Connected car: Cloud computing drives off

Steering wheel
  • Americans can access the cloud from almost anywhere, including their cars.
  • Cloud-based services come courtesy of a car's connection to a smartphone.
  • One challenge has been figuring out how to implement cloud features safely.

If you're wondering why tech-savvy people seem to be talking about weather patterns a lot, rest assured the clouds they're talking about are digital.

Generally speaking, cloud computing uses an Internet connection to allow users to access Web-based music, information and a host of other services, without the need to keep that data stored on a user's device.

If you listen to Internet music streaming services such as Pandora or do your correspondence on Gmail, you're using cloud computing.

Now, thanks to the growth of mobile Internet access through smartphones, tablets and other devices, Americans can access the cloud from almost anywhere, including their cars.

"At the end of the day, the user does not want to have to give up part of their digital lifestyle when they get in the car," says Mark Boyadjis, a senior analyst for IHS Automotive.

That desire is reflected in the popularity of cloud-enabled infotainment systems, also known as telematics, in cars, he says.

"There's a lot of connected-car growth right now," Boyadjis says. "The vehicle is actually the third-fastest growing connected device behind smartphones and tablets."

How the cloud comes to your car

At this point, most cloud-based services come courtesy of a car's connection to a smartphone such as Apple's iPhone or the Motorola Droid. That's because those devices provide the wireless data connections needed to bring information from the remote servers where it originates and into your auto, says Joachim Taiber, a research professor of electrical and computer engineering at Clemson University's International Center of Automotive Research.

"The idea is to connect the smartphone with the user interface of the car … to make the interaction safer," Taiber says.

With that data stream, today's leading telematics systems from automakers such as Ford and BMW can provide a number of different functions to car passengers. Find out how you can use the cloud.

Music: The ability to connect to streaming radio services such as Pandora is increasingly becoming a standard feature of automakers' premium telematics systems, Boyadjis says. He eventually sees users being able to access their cloud-based music libraries through services such as iCloud, Apple's cloud-based media and data-syncing service.

Information: Passengers can access a wide variety of real-time information from in-car telematics, including sports, news and weather, Boyadjis says.

Some telematics systems also offer information on local restaurants, movie theaters and other amenities, he says, and quick access to search engines that can put even more information at drivers' fingertips.

Navigation: Old navigation systems had relied on an internal hard drive or DVDs to store maps and other navigation information. The problem was the information from those media gradually became outdated, Taiber says.

Now, thanks to growing integration between Google Maps and a number of automakers' telematics packages, drivers receive up-to-date geographical data and can plan their routes online and send them to their car's navigation systems. Some navigation services can even display traffic information, allowing you to avoid congested routes, Taiber says.


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