  • There is a ton of room for growth, improvement, and innovation as this technology continues to expand both in influence and in adoption.
  • Adopting this technology does open the door for the same security and safety issues that affect the rest of the digital world – and the IoT in particular.

By now, it's safe to say that you're firmly up to speed with all of the latest insight regarding the colliding worlds of traditional automotive development and cutting edge Internet-based functionality. From here, you can rest easy knowing that no matter what happens next in this shared space, you'll always have all the tools and expertise needed to adapt and respond accordingly.



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