NEW YORK – On the outside it looks like a conventional ’10Prius, but the LTE Connected Car concept vehicle that debuted here recently represents the launch of fourth-generation mobile broadband technology for vehicles.
Created by a consortium of 26 companies, the well-connected concept is a smart phone on wheels, offering a host of navigation, security, entertainment and infotainment options. Even home appliances and entertainment systems can be controlled from the car via its broadband capabilities.
The 4G long-term evolution car features global mobile broadband connectivity that provides new entertainment and infotainment capabilities for drivers and passengers. Equipped with four independent liquid-crystal-display touch screens, a central processing unit and a powerful flash memory, the car taps almost unlimited information and entertainment sources through cloud computing.
Because cloud computing provides virtually unlimited access to software, information and entertainment through the Internet, the small flash memory devices are sufficient to run the 4G system without requiring auto makers to install expensive hard drives in their vehicles.
Drivers and passengers in the concept vehicle can view or listen to a huge catalog of movies and music selections. It's even possible to rent a movie while in the car and finish watching it at home if the film lasts longer than the drive.
Passengers can play games over the Internet with individuals anywhere in the world. Home climate systems and security cameras can be controlled and monitored from the car. There's access to real-time traffic reports and help in routing around tie-ups.
The sensors in the vehicle can monitor vehicle systems, navigate trips and even indicate the temperature of the road surface.
The price of the system's hardware would be in the hundreds of dollars, says Steve West, senior director emerging technology and media for Alcatel-Lucent.
But subscription costs are unclear, in part due to the number of suppliers involved and the plethora of potential feature combinations.
“Because the Connected Car project is a proof of concept, the Ng Connect team and partners have not priced the services as applied to the concept vehicle,” says Jon Bucci, vice president-advanced technology department,Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.
“Pricing of services such as those built into the Connected Car concept present a complex equation, with factors dependent on individual component part prices, service providers, etc.,” he says. “It's too early to be able to foresee all of those details.”
But West says in a recent survey of 2,000 consumers, 22% said they would be willing to pay $30-$65 per month sight unseen for the various services.
“With the Connected Car concept, we are excited to help bring to life the vision of the next-generation automobile,” Bucci says. “I'd say we're probably looking at aspects of these types of services to arrive as early as 2012 – without being able to say which specific automotive manufacturers will deliver which specific services.”
Selection, development and delivery of these services depends on customer demand and willingness to purchase the technology, he adds.
But Bucci predicts these services are more likely to be introduced in luxury vehicles.
“Our goal and challenge is to democratize the availability of advanced technology services so that customers across our brands can have a consistent experience,” he says.
There are 25 other members of the consortium, including QNX Software Systems GmbH & Co., Atlantic Records Group, Buzzmedia, Chumby Industries Inc., Connect2Media, Kabillion LLC and Kyocera Communications Inc.
“We have gotten an enthusiastic response from other auto makers,” West says. “We're working with a number of OEMs.”
He declines to identify the potential customers, noting it takes two to three years of planning to include such systems in vehicles, and no car company has yet announced plans to offer 4G systems.
Bucci says Toyota already is “heavily engaged” in its ’12 model strategies.
West says the new system will allow auto makers to keep car systems fresh and to create ongoing loyalty programs with their customers. Software from QNX runs the system and it uses the car as a sensor to not only collect data, but to also broadcast it to other cars, says Andy Gryc, product marketing manager.
The software turns the car into a virtual mechanical system with the ability to monitor tire pressure and fluid levels. It also will be possible to automatically book service appointments with dealers to fix any defective systems.
The rollout of the 4G network begins next year and will last through 2014, West says. He promises the well-connected vehicle will not turn out to be another source of distraction for drivers.
The car makers insist on this, he says.