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The Year Of Connected Cars

Till not long ago, terms like artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) were largely associated with top-end car manufacturers. Usually, such features slowly trickle down from more expensive products to lower segment cars as the tech becomes cheaper. This year, though, has shown that it is the affordable car brands that have been […]

Till not long ago, terms like artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) were largely associated with top-end car manufacturers. Usually, such features slowly trickle down from more expensive products to lower segment cars as the tech becomes cheaper. This year, though, has shown that it is the affordable car brands that have been leading the way to introduce connected car tech in India. Hyundai claims to be the first automaker to launch a connected car in India when it introduced its compact SUV Venue in the market in May, which was followed by the launch of MG Hector — another popular SUV in the affordable segment.

A Hector is the first product launched in India by the iconic British car brand, which is now owned by China’s SAIC Motor, and it boasts of its connected car tech by putting an ‘Internet Inside’ badge on the front fender of the SUV. Nissan is another car maker that has been boasting of being connected. The Kicks SUV launched in January this year features NissanConnect — the automaker’s proprietary connect car tech. The feature is also available for its other products including Micra, Sunny and Terrano. Another prominent name that jumped on the connect car bandwagon in the country is Kia that made its entry into the Indian car market by introducing the Seltos — one of the most talked-about car launches in recent times.

Luxury car makers have been experimenting with the technology for many years now, though the linkage with the mobile phone is a more recent one. Mercedes launched its COMAND Online System in 2015 offering cloud-based apps for its cars. In August this year, Hyundai Venue Audi rolled out its ‘myAudi Connect’ smart connectivity tech and is offering its existing owners to get their cars retrofitted to use the services. BMW’s Connected Drive services is yet to make its way in the country, though the Bavarian automaker currently does offers some basic smartphone app-based services for its buyers. These luxury brands offer extensive connected car tech on its cars sold in the international markets and are expected to make them available in India in the near future.

America’s General Motors was the first car company to bring the connected car tech to market in 1996 in collaboration with Motorola. Its primary purpose was to increase passenger safety by getting emergency help in case of an accident; remote car diagnostics was added to it in 2001. The connected car technology has come a long way since then, thanks to the rapid development and advancement in communication systems, Internet, and AI. It was Tesla that showed the world how the connected car technology with the help of smartphone support can be a game changer in the automobile industry when it launched the Model S in 2012. The ultimate goal of the internet-enabled car tech is aiding fully-autonomous driving and operating all the features along with hailing the car remotely with Tesla has been leading the pack.

For the connected car feature to work, the vehicles need access to the Internet, which is made possible through a physical SIM card or an E-SIM (electronic SIM). MG Hector features the brand’s proprietary connect car tech called the iSMART Next Gen, which was developed in collaboration with major global tech companies including Microsoft, Adobe, Unlimit, SAP, Cisco, Gaana, TomTom, and Nuance. The automaker partnered with Airtel in India for the connected mobility solutions with the help of an E-SIM and says it is Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPV6) ready for 5G. Hyundai partnered with Vodafone-Idea for the in-built E-SIM that can adapt to 2G, 3G or 4G for connectivity. Highspeed real-time connectivity is key to the functioning of the connected car tech to work seamlessly and monitor the vehicle remotely, keep its software updated while reporting back bugs and errors, and push digital content.

Dedicated smartphone apps act as the gateway to communicate with the car and operate the features offered by the car’s connected tech. Hyundai’s Blue Link app lets the owner communicate the car’s telematics and remotely operate up to 33 features offered by the South Korean car manufacturer. Using the app, the owner of a Hyundai Venue can remotely lock/ unlock the car and start or stop the car’s engine from anywhere in the world. The feature is only available on the DCT (dualclutch transmission) model. In addition, the climate control of the car can also be operated remotely and the desired temperature can be set without setting foot inside the vehicle. The remote safety features operable from directly from the app include real-time vehicle information on various parameters such as AC, engine, doors, car’s real-time location, and activating the horn and blinkers remotely to locate the car in the parking.

