pimp my ride: in cruise control with the connected car

What can your connected car do that your smartphone cannot, and how can mobile apps fit in?

Connected cars are the future of road transport. A natural evolution of what happens when the processors and sensors already included in vehicles communicate with other cars, devices and road traffic systems within the Internet of Things.

Starting next year, all new vehicles in Europe must carry an embedded SIM capable of connecting to emergency services in case of theft or accident. This will create an immediate opportunity for application developers to develop additional solutions for cars. This opportunity is already here as car manufacturers work with big tech firms including Apple and Google to integrate smartphones into your drive.

These partnerships already mean you can keep your hands on the wheel while you access emails, interrogate maps, get driving directions, take calls or play music while you drive. These are features the smartphones bring to you – but what features can these devices bring out from inside your car? Here are a few ideas:

parking concierge

Driving into a new city you ask your car to find you a parking space. The car reaches out to parking allocation services to identify and reserve an available space near your destination. In an extension of the way location services can already work with smartphones, imagine a scenario in which you are driving to somewhere you visit quite regularly: your car may ask if you want to book a space before you ask it to do so, combining what it knows about your habits with intelligent analysis systems designed to predict your needs.


Your new car already has an array of built-in sensors monitoring things like fuel, engine condition, tyre condition and more. At present this information may only be available to engineers equipped with compatible testing equipment, but the data still exists. As car manufacturers work with the likes of Apple and Google, it’s reasonable to expect this information will also be made available to your smartphone - a US only app/dongle solution called Automatic already enables this. In future you’ll be able to check car condition remotely, and your vehicle may learn to book itself in for a service when it detects a problem.

reducing grand theft auto

Your car will know who you are. If you are the only person likely to drive your car you should be able to instruct your vehicle to halt all functions if you aren’t in the seat. Sensors in the driving seat will identify you by weight (or wake you if you're tired), fingerprint sensors on the wheel may identify your print while sensors in the rear view mirror may learn to distinguish your face. This means that even if a car thief manages to get into your vehicle, they’ll be unable to drive it unless they match an approved driver identity. In future you may be able to approve drivers remotely, using your smartphone.

There are other implications to identity detection:

  • Seat and wheel positions may change to accommodate individual preference.
  • In the event of an accident it will be possible for emergency services to identify the driver in control.

help with fuel efficiency

Equipped with completely up-to-date information about the condition of its engines, tyres and other relevant states, your car will be able to assess the optimal speed at which it should drive to maximize fuel efficiency. If you are low on fuel your vehicle will be able to suggest how it should be driven to get you to the next service station or to your destination. It will use a combination of audio and visual prompts to help you achieve your goal.

entertainment as you like it

As streaming music services become more intelligent, they will become capable of analysing your music preferences, situation and mood. This means you can expect to be able to set criteria to automatically listen to personalized music channels, combining the most suitable music with other forms of audio (talk shows, news, traffic reports, talking books) most likely to improve your driving experience – or keep you awake!

accident prevention

Everyone has a story of how they almost had an accident as a result of another driver’s ineptitude. Connected cars will be aware of other traffic on the roadthey are likely to “see” the potential accident before you do, warning you to take appropriate action. (A self-driving car will take such action on your behalf). Not only this, but they’ll be able to record evidence of the other driver’s irresponsible actions to send directly to road traffic authorities.

Connected cars will also be able to communicate directly to each other, so that other driver using their vehicle irresponsibly may find their vehicle ceases to function before they create a problem.

add the car to the shared data plan

Drivers may not want to pay a monthly connectivity fee for their car simply because they are now required to have a SIM installed in it - motoring is already expensive enough. This will drive service providers to deliver bundle propositions for the connected car. In one example, AT&T is allowing drivers to add cars to their plan for $10 per month.

movable mesh

Alternatively vehicle manufacturers may create systems enabling connected cars to piggyback aboard the closest available connection -- though this may pose privacy and customer consent problems. What happens in the event a car is in an accident, the owner has no smartphone and the vehicle tries to piggy back the connection of a passer by? Does the third party have the right to refuse to allow this use? Could there be a need for a virtual meshed emergency channel to be built inside every connected device to transmit such messages?

These are just some of the hundreds of potential ways the connected car can improve our in-car experience or make us safer. What sort of applications would you like to see from the connected car?

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.