Connected car: Cloud computing drives off

Social media: As social media joins email and texting as a key communications tool for tech-savvy drivers, more automakers are attempting to integrate social media functionality into their telematic systems.

BMW cars come with the ability to read Twitter and Facebook updates out loud, using its ConnectedDrive system, and General Motors and Mercedes have plans to offer the technology in future models, Taiber says.

Ford's SYNC system also can read Twitter timelines through the company's AppLink technology.

Email and text messages: While voice-to-text hasn't progressed to the point that it allows full hands-free texting functionality, automakers have been offering a way to keep up with email and text since 2008.

"We've actually had the ability to do voice-based text messaging, where you'd receive a message, it would read it out to you, and you could reply in one of 15 different preset replies," Boyadjis says. "Not too far down the road, you'll have the ability to do complete voice dictation in the car."

Two big challenges face automakers looking to bring the cloud into your car interior. One is the fractured nature of the smartphone market, in which several different platforms, including Apple's iOS, Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Phone, are vying for market share. Because accessing the cloud usually requires connecting to a smartphone, the variety of platforms can make it tough for automakers to develop features that will work with all of those competing networks, Boyadjis says.

The second challenge has been figuring out how to implement cloud features safely.

"Enabling connections into the car and services in a safe manner has been priority -- No. 1 in most cases," Boyadjis says.

Still, there has been push-back from auto safety advocates. Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended putting in place a national ban on making cellphone calls or using any other portable electronic device while driving. If adopted by lawmakers, the NTSB proposal could force automakers to make major changes to their telematics systems.

Short of that, the sky's the limit for cloud-based computing functionality in U.S. vehicles, thanks to advances in voice-recognition technology and the penetration of smartphones in the marketplace, Boyadjis says.

"The volume brands -- the Toyota Camrys, the Ford Explorers, the Honda Civics of the world -- are really starting to attach to this connected-vehicle experience," he says. "The end story is that information and access to things you're using anyway, like Pandora and Facebook, are very important to users, and the automakers want to make sure they can provide that in the car so people can have that experience when they're stuck in two hours of (Los Angeles) traffic."


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