Similar features are also offered by MG Hector’s iSMART app, which even lets you operate the SUV’s sunroof remotely. The app enables more than 50 features, and allows the owner to access driver analytics that monitors driving inputs. It also lets you plan a trip and then send the information directly to the infotainment system for the route map and other crucial information. The app also helps the owner share feedback with the company and get dealer information based on current location.

The infotainment systems on these connected cars are just as important as the dedicated apps. It not only makes the system user-friendly and intuitive, but presents them in an attractive package for an immersive experience. Feature-packed infotainment systems are considered to be more of a necessity than a luxury these days. Buyers put them on top of their list of must-haves while looking for a new car. While Tesla started the trend of vertically oriented big-sized infotainment screens with touch controls for different functions, many brands have used a similar set-up thanks to its aesthetics and functional benefit of offering a familiar Smartphone like interface.

MG Hector has a similar vertical 10.4- inch infotainment screen that houses the brain of the iSMART Next Gen. The touchscreen unit offers built-in apps and pre-loaded infotainment content in addition to maps and navigation services. One of the biggest advantages of having connected technology powering the infotainment systems is that these systems support smartphone-like over the air (OTA) updates. The companies can remotely update the software fixing bugs and add updates without the need of the car to be brought to the service center. Kia Seltos also offers a similar 10.25-inch HD touchscreen infotainment system which has a more conventional, horizontal orientation. The infotainment unit is augmented by a class-leading Bose Sound System with an 8-speaker set up on the top variant.

Connected car technology was created as a vehicle safety feature and it still remains as one of its core features. Most of these advanced connected car systems offer a wide range of security features that allow remote monitoring of the vehicle to mitigate distress situations. In case of burglary, the car can be actively tracked, alert the owner through the app and can be remotely shut down by the company. The system also sends alerts if the car leaves a preset geo-fenced area or when the car exceeds a certain speed limit. In the case of a collision, the system automatically notifies emergency services along with a preset emergency number. The systems also feature SOS trigger that can be used to summon roadside assistance or send a panic notification to registered contacts.

Both MG Hector and Hyundai Venue get Siri-styled AI-powered voice recognition systems to operate various functions and are calibrated to recognise Indian accent to function without hiccups. That’s a big deal, given the fact that the voice command systems on many cars by international car brands have a hard time reading Indian accent. MG stressed on its advanced AI-based voice recognition system adding a personal touch to its Hector and humanising the system. Simply saying `Hello MG’ activates the system, which responds with personalised replies and supports 100+ voice commands. Built into the system is the company’s concierge service, which can be used with the I-Call button for general assistance.

Clearly, connectivity has significant advantages for the modern-day motorist and yet, there is also a flip side to the story. With all that data flying back and forth between your mobile phone, your car’s on-board data SIM, your mobile carrier and the car manufacturer’s data centre, there is the possibility of misuse. The issue of data privacy is one that hasn’t adequately been addressed yet. It’s worth remembering, your data is being shared not just with your car’s manufacturer but also your mobile service provider. And currently, there’s little clarity on whether or not the carrier (and for that matter, even the car manufacturer) can or cannot share that data with external third parties for profit. In most cases, your automotive data is not encrypted and can be shared with third parties. To quote some examples, data on the music you listen to or the videos that you watch can potentially be shared with ecommerce companies, enabling them to deliver targeted advertising to your digital devices.

Data on your driving habits (including road speed) and your record with breaking traffic regulations etc. can be shared with insurance companies, which could affect your risk profiling and subsequently your insurance premiums. And, in a more extreme case of this scenario, hackers could possibly gain access to your car’s onboard computer via your smartphone, steal valuable data and perhaps even remotely tinker with some of your car’s critical functions. Not all of this might actually be happening in India right now, but the potential for data misuse is definitely there and in the absence of laws governing data usage, these concerns could only get worse with time. It is likely that many of the above concerns will be addressed in the near future, once lawmakers, government agencies and other concerned parties start working towards putting regulations and other safeguards in place. In the meantime, go ahead and enjoy the amazing features and functions that your connected car offers.