Home opinion-and-analysis ShawThing Smartcars – dangerous or simply can’t make money out of the apps?

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 Generally speaking most recent cars have an on-board computer (called an engine control unit) that uses a 32bit, nominally 40Mhz, ARM based SOC and runs some version of Linux.

Some have Bluetooth capability, some USB connectivity, some have very expensive GPS and others nothing much more. Why has there not been more advances in in-car technology when it is all very easy to do right now?

Conspiracy theorists say “Yes we could make engines that get 100 miles to the gallon” but oil companies don’t want that. Apply that thinking to in car computing.

The motor industry is slow to adopt because it fears it would lose its control over the process and its profit.

“No it is too dangerous to have smartphone/tablet control” say the motorcar companies “What if it failed and crashed”. More FUD (fear, uncertainty and deception) – when was the last time your tablet failed (apart from being dropped)?

Developers have already shown that they can add significantly to the funcitonality of the on-board software (a car needs to have certain basic functions built in just in case you don’t have a tablet handy). All it would take is the car makers to add a docking port...

The appeal in docking your tablet is that it can right now act as a key, radio, audio and video streaming, Wi-Fi, internet hotspot, reversing camera, radar, lidar, vision and gesture control, GPS/Autopilot, voice control and even your dashboard – all for a few hundred dollars that the car companies currently charge several thousand dollars for.

On a different level the motorcar industry has effectively tried to kill off Google’s self-driving car or autonomous vehicle as it is called. It is not about Google failing – it is about car companies allowing the likes of Google and Microsoft et all onto its turf and a deep rooted fear that the industry would be profoundly transformed forever… Car companies like to cite the very outmoded 1968 Vienna Convention covering vehicle regulations and other issues such as certification and liability as “important factors which are currently barriers for autonomous driving on public roads."

Sad really. It is OK if BMW spend zillions developing ConnectedDrive (debuted in 2005) and VW/Audi developing a self-drive car. Even BMW say that the technology is already possible to implement via tablets but the motor industry has yet to embrace putting in compatible sensors and controllers needed to interface with these devices.

It is all about moving from 12 volts to USB, from hardwired harnesses to fibre optics and IP and we suspect ‘Where is the profit in that?’ attitudes. Audi says “the technology can be in the market by the end of this decade” – it could be here much sooner and much cheaper but it is being drip fed at a very controlled pace – can’t make it look too easy now can we?

When we talk about the internet of everything it is OK as long as it does not extend to certain sacred cows. I suspect that Google, Apple and Microsoft et all need to use some spare cash, buy a motor car company (like Tesla) and seriously disrupt the status quo.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!