Connected cars are the future of driving: that was one of the main messages of the annual smartphone extravaganza which is the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona.
The race is on to develop technology that will enable cars to drive themselves, or at least improve the driving experience.
Volvo’s keyless car works using a dedicated phone app.
“We have a bluetooth system in the car, that is listening to the phone and can position you to make sure that as you approach the car it will recognise you and it will grant you access to the car,” explains Volvo New Car Director, Martin Rosenqvist. “So you do not have to have a physical car key if you do not want to. We will not stop making physical car keys, but this is an additional service you can have.”
As the system prepares to enter its pilot period, a number of questions remain unanswered – like what to do if your phone runs out of battery or, in a worse case scenario, if you lose it. But the Swedish car manufacturer says there are major advantages for users.
“You can send (someone) a key,” says Rosenqvist. “So when I am in Barcelona, I can send my car key to my wife in Gothenburg, for instance, so she can use the car. And then you can receive a key. So, as I travel into Barcelona, I can book a car with the app and I do not have to wait at the rental car service for a physical car key. I can just go to the car and enter it.”
It will take at least another year before this technology hits the market. Volvo will be testing it in the coming months says Rosenqvist: “We will start a pilot this spring and we will use our car sharing company for that pilot. And then we have international employees flying in from Ghent in Belgium, where we have operations, and they will be given an access to this app so they can book a car and drive it from the airport.”
By 2022, 345 million vehicles worldwide will be connected to the Internet, according to consulting firm IHS Automotive, which predicts that in six years’ time 98 percent of the cars sold globally will be connected. It is a trend driven by customer demand: three out of four consumers say connected car services are an important feature in their next purchase.
“We believe that this is the car of the future,” says Christoph Reifenrath, Senior Marketing Manager at connected technologies firm Harman. “Autonomous driving will be very normal in a couple of years. What we could achieve with autonomous cars is that traffic is more fluent, that it is more safe, that it is more silent, more fuel efficient… So many aspects speak for autonomous driving in certain circumstances.”
It is expected that in the next few years, the industry will undergo fundamental change as semi-autonomous driving emerges, eventual leading to full autonomous driving. Car makers who have always seen themselves as product suppliers will take on a new identity as providers of mobility services.
“There are a lot of new things the system has to do to allow autonomous driving,” explains Harman’s Christoph Reifenrath. “First of all, connectivity: the car has to be always connected to the internet. Secondly, navigation. The navigation has to be much more precise than it ever was before. And the other thing is, what is very helpful, is if the system can predict what you want. So this makes a lot of inputs unnecessary. So if the car starts in the morning and it already knows where you are heading this makes any input into the system unnecessary.”
The question now is: who will conquer the massively growing connected-car business? In order to fend off the threat from technology giants like Apple and Google, car makers are expected to seek out deals and seriously increase R&D spending to get ahead.