The Connected Car as the Next Generation Information Hub

Driverless vehicles are close to hitting the road. Assisted braking, automatic parallel parking, blind spot monitoring and lane correction are now standard features on many car models. Meanwhile, fully autonomous vehicles are being tested globally on public streets. Drivers will soon be able to safely take their hands off the wheel and truly engage in online activities. That’s because an even bigger shift is happening behind the scenes: the vehicle is becoming its own information hub.

There is a shift occurring making the vehicle a new information hub.  This is a major behavioral shift that we have witnessed at other times over the past twenty years. In the 1990s, the introduction of the digital set top box shifted the entertainment hub from the home office to the living room, adding more interactive access and more high-quality video content. A decade later in the 2000s, the telecommunications industry transformed the mobile phone from a device that made calls to a pocket-sized personal computer—giving us always-on, mobile access to the Internet.

In both circumstances, new applications and services started pouring into these new hubs, ultimately transforming everyday habits. This same shift is now happening to the vehicle. Increased data access inside cars combined with autonomy is changing the way we move from point A to point B.  It will also impact the entire transportation ecosystem. But let’s check that logic.

Autonomous Driving Transforms the Passenger Experience

Previous digital revolutions have changed the way people interact with data every day. During the 1990s, the stock market was booming, dot coms were bubbling, and the Information Superhighway changed the way we consume information. During this time, cable companies set out to own the living room, providing additional features to standard cable services like streaming video, audio channels, and internet access. The set top box became the hub of a new infotainment system where from your living room you could order movies and sporting events or surf the World Wide Web. Through enhanced metrics and audience tracking, advertisers could finally get a glimpse of user likes, dislikes, and behaviors by the type of information they consumed. New applications, services, and customer consumption skyrocketed

In the 2000s even as living room consumption continued to flourish, our attention shifted to our pockets as cell phones became ubiquitous. These increasingly sophisticated devices put a data access platform in the palm of our hand. The move from 3G to 4G caused data consumption to skyrocket, and suddenly a host of new applications began emerging tailored to users’ mobile behaviors. We have adapted to share our locations, our browsing habits, and even our personal privacy and with that insight, applications have shifted how we shop, how we socialize, how we travel, and even how we pay bills and bank. According to Statista, in 2017 Americans spent 60 percent more time consuming data via their mobile phones than their desktops/laptops.   

A similar set of behavioral shifts are coming to the vehicle. That is for sure. The upgrade from 4G to 5G is not just one digit. It is a fundamental shift that will dramatically increase car connectivity. Combine with that vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure (aka V2X technology), and the car will soon navigate itself, avoid accidents, and free us to relax. Taking your hands off the steering wheel is scary the first time, just like the first time you used an automatic teller machines or the first time you gave your credit card number to an online shopping site. The shift is beginning – so how do we make it safe?

Keys to Ensuring Vehicle Safety

There were adoption pains in both data consumption shifts in the 1990s and 2000s. As electronic devices shrunk and required less power, quality assurance probing became more difficult. Applications needed to simulate wider ranges of usage scenarios, and a wider range of attack scenarios had to be simulated. The same will be true for the vehicle, but with one major difference. While reliability and availability always matter, personal safety is non-negotiable.

Testing systems behind the scenes make every innovation possible. Over-the-air testing ensures that wireless connections reach farther. Advanced waveform testing confirms the ability to increase data rates. Sensor testing across countless environmental conditions gives innovators the confidence they need to blaze new trails. Innovators also need to simulate the impact of application protocols on 5G cellular networks, user behaviors, communication latencies, and also malware and DDoS attacks.

Waiting for a pay-per-view movie to buffer or dealing with a dropped call is a nuisance.  A malfunctioning car completely different. A mere 300 millisecond delay in reaction time can result in an extra 20 feet of braking distance when traveling 50 miles per hour. Precision in sensor, power system, vehicular communications systems is a must.

We are on the third wave in as many decades, witnessing a shift in how and where data is consumed. Connected cars will open a new world of exciting opportunities, available to us because of autonomous driving. Behind the scenes, making this possible, are innovators who see new possibilities, new applications, and new ways to optimize electronics.  They understand the stakes are high, but they insist on changing the world. 


Jeff Harris, Vice President of Portfolio Marketing for Keysight Technologies