The connected car
It’s not so long ago that drivers would only be storing basic information in a car – data which extended as far as radio presets for most, perhaps seat and steering wheel settings for a few, and at the very most a few albums stored on a built-in hard drive.
But cars are changing, and fast. Bluetooth is already commonplace, internet-connected navigation isn’t far behind and a few of the most recent models offer social media apps built into the dashboard. Devices connected to the internet already outnumber the human population of Earth, and cars are becoming the next frontier.
So, as the car becomes an ever-more detailed storage space for dates, numbers, addresses and e-mails, what’s next for driving, and how can fleets prepare for the next generation of motoring?
So where are we now?
Renault’s R-Link infotainment system debuts on the futuristic ZOE electric supermini, but it is technology bound for the rest of the range, and will be offered as a £450 option on the fourth-generation Clio.
Designed to look and operate like a tablet computer, key functions are grouped into individual icons for easy access and Renault will launch an online R-Link Store similar to the Apple, Android, Nokia and Blackberry alternatives, through which users can download apps to the car. From launch, though, the system will include four pre-installed apps – e-mail, Twitter, weather and Renault Assistance.
BMW Connected Drive
Telephone connectivity is a small part of BMW’s Connected Drive package, but the features are comprehensive. Cars with a navigation screen can read and display not only contact books and multimedia wirelessly, but also text messages, e-mails, calendar entries with a text-to-speech function.
An on-board data connection boosts this further. Real-time traffic information is displayed as a simple red, amber and green overlay, drivers can display the end destination using Google Street View, and news, weather and sports can be accessed on screen. Connecting to a phone with the relevant app installed also allows Twitter and Facebook updates to be posted from the car’s infotainment system.
Toyota touch and go plus
Launched on the Avensis and rolled out to the facelifted Prius and seven-seat Prius+, Toyota’s top of the range infotainment system adds internet-connected navigation which can download 3D city modelling and traffic information over the air.
The system features full calendar and e-mail integration, with the latter able to be sent and received through the car’s dashboard. Touch and Go Plus will also read text aloud so drivers can stay in touch while they’re on the move, and future upgrades will add Google Street View and for text and e-mail messages to be dictated into the system.
While connected cars offer a more convenient on-road life for drivers, the data stored in the memory of most built-in infotainment systems has never offered such a detailed view of the owner’s life. Internet connectivity may be in its infancy, but a large percentage of fleet vehicles already contain Bluetooth-transferred phonebooks and, via the sat nav, details of where it’s been driven.
David Tomes of fraud investigation company, Auto Intelligence, says: ‘In the main, cases I have seen relate to accessing data after the vehicle has been passed on, not particularly the case of access without the driver knowledge, because ultimately the driver gets to know about it. There are also cases where data has been stolen and used for nefarious purpose.’
Not only is this a potential headache for drivers – cases have been reported where new owners have traced cars back to their previous keeper using the sat nav – but it’s an issue for fleet managers too, potentially leaving them open to legal action if data isn’t cleared properly.
Andrew Wright of Fleet Influence explains: ‘Failing to cleanse data between vehicles users is a gaping hole in procedures which leaves the company and directors exposed to legal action should a bright lawyer get hold of it. At a minimum, fleets should implement a cleansing regime at every vehicle turn-round but discussions on this topic go even further.
‘The suggestion is that, when taking a car from a driver, he or she should be asked to sign to say that personal data has been removed, or to confirm that they have seen the company representative remove data from the car’s devices.’
It’s an issue the remarketing industry is also investigating. The Vehicle Remarketing Association (VRA) recently published a best practice guide, advising its members to ensure that vehicles go through a factory reset procedure when they are de-fleeted to avoid personal information being sold on.
This is a potential problem which can only grow as the technology becomes more commonplace. Tomes points to recent rearch by American agency ABI, which showed 5.7 million vehicles globally are already internet connected. By 2017, this will have grown more than tenfold, to 60 million, with around 80% of new cars sold in Europe connected to the web.
As the amounts of data stored on board continue to grow, the potential for a legal precedent to be set is becoming more likely, and protecting drivers’ data is an issue no fleets will be able to ignore.
The future of connected cars
More comprehensive phone integration
Manufacturers have tended to mimic smartphone usability through the car’s touch screen. As the technology progresses, phones will begin to stream apps through to the screen, allowing the car to use built-in functionality such as GPS, data connections and even accelerometer data. The MINI Connected app already combines smartphone accelerometer and ECU data to give live driving style information.
Gaining functionality overnight
Touch screens allow new functions to be added through software updates, as opposed to requiring extra switches and buttons to be fitted into the dashboard. Tesla’s electric Model S executive car replaces almost all of the traditional switchgear with a 17-inch display, and as the software develops Tesla will be able to give drivers new features via an over-the-air update. Just like putting new software on a smartphone.
WiFi becomes mainstream
To date, wireless internet access is only found in luxury models, but expect this to grow. When SYNC launches in the Ford Focus next year, it will gain on-board WiFi allowing tablets, laptops and smartphones to be connected wirelessly. The problem at the moment is relatively slow data, and sometimes patchy coverage. New ultra-fast 4G connections should take care of both, and the technology is already being rolled out in the UK’s largest cities.
Likely to be a big growth area, advanced telematics such as live vehicle information and remote climate control settings are already found in several electric vehicles. Volvo’s latest Sensus also allows remote opening via a smartphone and for expense reports to be downloaded as a spreadsheet from the car’s memory. Integrated with a mobile phone data connection, GPS and accelerometer, cars could be able to transmit driver behaviour data and journey information back to base.
Working with Volvo, the SARTRE project is developing technology which will allow a “platoon” of vehicles to follow each other automatically for long stretches of road while the occupants relax and let the car drive itself. The leading vehicle will have a professional driver behind the wheel and sets the speed for the rest of the platoon, with following vehicles using radar, camera and wireless communication to stay in convoy.
The ultimate mobile offices
Bentley Mulsanne executive concept
The one-off Mulsanne concept car is designed to show a mobile workplace which can be hidden away when the passengers want to relax. On-board WiFi provides internet access for two iPads, built into electrically-retracting picnic tables and with wireless keyboards. The rear centre console houses a phone, Bentley-branded Tibaldi fountain pen and fridge, while a Mac Mini in the boot is connected to the roof-mounted monitor in the cabin. Rear-seat functions are controlled via an iPod Touch.
Brabus iBusiness 2.0
Brabus may be known for performance and styling, but the company also carries out bespoke interior conversions to turn the S-Class into a mobile office. The iBusiness system is based on a Mac Mini in the boot and pair of iPads which dock on picnic tables in the rear, offering video conferencing and internet access through a WiFi connection. The iPads also control the entire COMAND infotainment system wirelessly via an app. It’s compatible with any S-Class, but makes the 788bhp BRABUS 800 the fastest office on wheels, with a top speed of 219mph.
Jaguar XJ Ultimate
Rear-seat occupants in the £121,980 Jaguar XJ Ultimate each get their own third-generation iPad with a wireless keyboard, installed in leather-trimmed docks on the back of the front seats. The iPads can be used without being removed, have their own power supply and are hidden behind leather-trimmed roller doors when not in use. A champagne cooler, with glass flutes, is built into the space between the rear seats.