Friday, September 16, 2011

Connected Cars Coming to a Showroom Near You

Are you worried about getting into an accident with a distracted driver talking on a cell phone?  Well coming soon you may have to be concerned about motorists who are browsing the web, searching for closestor even check the latest stock quotes. The next big market for auto industry is the connected car. Automakers are now featuring internet enabled models at recent car shows and researchers predict that 90% of new cars will ship with connected car features within the next five years.

The times are long past when car shows reeked of motor oil and car enthusiasts were obsessed with engine power and sleek designs. With the aid of telematics and M2M (machine to machine) wireless internet access, automobile makers believe the car of the future will no longer be just a vehicle, but an extension of the home or workplace, where drivers will have access to emails and keep up-to-date on their social networks even on the road.

German manufacturer BMW already offers ConnectedDrive and BMW Assist which provides an onboard computer with internet access where drivers can locate the closest restaurant, the nearest ATM or free parking space in a matter of clicks. And rival Mercedes Benz is not to be outdone, either: its new Mbrace built-in computer allows drivers to unlock doors using their mobile phones, avoid jams using local traffic data, find your car in a crowded parking lot and even surf the web.

Even budget automakers like Hyundai are offering connected car features. Hyundai offers the Blue Link system in the popular Sonata allows voice recognition software to dictate text messages. Toyota has its version called Entune, which will reach the dealerships this fall links with smartphones and offers on-screen information and weather. Ford's Sync system lets you listen to text messages and send automated replies. In its new concept car, the Evos, Ford claims it can adjust the car to custom personal preferences, even down to the cabin temperature, and access to the driver's home entertainment systems for listening to favorite news and music stations.

"A successful car must offer lifestyle, comfort and also fit in with people's ecological awareness," says Stephan Reith of the consultancy firm, Booz & Company.

The automotive part makers such as Bosch in Germany and Valeo in France are busily investing in state-of-the-art onboard computer technologies that can park a vehicle without the driver in the car.

Nevertheless, the new services are not without their dangers, such as driver distraction. The challenge is to meet customer demands without impinging on traffic safety. "Automakers really need to think about all of these things that they're putting in automobiles now and what impact they have on the driver's ability to drive safely" says Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is evaluating in-car technology to develop criteria and regulations that auto manufacturers can use to minimize distractions.

And there are other security concerns, US anti-virus software developer McAfee warned of possible hacker attacks on vehicle computer systems. "It's one thing to hack into someone's email account or laptop. But if cars are hacked, that could seriously compromise critical safety systems," says McAfee general manager Stuart McClure.

And data protection specialists warned drivers must be careful about the sheer volume of personal data stored, particularly in electric cars, which could be used to track somebody's whereabouts or movements.

The concept of the connected car definately has its appeal. Convenient, smartphone-like services can give you quick access to information that can help you save time and even save gas by preventing needless driving.

The bottom line is drivers need to use electronics sensibly. If you need to search the web, send text messages or set destinations when the car is parked or let a passenger work the controls. A driver should ensure that his attention focused on the road and safety is the number one concern.

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