Syncing Digital & Automotive Worlds… Are We There Yet?

Nobody ever wants to admit having watched cheesy 1980s shows like Knight Rider. Not even me. But let’s just say, hypothetically, we as a human race happen to find the idea of cars which talk to us, understand us, and help us out of tight spots… appealing.

This must be so, because fast forward 30 years and KITT-like cars are going mainstream and consumers can’t get enough.

According to a recent Accenture survey, 91 percent of respondents who currently do not have in-dash systems wish they did to make phone calls, while 79 percent want them to stream music.

At the CES in Vegas this week, automakers unveiled a range of software and apps for their cars which make the drive a whole lot more socially interactive and connected.

Most notable of all was Mercedes-Benz second-generation mbrace, with its voice-activated gizmos, real-time traffic routing and car diagnostics, and the ability to access social media.

So why has it taken so long to get to this point? And what are the challenges we still face when marrying software and autos? Well, you can think of it this way: software ages about as well as David Hasselhoff – badly.

The digital and automotive worlds have long been in different timezones, said Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, in his keynote speech.

“We are already working on the cars that will hit the road seven years from now. The next disruptive [consumer] technology might hit the market in seven months. So you could get stuck with post-prime [consumer electronics] even in a pretty new car.”

The digital world moves at lightning speed and no consumer will pay top dollar for a car which has to be returned to the dealership every time it needs a software upgrade. Zetsche’s answer: The Cloud.

Through the internet, Mercedes-Benz cars will be able to keep their services and apps up to date, and best of all, this process will happen automatically and seamlessly, Zetsche said.

As we move towards a new “digital drivestyle” we’ll see more automotive companies partnering with Silicon Valley. Ford announced this month that it will open a 15-person research lab near Stanford University where it can keep track of new software trends that could impact its business. General Motors, BMW AG, and the Renault-Nissan alliance already have a presence in Silicon Valley.

What do you see in our digital future? What would you like on your dashboard?

Photo Credit: Sam Howzit on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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