What is a connected car and what are its benefits?

With a growing number of cars becoming ‘connected’, we look at what this means and the pros and cons of the technology...

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Claire Evans
20 February 2019

Connected car technology

Connected cars are part of the ‘internet of things’, a phrase that refers to everyday items being connected to the internet with the intention of making life easier. 

As well as letting you control specific items remotely, often via a smartphone app, these cars can also communicate with other products. 

That means you could ask your connected fridge if you’re running low on milk, and if you are, it can order more direct from your preferred supplier. 

Connected cars offer a wider range of communication possibilities than many other connected devices. As well as enabling their users to gain real-time access to all sorts of information, they can facilitate contact between the car and the dealership and alert the emergency services if you've been involved in an accident.

What is a connected car? 

A connected car is one that has its own connection to the internet, usually via a wireless local area network (WLAN) that allows the car to share internet access and data with other devices inside and outside the car. 

What can a connected car do? 

A connected car can assist with a wide range of potentially useful functions. For example, your car’s sat-nav system may have a traffic monitoring feature that can alert you if there’s a hold-up on your route and offer an alternative that avoids it. 

Connected car technology

You can also use a smartphone app to do things like start your car’s engine remotely five minutes before you want to go out in it, so that the windows are frost-free and the interior is toasty when you’re ready to leave. You can also remotely lock the car or make it flash its headlights or honk its horn to help you find it in a car park. 

Some car apps can also park the car for you, which is great if you need to shoehorn it into a tiny space or narrow garage. 

Many vehicles now also have a concierge service that lets you talk to a customer service provider to get information and directions. If you’re on your way to an unfamiliar city, for example, you can ask the system to find and/or book a parking space close to your destination. And you can also ask the car to display the nearest restaurants so you can book a table. 

These systems can also be used to book your car in for a service and in some cases to perform remote fault diagnosis on the car. 

Can a connected car help in an emergency?

Before all the latest functions became available, car makers were already using remote connectivity to help motorists in emergency situations. In fact, Vauxhall’s OnStar service, which was launched in the mid-1990s, was the first onboard system that could contact the emergency services in the event of an accident. 

Since March 2018, EU legislation has made it mandatory for all new cars to have a system that tells the police when a car has been involved in an accident. The systems use GPS data to pinpoint the car’s location so help can get to them as quickly as possible. 

What are the benefits for passengers?

Modern connected cars can create wi-fi hotspots, enabling those in and around the car to use its 4G internet access. This improves the entertainment for passengers, alleviating the chances of them asking ‘are we there yet?’ quite so often. 

Connected car technology

What will the connected cars of the future be able to do? 

Connected cars don’t only connect with people and services – they can also connect with each other and the road network’s infrastructure. These attributes will become more important as self-driving cars appear. 

Self-driving cars will use information from cameras, lasers and radar to create a 3D digital map of their surroundings. They will also communicate with the cars around them to gain more information about whether they’re going to make a turn, accelerate or brake. In effect, the ability to do this lets the self-driving car see through the ones around it and anticipate their movements. They will also be able to get information from traffic lights, road signs, lane markings and roadwork sites to give you a heads-up about a traffic jam or sharp bend in the road before you can see it. 

Many car makers and technology companies are working on creating self-driving cars. Some production cars already have some semi-autonomous capabilities that promote safety, such as automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, blindspot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and cross-traffic alert.

Read about the latest car safety technology and how it could save your life

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