Connected 'Smart-Cars' capable of reporting our driving activities
July 12, 2010
by Mark Ollig

As the 21st century continues along its high-tech way, more devices are finding themselves being attached to the Internet.

Now the talk is about linking our vehicles to the Internet. What are the potential risks and rewards of having cars and trucks connected to it?

A new test car developed in the labs of computer chip maker Intel Corporation is being equipped with a kind of “black box” hardware similar to the ones used in planes.

The idea is to install “smart boxes” with advanced intelligence in all vehicles and have them permanently linked to the Internet.

At its June 30 Intel Research Day, Intel demonstrated and talked about its new connected “smart-car” technology we may be using one day.

“The intelligent vehicle is what we are talking about here. Once a car is connected, more or less on a continuous basis, all sorts of interesting possibilities present themselves,” said Justin Ratner, director of Intel Laboratories and chief technology officer.

Indeed. Some interesting possibilities (and controversial ones) are being presented here.

Examples of information to be monitored and stored within a connected smart-car will include history records of the vehicle’s speeds, steering, and braking. A driving video history could also be recorded from the outside (as well as the inside) of the vehicle and stored on some Internet connected data server.

It gets better so hang on to those well-read George Orwell 1984 novels folks.

Having vehicles connected wirelessly to the Internet would allow for instant transmission of accumulated data information to insurance companies for, say, resolving responsible parties in an accident.

I am curious as to what other agencies would be sent a record of our driving habits. What if our normal day-to-day driving habit information is automatically sent to some federal or local authority – this possibility gives one pause to think.

Our smart-car will also be using its camera’s “vision systems” to “recognize” different objects – including street signs.

Say we are driving along in our new Intel-equipped intelligent smart-car and become disoriented and make a turn onto a one-way street, or we turned onto a “do-not-enter” side road. The smart-car “sees” and “reads” the sign and “understands” the vehicle is traveling the wrong way and recognizes this as a potential critical problem. The intelligence in the smart-car would “take control” of our vehicle and safely maneuver it over to the side of the road and stop.

This sounds ultra-futuristic, but actually this is not an unrealistic scenario. The 2011 BMW 535i and the Lexus LS 460L parallel park themselves with an onboard “Park Assist” feature.

Intelligent “vision systems” are being developed right now in the labs at Intel.

Minnesotans will love this next one. The connected smart-car will have on-board sensors which would detect those pesky (and numerous) pot holes and automatically report their exact location to local road maintenance authorities. You betcha.

“We have talked to highway maintenance departments about using sensors that are already in cars to report the GPS coordinates for pot holes, in the road to the maintenance department,” said Ratner.

And no more “hand gestures” will be needed when a fellow motorist strays too close to us as we are whistling a tune while driving down the highway. Our new smart-car will be constantly tracking the vehicles around us, and by using its intelligent “accident avoidance” system, it will alert us when another vehicle gets too close.

Information regarding all surrounding vehicle locations will be displayed on the car’s satellite navigation map.

Our smart-car will also alert us of any vehicles hidden in the side-view mirrors’ blind spot when we begin to cross-over into another lane.

An example of the smart-car’s security capabilities: say someone’s smart-car was being vandalized; the car would activate its security measures with not only audio and flashing alerts, but also by sending the owner a text message. A video of what is happening outside of the car would be transmitted to the “cloud” (I hope you remember what Internet clouds are), which would be stored in order to be viewed by the proper law authorities.

I can envision YouTube starting a live-streaming “vehicles reporting in distress” channel.

Having our smart-cars connected to the Internet means we will be able to take advantage of other useful features.

Being able to send interactive commands to our car from a computer, mobile device, or an iPhone app would be nice.

For example, not only could we start the car engine, we could set the interior temperature, too. Or, how about running a complete diagnostics check on our vehicle and having the results automatically sent to the local auto repair shop as a proactive maintenance measure?

Wouldn’t it also be nice if the folks inside the Intel lab would teach this smart-car how to change its own oil?

The Intel video about the “connected car” is at tinyurl.com/36dny2c.

To watch a Lexus LS 460L parallel park itself go to tinyurl.com/22pkbr5.