Make Way for the Real Smart Car

Imagine a world your car finds out that you had a stressful day and plays uplifting music or prepares you for a challenging day by finding a pep talk.

While all of the rage is around self-driving cars as the next step of evolution for automotive, there is an intermediate, often overlooked, step that will delight us all.

Transportation is the latest industry on the verge of a major transformation, driven by more prevalent broadband connectivity and personalized technologies. The historic relationship people have had with their cars has been rather cold, with autos remembering very little (if anything) about drivers [think: 50 First Dates]. The most magical experience has been a car remembering a driver's seat setting, and even this has been pretty rare. When you think about how much time people spend in their cars, the lack of personalization to date is quite astonishing.

Automakers, OEMs and technology companies have been ramping up innovation to bring the next generation fleet of internet-connected vehicles to the roads, and as a result, will soon make cars the smartest computers we own. Think about this: the smartphone only really became 'smart' when it started leveraging sensors like GPS, accelerometer and gyroscope. The car has leveraged these longer than any other device. As we start using the car-as-a-computer to deliver personalized, situationally-aware experiences, the fantasy of driving KITT, the fantastic supercar from Knight Ride, will only become closer to a reality.

While industry leaders don't necessarily agree on timing, most expect all new cars to come equipped with connected in-car features like video, apps, infotainment, vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communication and calling systems by 2016, at the latest. Supported in the cloud, the connected car will leverage a car's unique (and increasing number of) sensors like cameras, weather detection, motion sensors and more to provide not only an enhanced driving experience, but safer roads as well. The current car app eco-system has mostly been inspired by the smartphone, not taking the car context into account. This is not suitable to be used at 70 mph. Content providers are starting rethink the auto experience, solving for a car-first solution.

The trends that have emerged as the primary areas for innovation in the industry are:

Music is not the only thing that streams - Robust real-time content streams: The consumer experiential in-car shift will lie in the delivery of real-time, personalized information delivered through in-dash screens. Live traffic information and navigation, smart parking, weather and safety alerts will be communicated in addition to hundreds of content streams of local information, like dining and entertainment, which will be bookable through a tap of the screen. All of the content streams will be connected and aware, providing an intelligent, 360-degree snapshot of information.

Cars Differentiate Drivers, Deliver Personalized Experiences: The winner of the personalized driving experience will be the automobiles that are able to decipher between drivers of shared cars through unique keys, signals from the driver's smartphone or even biometrics. When a car is empowered with this information, only then will be able to provide unique driving experiences. For instance, if a couple shares one car, the preferred temperature, seat settings and Pandora or Spotify radio station will automatically trigger; the most frequently-traveled routes will appear on the screen for one-touch navigation (with real-time traffic results, of course); and relevant offers will populate, personalized for each driver and triggered by one of the identifying factors.

Predictive Analytics Change A Driver's Mood, Route and Overall Experience: With the right technology, cars can understand our daily, weekly and monthly patterns better than anything else. Currently, cars don't anticipate anything about the driver. On a basic level, cars could recognize the route that a driver typically takes every morning, and alert them of closed roads, construction, accident reports and more. On a more sophisticated front, cars could connect with a driver's mobile phone, recognize that their calendar full of appointments on a given day and provide recommendations of quick-dining restaurants for lunch in between two meetings.

Situation Aware Marketing Comes to the Dash: Advertising in the car context is incredibly difficult to solve for. Driver distraction is unacceptable; delivering a marketing message that diverts the attention of the driver while she is going down a highway at a high speed will create legal and PR nightmares - not to mention being morally wrong -- for automakers and the brand. Advertising will certainly make its way into the car, but only when it can be safe by being aware of the driver's current situation and relevant at a specific time and place.. When gas is running low, for instance, a petroleum station can send an alert with pricing and voice directions on how to get there. A local coffee shop can market to a driver as they come within a block or two. Cars will also become a digital wallet that stores credit card information and loyalty cards, allowing a driver to transact from the car using NFC. Imagine, for instance, not having to get out a credit card at the gas station, but selecting the card on an in-dash screen and the payment happening seamlessly. When the driver leaves the car, she could beam whatever she needs to her smartphone.

V2V Communication for Safer Roads: The emerging wireless V2V communication capabilities have the potential to greatly reduce car crashes, the often-deadly impact of blind spots and other hidden traps. With advancements in V2V communication, cars will communicate and alert each other of dangers. V2V communication will also enhance traffic flow, rerouting vehicles to less busy roads.

While network reliability will remain an issue, at least in the near term, increased urbanization is priming the auto industry for significant innovation. The race is heating up among automobile manufactures to provide the most advanced, personalized and safe experience on the roads. So while driverless cars are the shiny objects that everyone is buzzing about, the innovations happening within the "traditional" driving environment deserve just as much attention. This too will be magical.