Transportation for the 21st Century: An Introduction to Connected Cars

Connected cars, known sometimes as internet of things (IoT) vehicles or smart cars, are vehicles which navigate using state of the art communication and situational awareness technology to semi-autonomously navigate the road. Such technology may one day revolutionize the way we drive, and we are seeing its consequences already today. By reciprocally enabling drivers, traffic management, and pedestrians through constant intelligent updates, connected cars have the power to make travel, faster, safer, and more convenient.

Perhaps the most significant advantage of a connected car system is improved safety and collision avoidance. With a pool of live-updated information coming from traffic infrastructure, pedestrian devices, and smart vehicles, those occupying the road have a far better situational awareness – giving drivers much more time to react in a crisis. With the proper information, a connected car can alert its driver to a pedestrian in the middle of a lane around a corner, or a car up ahead that has suddenly started breaking. Connected cars can make use of all the intelligent self-driving security measures that conventional smart cars already have access to – warnings, automated merging, etc. – and fine tunes them. Connectivity effectively amplifies the ‘perceptual' world of a smart car, allowing it to act sooner and with a greater sense of an action's potential consequences.

Improved safety is a near certainty with widespread adoption of connected cars, as human error is the cause of most traffic incidents. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 94% of crashes can be chalked up to human error. Connected car technology shrinks the margin for error by reducing the quantity of unknowns that a driver must (always fallibly) take account of, shrinking the quantity of errors by shrinking their total possibility. This is in addition to standard safety improvements made by smart cars, such as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) like adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, all which serve to lessen the burden placed on a driver, lessen her fatigue, and facilitate better driving.

A somewhat more superfluous benefit of connected cars is the convenience which they provide. With an internet connection, drivers can (in limited ways for safety reasons, passengers more freely) get access to a range of services which wouldn't be possible with just a radio and a phone. For instance, they might be able to check traffic conditions, find the nearest gas station, or make a hands-free phone call. Connected cars are often effectively smartphones without a limited battery life, finicky Bluetooth connections, and weak GPS accuracy. No longer will you have to worry about killing your phone battery before you even make it to your destination!

Connected car technology improves convenience by providing drivers more comprehensive and accurate traffic descriptions and routes. Less congested and more fuel-efficient routes become easier and more reliable to identify, a benefit which can be shared in my everyone on the road – not just those in the driver's seat of a connected car.

This leads into the broader societal benefits which might come from widespread adoption of connected cars. The reality is that traffic flow, idle time, and all related factors are not just matters of expense and convenience, but also significant matters of human health and ecological wellbeing. Indeed, connected cars could help to reduce the number of vehicles on the road, should shared autonomous vehicles (AVs) become more widely used. AVs, which are equipped with advanced sensors and algorithms that allow them to navigate roads more deftly than any human could become the norm once people are habituated to not being totally in control of the road. This goes hand in hand with the likelihood of popular, more effective communal transportation.

Unfortunately, there are definitely new concerns, threats, and drawbacks that come with the introduction of any novel technology. One concern is a matter of cybersecurity. As vehicles become more thoroughly interconnected, they become more susceptible to large scale manipulation of various kinds through cyberattack. While no system will ever be flawless, it is paramount that manufacturers become cybersecurity experts and work collaboratively with each other and public power to create robust, reliable and secure networks. This ought to include preventative steps like encryption, authentication, and data minimization which limit the possible extent of cyber threats. Undoubtedly an irritating thought for many, it will be important for owners to regularly update their rides with the latest security patches and software updates to reduce these aforementioned risks.

This relates to the concern of privacy. Data sovereignty will become even more pertinent and perilous a matter as profound amounts of information are scraped from the everyday behavior of drivers on the road. While it will hopefully come to pass well before we live in a world fully linked up with the internet of things, it is important for car manufacturers to implement strong data protection measures and for our governments to implement better privacy laws that regulate against the illegitimate collection and use of connected car data.

To recap, connected cars have the potential to one day transform the way we drive. By providing drivers with new levels of safety, convenience, and efficiency, society and the planet are both bettered. While there are concerns and potential drawbacks that come with this technology, these should all be possible to confront and control with sufficient prudence and forethought.

Despite these challenges, it is important to be encouraged by and remain focused on the benefits that the technology can bring. To a certain degree, a future with connected cars is inevitable – as technology has the seemingly unhalting tendency to progress.

Should you want to learn more about connected cars, it might be beneficial to research the internet of things. Connected cars are really only a specific and highly consequential instance of the tendency for our world to become technologically imbued and to contribute to the accrual and arrangement of information. While it might sound like something out of the impossible future, our world functions in a way not at all unlike that soon-coming one described here!