Is it a computer that also lets you make phone calls or is it a telephone that has significant computing functionality? The question can rightly be asked about smartphones. In a similar way, one can ask if the vehicles of the future will be computers on wheels or if they will be cars with advanced computing capability.
The question is more than just rhetorical and it's not just about "what's in a name?" Especially that the word "future" is relative here, with manufacturers seriously planning to make the dream come true in some 12 to 20 years.
Will the shining names be
Compared to vehicles manufactured twenty years ago, today's cars are significantly more computerised. From engine's management to computer-controlled breaking, security sensors and, of course, digital in-cabin entertainment, processors and memory modules are everywhere in the car. However, it has all remained local so far, inside the car — except naturally for the GPS navigation system that talks to the satellites.
The big jump is going to take place in the form of the constantly connected car, and by connected we understand connected to the Internet, again somewhat like a smartphone that can show you its best only as long as it has a connection to the web, not just to GSM phone service.
A connected car can constantly report its GPS position, its "whereabouts" in plain language, therefore greatly enhancing the security of its passengers. It can also trigger automatic calls in case of accidents. Software updates will also be possible this way, without the need to take the vehicle to the workshop. Mercedes,
The list of features that can be added to the machine, once it becomes fully connected, will probably be a mile long. However full connectivity implies good, solid networking and most countries are not yet there. Or maybe manufacturers will be smart enough to think of designs that will take into consideration eventual temporary disconnections without necessary causing a car crash or any other inconvenience, however minor it may be.
Rumours (from well informed sources) indicate that 4G networking in
Apart from technical matters, not knowing whether the "machine" (I can't think of a better general name) will be treated as a vehicle that goes on the road, or a computer, may raise administrative questions. Take custom duties and taxes for instance. In
One more time, the trend is irreversible. It is going to happen one fine day; we are going to have robot cars sooner than we think. One generation ago ABS brakes and CD players were fancy things to have in a car, today it all goes without saying that the smallest, the least expensive car comes fitted with these features.
Permanent Internet connectivity in a car is around the corner. How far will the industry take it, how soon will a car be able to drive entirely by itself, and will we still be calling it a car? It all remains to be seen.
Let us just hope that connected cars won't stop for an impromptu software update in the middle of a traffic jam or on the Amman-Aqaba desert highway. And of course they better make them 100 per cent virus free.
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