Smart cars: the Internet of Things is already on the automobile market

This year at the Mobile World Congress one of the most discussed trends is the Internet of Things (IoT): everyday objects that are connected to the internet and which are able to control other machines. Although some of these implements do not yet have a direct application on the consumer market, the automobile sector is already selling vehicles with these functionalities. Smart cars can be controlled with a smartphone, for example, by creating a temporary digital key to access the car, and can also enable other devices in the home.

Ford presented smart cars and bikes  at the Mobile World Congress (by ACN)
Ford presented smart cars and bikes at the Mobile World Congress (by ACN) / Laura Aznar / Jordi Julià

Laura Aznar / Jordi Julià

March 5, 2015 08:15 PM

L’Hospitalet de Llobregat (CNA).- At this year’s edition of the Mobile World Congress which comes to a close this Thursday, some of the most discussed trends are not mobile phones, but what is called the Internet of Things (Iot): everyday objects that have improved connectivity through the internet. Although some of them have no direct application yet, the automobile sector is already selling vehicles with these functions. Smart cars can be controlled with a smartphone, for example, by creating a temporary digital key to access the car, and can also enable other devices in the home, such as thermostats or lights.

The control of home objects from the car is possible thanks to the conjunction of the Connected Car and Connected Home projects, developed by the US network operator AT&T. Their commitment to the IoT could be noticed at their stand at the MWC, which was located inside the Innovation City area, a scale reproduction of a city that showcases the applications that IoT can have in everyday life. This can range from a toothbrush that points to the areas of your mouth that you should focus on while brushing your teeth, to city lights that adjust to light conditions and can be controlled remotely.

But in terms of these IoT applications, cars have a lot of this technology already incorporated: they have several different smart functions, which are already included in many luxury cars. AT&T showcases one of their connected cars, an Audi with a 4G LTE card (the fastest standard card for mobile internet) that connects directly to the web without the need for a smartphone. The car automatically creates a Wi-Fi hotspot to which passengers can connect their devices. But the screen on the dashboard is the device with the most IoT uses. Technology can lend added value with real-time information: weather, navigation to the cheapest petrol station, flight times, or nearby car parks with free spaces. With the help of an app, one can send a geolocalized photo directly to the car and the vehicle will navigate to the location sent. The latest AT&T announcement, made at the MWC, is the link to Connected Home: users will have access from the car to the IoT products they have at home: lights, thermostats, doors and video cameras can all be controlled from the car dashboard.

Summit Tech and Alcatel-Lucent showed the first car with Voice over LTE, using Rich Communication Services. These technologies use IP technology to connect all the devices to one phone number, so phone calls can be made either from the phone or the car, even if you are not carrying the phone. “The idea is that I have one phone number and if I receive a call, the network knows how to direct it, based on what I am doing and where I am”, pointed out Ron Nessim, Chief Press Officer of Summit Tech. There is no need for calls to go through the phone and connect via Bluetooth to the car speakers, because the call goes straight to the car, making for clearer sound quality.

The calls can be controlled with gestures, and a heads-up display overlays information to the windscreen so the driver does not need to take his eyes off the road at any time. If someone tries to call you while you are in the car, the caller will know if you are driving, so he can decide to call you later. Also, it can share location information, so the other person will know where you are and what time you have left in order to arrive at your destiny. For improving the calling experience there is also a camera under the mirror for making video calls. One example of all these technologies together would be while going to a drive-thru restaurant. The car displays the menu in an interior screen, and the vehicle would be able to pay the bill, using the digital wallet connected to a smartphone.

Vodafone has developed a system called Porsche Car Connect, by which the user can control his car through the cell phone. One of its options, “My car”, provides information about the speed, the number of kilometres driven and the level of petrol in the car. It can notify the user if the doors are opened, if the wing mirror is not folded in or if the windows are not closed. The main advantage of this solution, according to Daniel Barallat, Vodafone M2M Country Manager in Spain, is “the comfort that the driver has thanks to the information stored in the cloud, which allows him to access real time data wherever he is”. 

With this app it is possible to find where the car is in case the driver doesn't remember where he parked, because it can show the location of the vehicle. Moreover, the “Security” feature activates an alert indicating if the car is leaving a certain area or if it is exceeding a certain speed. “With the Emergency Call option you can also inform the authorities that your car has been stolen”, points out Barallat, “and if you have a contract for roadside assistance with Porsche, if you have a breakdown, the car will send a report to a call centre with the information of the incident. Then, the assistant will know what is happening and how to react”. Vodafone also presented an application for insurance companies that will allow them to sell adapted services depending on the car’s usage and the driver’s ability.