This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of The Record.
Connected cars – they’re vehicles that have access to the internet and are equipped with sensors so that they can send and receive data and commands, sense and respond to the physical environment around them, enable new ways of being productive, and interact with other vehicles and ‘things’.
Gartner expects one in five vehicles to have some sort of wireless network connection by 2020. And Accenture’s 2016 Connected Vehicle Survey found that over 14,000 consumers across five continents are now looking for new models with connected technologies integrated as standard. Almost 40% of those questioned also said that in-car technology is their first and foremost consideration when purchasing a new car, above the driving performance of the vehicle.
To deal with this shift, manufacturers are broadening their thinking and looking to move past being just a vehicle supplier. Many are now embracing the idea of being mobility service providers.
“The focus is shifting from the capabilities of the car itself, to how that car can connect seamlessly with the driver’s digital life,” says Rohit Bhargava, Microsoft’s chief technology officer for Discrete Manufacturing, Worldwide Public Sector and Industry Group. “Today’s younger generations don’t have the same buying considerations that older generations do. The association with the car, symbolically, has changed. For millennials and increasingly urbanising populations, the car is a convenience. They’re more concerned with having the best experience in getting from point A to B.”
Many automotive manufacturers are now developing dedicated divisions focused solely on mobility and connected vehicle services.
“Everyone has realised how fundamental mobility services are for consumers changing expectations and have therefore increased their focus in this space,” says Vijitha Chekuri, director of Business Development, Worldwide Discrete Manufacturing and Automotive at Microsoft.
Bhargava and Chekuri note a growing recognition that software platforms are becoming critical to this mobility services transformation.
“Automotive manufacturers are recognising the need to develop capabilities of their own and to partner with technology companies in their digital transformation journey,” says Bhargava. “At Microsoft, we are seeing huge interest from players who want to partner with us on a global scale and help them build their own platforms on top of our open Microsoft Azure cloud platform.”
As well as connecting with a consumer’s digital life, open standard technologies enabled by the internet of things help drivers connect between their home and car.
“It is now possible to converge applications from the vehicle with home-controlled systems,” says Bhargava. “If I’m leaving home, I can get a reminder in the vehicle to turn off all lights, and then carry that out from the vehicle itself. Similarly, if you are driving home, the technology is there to precondition the car so you are comfortable when get in and turn on the heating in your home prior to your arrival.”
Microsoft is introducing a set of building blocks or common capabilities on top of the Azure platform in what it calls the Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform, which Chekuri says brings a number of different concepts and related technologies together.
“For example, Cortana – Microsoft’s intelligent digital assistant – knows the user, the context and can learn a user’s needs, calendar, routes and begin to personalise the ride,” she explains. “From an attentive and proactive virtual personal assistant keeping track of reminders and tasks, to enabling conference calls for productive use of time, or adapting the vehicle to the driver’s unique preferences – the car is increasingly becoming an extension of the user’s life and the platform lights up all these capabilities for the original equipment manufacturers.”
The platform also enables continuous monitoring of the health of the vehicle, alerting drivers before a problem develops and coordinating schedules with the dealer’s service centre. Microsoft is working with map providers to provide location based services and real-time updates that are essential for automated driver assist systems.
“If a vehicle can detect something in the road and upload the visual images of that obstacle to the cloud, that information can then be processed and passed onto other vehicles, that can navigate that incident appropriately,” Bhargava says.
The possibilities are also starting to be realised by public sector organisations, who are seeing an opportunity to improve traffic flow, reduce emissions, and eliminate fatalities. A focus on enabling higher levels of connectivity across many industries – from smart infrastructure to intermodal transport to smart grids – has seen more attention paid to how cars can become part of this integrated ecosystem.
“Cities are taking a greater interest in this as a way of reducing congestion, improving services and promoting public transportation,” Chekuri explains. “For example, Microsoft has been working with the City of Barcelona to collect data around traffic patterns and movement of people at different times. This is allowing the city to tactically position bicycles at appropriate places to help reduce congestion as part of integrating public and private transport systems.”
Bhargava adds that with so many opportunities in this space, Microsoft’s commitment to the connected car and transformation of mobility is as strong as ever.
“This is just a glimpse into what the future holds for the automotive space,” he concludes. “We are just getting started investing in this exciting area with the Connected Vehicle Platform and our partnerships, and couldn’t be more excited to participate in a future that improves safety, makes the commute easier for people, and benefits the environment.”
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