Most of us are now used to having the Internet and the cloud with us as we drive. The problem is that we’re doing it the wrong way. We “import” the Internet into the car via our smartphones, which is not just inefficient but dangerous: it takes our focus off the road and overloads us with distracting information.
Instead, we should be building sensors and networking technology right into the car—essentially making the vehicle itself our way of interacting with the online world (see “Car-to-Car Communication”). This kind of in-car system is becoming more and more common. It gathers data about the environment around the car, allowing vehicles to sense, know, and predict.
The safety implications of such systems are massive. Our cell phones are a distraction when we should be concentrating on the road. Yes, we all want to be connected all the time, and the time we spend in the car shouldn’t be any exception—we just have to be smart about it. You don’t want to be taking a sales call when you’re making a left-hand turn at an intersection. An intelligent system would enable the car to prioritize data about the car itself and about the environment around the car, delivering only the information the driver needs at the exact moment it’s needed.
A car equipped with such technology could initiate the appropriate communication when, say, a driver is returning home and wishes to turn up the thermostat there. The human driver would not have to think about it. The car would be able to fuse real-time data from a controller area network with mapping and timing data to “predict” that the driver was heading home.
A smart system wouldn’t just remove distractions—it could help us avoid dangerous conditions that we can’t see. This will be increasingly true as more vehicles are equipped with longer-range sensors and the ability to communicate with each other. Cars on the street will form networks—thanks to other cars on the road, your car can tell you about the road conditions you’re about to encounter, accidents that you can avoid or just can’t see, or congestion that’s just in the process of developing.
We already live in an online world. It’s only natural that our cars will become part of that world. A vehicle should be no different from an office, a home, or an airport. The technology to establish this consistent data flow in, around, and beyond the car is ready, and it’s about time we started taking advantage of it.
Seval Oz is CEO of Continental Intelligent Transportation Systems and the former head of business development for Google’s self-driving-car program.