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Cars: Yet Another Thing with Web Access

Posted January 01, 2014 9:02 AM by HUSH

On this first day of 2014, automotive technology stands at a crossroads.

I remember there was once a day and age where if you were looking for a cheap car, you'd buy a recent newspaper or AutoTrader and flip through a sprawling classifieds section. Scanning the vehicles for sale, you'd see something akin to this:

CHRYSLER LeBaron. '86. 75k mi. Convertible. ABS. 5 speed auto, 4 cyl. Power locks, power windows. Multi-tape deck w/ AM FM radio. $5,000 OBO. Call 515-867-5309.

An' woo-boy! ABS! Power locks and windows! A tape deck! It was indeed the space age of driving.

Of course, 20-plus years later, absolutely zero of the above listed details for the full-featured 1986 LeBaron are impressive. And because automakers believe that everyone needs to be connected to the internet all the time, they're starting to integrate more smart technologies into consumer vehicles.

Most modern and past-gen vehicles are equipped with a Controller Area Network. The CAN bus is pretty much the electric matrix on the vehicle-anything that can be controlled is linked to the CAN by an electrical control unit (ECU). At any given time, a vehicle is diagnosing and predetermining the status of thousands of processes in the auto, and these processes may be interdependent of other happenings in the vehicle. For example, if someone wants to pop the trunk of the car, and the latch and motor of the trunk is regulated by an ECU, then the car determines the status of several vehicle operations. Is the car moving? Is it in park? The ECU can also determine if there is something preventing the trunk from opening by gauging voltage feedback. All of this is communicated through the CAN, and typically to the driver by some type of visual display.

So while this controller by every means provided the vehicle with the informatics to create a more safe, reliable, and maintainable vehicle, it was by no means a full-fledged computer. Yet as of this year, tablet computers and operating systems are being incorporated into the new models of luxury cars.

Since 2012, Apple and Italian supercar manufacturer Ferrari have been collaborating on ways to incorporate Apple's robust iOS software into Ferrari's designs. Ferrari's new hybrid coupe comes equipped with two iPad Minis to control entertainment options for passengers. When not in use, the iPads display Ferrari's iconic prancing horse logo. Apple intends to bring an automotive edition of iOS to other car manufacturers, including Mercedes, BMW, Honda, GM, and Fiat.

Well, not one to let the technology brand wars to stay in the electronics industry, Google has come to an agreement to install Android operating systems in Audi vehicles beginning this year. Not only will the software serve as the interface for in-car entertainment, but a vigorous display will allow the driver and any passengers unfettered access to things like Google Maps, as well as web browsers, third-party apps, and other services. Some type of data plan will be negotiated during the vehicle's sale, including the possibility of lifetime free data with the purchase of a new vehicle.

While I'm sure that Google will encompass measures to ensure drivers remain minimally distracted, the "Internet of Things" is beginning to spread to its last frontiers. The car used to be one of the last places where an individual could find isolation from the over-connectivity that surrounds everyday life. Heck, most places even have legislation limiting just how connected you can be while driving. But soon we're not going to be able to separate ourselves from the digital world even during this tedious task, and with it we'll lose many of the freedoms that the automobile personifies.

We know that software developers track our internet history, so why not our physical history and locations? No one ever wants to get lost on the way to an event, but what about getting lost on a Saturday afternoon just for the sake of something new? Does Facebook need to be updated with your favorite places to wash your car or catch lunch? Let's not forget, your car may only become as good as the cyber defenses it has in place, and a full-fledged PC in your car is probably more vulnerable than the one on your desk.

The automobile has always meant so much to the person who owns it. It is almost as if the inanimate, analogue nature of the vehicle serves to extend the driver's personality and character. But when the car becomes just another representative of your digital collective, it is only as unique as the phone in your pocket. I'm obviously not a fan.


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Pop Mech - How the Computer Inside Your Car Works


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Re: Cars: Yet Another Thing with Web Access

01/02/2014 7:02 AM

"I'm obviously not a fan."

But the NSA will be. :)


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Re: Cars: Yet Another Thing with Web Access

01/02/2014 1:46 PM

so one day I may get a message from my car telling me the trunk can not opened due to reason x? Wow. That sounds like progress for the hammer and crowbar industry.

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