Connected cars look set to be the consumer devices that are going to be the driving force behind the Internet of Things (IoT).
According to research film Gartner, by the end of the decade, 250 million ‘smart' vehicles will be on the world's roads, offering drivers mobile internet access, communication capabilities between other vehicles and road infrastructure and the first mass-market elements of autonomous driving.
"The connected car is already a reality, and in-vehicle wireless connectivity is rapidly expanding from luxury models and premium brands, to high-volume midmarket models," said James F. Hines, research director at Gartner.
Indeed, back in 2013, Audi became the world's first carmaker to offer its new models with an on-board 4G/LTE wireless hotspot as standard and the premium German company was swiftly followed by GM, which has been offering the feature on a growing range of its luxury and mass-market vehicles since Summer 2014. By the end of 2015 the feature is expected to be standard on all major carmakers' new models on sale in Europe and the US; but that's just the start. With a high-speed internet connection on board, cars can access rich real-time data and also push information to the cloud about road conditions, the weather and congestion that can then be broadcast to other road users via their own internet connections.
Gartner's forecast figure of 250 million connected cars represents 20% of all vehicles on the road by 2020, and with such a critical mass, new features such as car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication -- which enable vehicles to autonomously avoid each other even when hidden from view -- will become viable.
Cadillac, which in 2014 was spun out from GM as a standalone luxury brand, has pledged to introduce car-to-car communication as a feature on its range by the end of 2016.
Likewise, Toyota will be introducing both car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communication systems on selected new cars later this year. Toyota's system is able to connect to the Integrated Traffic System (ITS) services used by governments for monitoring traffic flow and anomalies on main transport routes, meaning that a connected car could conceivably automatically adjust its speed to avoid congestion or to ensure that when it arrived at a set of traffic lights they would be green, rather than red, improving fuel efficiency and reducing pollution levels in inner city areas.
And although the car maker has pledged to bring these features to cars sold in Japan before the end of 2015, it has set a target of 2017 for bringing the same technology to cars sold in the US and Europe.