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4 ways that connected cars will improve your life, and save the planet

I came away from the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) with a sense of symbiosis about the mutual influence that the automotive and technology industries are having on each other, and how the success of this collaboration will affect every one of us.

With 800-million cars on the road today, growing to an estimated 3-billion by 2035, the automotive industry exists because of our basic need to travel. Not only is it imperative for most of us to commute to sustain an income, it is in our human nature to want to discover, explore and connect.

Sadly, these very needs and desires have laid a tremendous burden on our planet via the automobile. In the US, cars contribute to 27% of the country’s total carbon emissions, and about one third of the country’s total air pollution.

The inquisitive human nature and its adventurous spirit should be celebrated, and so it is exciting to uncover some of the ways that the internet and the automobile will combine in the future to reduce the automobile’s impact on the planet.

1. Electric vehicles

The internet is a critical reason why zero emission electric vehicles are emerging as a mainstream alternative to traditional combustion engine powered cars. With a limited range of around 100 miles, it is paramount for electric vehicle owners to have access to real-time information about the location of their nearest charging station and the station’s status, as well as capacity. This is something that the internet will provide.

It will also help owners remotely monitor and control vehicle charge levels and plan single- or multiple-stop journeys.

In the case of Nissan, the in-car system connects to the cloud and compares your driving efficiency to other Leaf owners. You get awarded a virtual trophy, and it all happens via the infotainment system. Ford works similarly, but it comes via the MyFord Mobile app. Your results can subsequently be tweeted/facebooked.

2. The road condition networks

The internet will enable networks to make driving safer by allowing cars to relay information about road conditions or obstructions to other vehicles. By knowing about any hazardous conditions coming up ahead, drivers can take corrective action and avoid possible accidents and carbon-emission heavy gridlocks.

A project envisioned by DaimlerChrysler called WILLWARN uses existing vehicle sensors that include ABS, ESC, thermometer and GPS to detect hazards such as black ice, road problems or stationary vehicles.

Through WLAN radios inside the vehicles that function like normal WiFi routers, information about these hazards can be transmitted to trailing vehicles within 500 meters that form part of an ad-hoc mesh network.

It is conceivable that the project can be extended beyond ad-hoc mesh networks through cellular connections, which could be used to warn vehicles beyond the mesh network’s reach, and even upload the information to the cloud to help drivers calculate the safest, and most economical route to their destinations.

3. Driving incentives

For environmentally-aware drivers, the previous two points might have struck a chord. For others that are less “green-focused”, monetary incentives for economical driving might sound more appealing.

Would you allow your car to transmit information about your driving habits, and therefore carbon emission contribution, through the internet, in exchange for private or government sponsored energy incentives?

In the case of electric vehicles, electricity companies might offer incentives for economical driving by means of energy rebates of their gas and electricity consumption. In the case of combustion engine powered vehicles, governments might offer rebates on petrol, diesel, or road taxes.

4. Vehicle to Grid (V2G) technology

Spearheaded in 1997 by Professor Willett Kempton at the University of Delaware, the V2G program has been promoting the idea that electric or hybrid vehicles could give back to the grid during the many hours when they are not being driven.

Pioneered by three converted Toyota Scions using V2G technology, and another four owned by the state of Delaware, these vehicles are contributing energy to the national grid and monetary incentives to the owner who gets paid for their contributions.

Via a laptop and an internet connection, owners can get real-time data on the charging status of their vehicles, including the power that each has put back into the grid and the money that their contributions have earned.

Final thoughts

Various factors will drive the adoption of internet in cars. They include the personal need for ubiquitous access and early adopter differentiators for cars in the same class, but very few factors will be as important as ecological responsibility.

The internet in cars enables a grass-roots assault on global warming, and empowers each of us to contribute responsibly to preserving our planet.

Author | Martin Carstens

Martin Carstens
Obsessed with technology and the future, I write words for machines and people. Born in South Africa, now living in the United States. More