At CES, the automobile has been a sort of stranger in a strange land. In a place where show floors are packed with Ultra HD screens to gawk at, and gadgets to tinker with, automakers and their infotainment systems have been relegated to the sidelines, tucked away in the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
But this year was different. Automakers had much more to show off than just what's going on in the center console. There were self-driving cars from Audi; the Open Automotive Alliance was forged, bringing Android to the automobile; and there were cars from Audi and GM with 4G LTE data connections, thanks to Qualcomm® Gobi™ .
Admittedly, the connected car is not a new concept—cars have had embedded connectivity since the early 2000s (e.g., OnStar). But this year really was different. Mobile industry leader Qualcomm is taking the connected car experience to the next level—extending its connectivity and mobile processor expertise to the car. Building on the success of Qualcomm Gobi modems that already power telematics in 10M+ vehicles, Qualcomm just announced an integrated solution—the Snapdragon Automotive Solutions—featuring the new automotive grade processor from the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ family of processors that power many of today’s top smartphone and tablets.
With 4G LTE data speeds and smartphone-like interfaces and graphics, the infotainment systems hitting the road later this year will rival the smartphone and tablet in terms of functionality and user experience. It means real-time navigation, weather updates, streaming multimedia and more—essentially being connected to all the cloud-based services you want and need. And those are just some of the immediate benefits of an in-car LTE connection. But the possibilities don’t stop there.
At a base level, connected cars can talk, just like people, to each other over the Internet. For us, this means maintaining long-distance friendships and watching some guy play "Eruption" in his bedroom. More importantly, connected cars can make the road a safer place (fewer accidents).
Automotive safety regulators see this ability, called Vehicle-to-Vehicle communication (V2V), as the next wave of accident prevention.
"V2V will give drivers information needed to make safe decisions on the road that cameras and radars just cannot provide,” said NHTSA Administrator David L. Strickland in a congressional hearing this past November. "We currently estimate V2V could potentially address about 80 percent of crashes involving non-impaired drivers, once the entire vehicle fleet is equipped with V2V technology."
So how can something as simple as communication prevent an accident? Let’s head to the highway. Let’s say that a dozen or so cars are cruising along I-95, just outside of Bangor. Using a subset of Wi-Fi protocols known as 802.11p, these vehicles form a wireless, ad-hoc network as they speed along. If any one car brakes abruptly or turns sharply—say to avoid a moose—that car will send out a message to the rest of the network, alerting nearby cars (and their drivers) of potential danger.
The potency of such a technology is twofold. First, a car’s networked infotainment system can detect impending danger far faster than even the most experience driver can react. Milliseconds after a driver triggers ABS, the car behind has already alerted its driver to the hazard ahead. And second, by informing every car within the proximity of a hazardous situation, it causes everyone to react in concert—slowing down as a group rather than one car at a time—which cuts down on secondary and tertiary accidents.
Beyond accident avoidance, V2V is essential to the utopian vision of self-driving cars, humming along a fully-autonomous highway, where The Cloud is in control of everyone's morning commute—ensuring that the traffic is flowing as efficiently, and safely as possible.
Since 2002, the U.S. Department of Transportation has researched the effectiveness and impact of V2V technologies, and early this year the NHTSA is expected to make a decision about beginning the rulemaking process. There's no word on exactly how long such a process would take, but expect it to be years before V2V becomes just another safety bullet point next to ABS, inertial-reel seat belts, and airbags. For now, drivers of 4G LTE-connected cars will have to make do with real-time traffic and weather updates, while passengers can sift through streaming HD video and access their favorite social media sites.