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Fans of the “Back to the Future” movie franchise may be disappointed that the film’s prediction that flying vehicles would be commonplace in the 21st century has not yet come to fruition. However, the modern-day automobile is a remarkably far cry from cars and trucks built as recently as 10 years ago.
Connected cars have become incredibly popular as interest in digital content continues to rise. A connected vehicle is one that is equipped with Internet access and typically a wireless local area network. Connected cars can be viewed as a smartphone on wheels. They perform many of the capabilities of other mobile devices, with the vehicle serving as the media hub.
General Motors was one of the first manufacturers to produce connected cars. In 1996, their premium brands Cadillac DeVille, Seville and Eldorado featured a technology called OnStar. The primary purpose of OnStar was to get emergency service to a vehicle quickly in the event of an accident. The technology started with only voice, but when cellular systems added data, the system was able to send the GPS location to the call center. OnStar was eventually used for more than just emergency calls, ultimately expanding to perform remote vehicle diagnostics, and then to provide directions and more user-interactive features.
Other manufacturers soon followed suit, and data and voice features became popular add-ons for vehicles. Today’s connected cars are equipped with features such as in-car entertainment units. Via their dashboards, drivers can use touch screens to access apps on their smartphones and answer phone calls. Navigation, roadside assistance, voice commands, contextual help/offers, parking apps, engine controls, and car diagnostics also can be accessed via many touchscreens.
While entertainment and safety have led the way with connected cars thus far, the future of connectivity seems to be autonomous vehicles. In the not-so-distant future, vehicles may be much more hands-off for drivers. Driving may even become a thing of the past. The race has been on over the last several years to deliver the first fully-autonomous vehicle. According to the technology company CB Insights, as of 2016, 33 corporations have been working on autonomous vehicles. From Apple to Audi to Tesla to Honda to Google, automotive heavyweights and technology giants are among the pool of self-driving innovators.
Vehicles are more technologically advanced than ever before. Driving the future of automotive innovation are connected cars pushing closer and closer to full autonomy.