Over the years, with quantum leaps in technology, cars have become smart, and are on their way to be smarter and eventually, some years later, storm the mass market in their autonomous avatars. The CES technology show last week in Las Vegas was a pointer in this direction with tech companies and automakers shining a spotlight on the future. The two industries have converged on the idea of cars providing services and features delivered “over the air” – that is, over the same wireless data networks used by smartphones, as reported by Reuters. Options including streaming video, vehicle performance upgrades, and dashboard commerce could enable car manufacturers to continue making money long after vehicles are sold.
Cloud computing giants Amazon.com and Microsoft Corp are at the forefront, chasing the opportunity to manage torrents of data flowing to and from connected vehicles. For example, General Motors’ new high-capacity onboard electrical system facilitates providing streamed services and over-the-air upgrades. Tesla pioneered the model for charging for over-the-air upgrades, now asking customers to pay $6,000 to turn on the full self-driving option. Other automakers are eager to try their hand at turning cars into upgradeable, revenue-generating gadgets.
Chinese carmaker Byton’s new M-Byte sedan features a 48-inch screen as a dashboard, as well as a steering-wheel display and a digital tablet for passengers. When parked, the car can be an office, enabling video conference calls, or a roadside cinema. BMW showed at its CES display a concept of its future interior with reclining lounge chairs and a windshield with augmented reality built in to annotate the road ahead. Tech companies and suppliers want to accelerate the transformation of vehicles into subscription bundle-ready machines by helping automakers sort out the tangle of computer chips that make most current vehicles difficult or impossible to upgrade over the air.
Harman, a unit of Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, is also pushing a similar digital platform to control the flow of data in and out of the car. A centralised system would help protect the car against hackers, who would have only one way in rather than dozens. Harman, which supplies some of the technology that automakers including Tesla use to deliver the over-the-air upgrades, plans to sell its new vehicle computing brain with cybersecurity features built in – but some car buyers will have to pay to turn it on.
Qualcomm Inc, which already provides the cellular modem chips that allow vehicles to connect to the Internet, introduced a more comprehensive computing system that can manage in-vehicle entertainment and help the car drive itself. One element is a much easier way for automakers and their partners to deliver feature upgrades, such as unlocking a better sound system already built into the car. NXP Semiconductors is working on a chip that would serve as a gateway between the car and the cloud, to help automakers cope with the massive amounts of data that sensors and digital cockpits will create. That data has to be stored and managed, and that’s where cloud computing providers such as Amazon Web Services come in. AWS announced at CES a partnership with BlackBerry to develop a new software platform for connected vehicles. So, the process has gathered momentum and rapid development may be expected over the next few years.
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