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Connected Cars: Do the pros outweigh the cons?


Everyone who hears about connected cars thinks of those shiny beautifully carved concept vehicles that manufacturers claim to be releasing in the next 15-20 years, with cool driver seats and a cockpit full of touchscreen controls and futuristic steering wheels (or maybe without). The ones that a passenger sits in, talks to and reads a paper while the car drives itself. No we are not talking about those, those are autonomous vehicles. There is a difference!

According to McKinsey the connected car is a vehicle that is able to optimize its own operation and maintenance as well as the convenience and comfort of passengers using onboard sensors and Internet connectivity. A car that has internet access, its own WLAN (wireless local area network) and is able to share it with devices both inside and outside. From Ford and Honda to BMW and Volvo, everyone feels that in the next 2-5 years, connected cars would be ruling the streets. Of course it will, why else will these giant mechanical conglomerates be spending top dollar to manufacture them?

Lot of people says that the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to connected cars. At the end you are just burning a hole in your pocket for comfort, convenience and of course – swag and it does not get any better than this, at this time. So, lets break it down, your car is connected to your phone, is connected to your house, is connected to your office’s parking space, is connected to your other car, is connected to most of the gadgets that you have. It is also connected to the manufacturer for relaying real-time data about the vehicle.

Through different channels you have a real time GPS and an extension of your smartphone (aka your life). It also tells you what is wrong with your car and how bad a driver you are. Well, at least I think the people who will able to spend loads for a connected car in today’s time will definitely be able to afford a chauffeur. Blame the chauffeur, you plead not guilty for rash driving.

However, the pros outweigh the cons, your every movement across the city or country is tracked. The car will always remember when you speed up, slowed down, how “optimally” you drove and where all did you apply that sudden brake. Let me ask you this question, do you really want someone to know where all have you been and how have you reached that place? So this Christmas let the car and not Santa decide who has been naughty or nice.

Talking about remembering everything, since the connected car has a microphone on for voice commands, is it always on? I guess a lot of unconventional and confidential talks happen inside the car and during transit. Who is listening to all of that chatter? As far as I know, there is no law that protects the data privacy of what goes inside a car?

Now that your phone, which these days is an extension of your very own self, is connected to your car, the car has everything, your contacts, what goes on Facebook, your personal and official emails (yes, opened and accessible), thanks to a move towards a cashless society, your mobile wallets with your credit card details (some times several cards, since you are so affluent), as well as your organizer and your routine. Which brings me to the question, how safe are connected cars, digitally? Are they prone to ransomware, hacking, and malware? Hacking is also a point of grave concern; the computer that is inside the car, controls the cruise control or the automated cut-off or shut-off on impact or proximity indicator. What if someone gains control of that? This would have given the Indian actor Salman Khan’s driver an excuse for running over several people on a footpath.

Since we are slowly moving into an Internet of Things world, your connected car is also connected to your home. As soon as you reach proximity of your house from a long day’s work, the gates of your home open, your house is lit up and your bathroom prepares for a hot shower. In a digital world, hackers will have a new meaning of ‘breaking and entering’. However, the pros outweigh the cons.

Naysayers to all of the above will say hybrid, electric and alternative fuel powered vehicles will save the environment with their fancy fuel-efficient systems and optimized driving. All because they are connected and all the data can be analyzed for actionable insights. I say, a certain vehicle being mass-produced today has a 5.0 liter engine, guzzling gas at 500 horse-power and is a well known connected sports car. My hypothesis: All electric and alternate fuel vehicles can be connected cars but all connected cars are not fuel-efficient.

To put it in a nutshell, these connected cars are definitely the ultimate devices when it comes to comfort and convenience but are they fail-safe? You can make phone calls, Skype calls, open gates, prefix the parking spots, predict traffic and operate your digital life in your car, but is it worth the risk? I mean, if your Facebook account gets hacked, life ceases to exist, we are talking about life itself. Oh and we haven’t come to the most important part, the price tag that comes with these vehicles, only the uber rich at this point of time can afford a connected car and I guess they should be the ones most concerned.

Maybe in time things will become fail-safe and I know companies investing in this area are constantly working towards making connected cars safer, not only from a driver’s point of view but also from a cyber-security point of view. But for now on the streets connected cars are maybe not as practical as we think they are. However, the pros outweigh the cons.

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Abhinav Mohapatra
An author who has a keen interest for the ‘off-beat’ An author who has a keen interest for the ‘off-beat’, he has covered and explored multiple facets of the marketing, advertising & technology sphere in his career. Lured towards the ‘cool’ technologies, he is an HTC snob, Hollywood movie buff and philosopher who likes to observe the world through his ‘Red Spectacles’.