First came machines, then came machines that talk. Up next, machines that talk to each other. Consider the automobile, which started out as a fairly simple machine, then acquired more computer components and systems, and will soon be equipped with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of sensors integrating with drivers and passengers, the environment, and other cars.
The next wave of car technology is coming just as millions of new
drivers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America get their first cars, and the
role and function of cars is expanding beyond a simple people mover.
More and more, cars are being seen as data generators, and the data they
yield can populate an ever-wider range of databases (mapping, traffic,
civil services, planning, insurance, consumer trends, health, and more).
Given the amount of time people spend in their cars, there is already
jockeying for position among data-hungry tech companies to integrate
portable handheld devices with car systems - or better yet, to build
sensors, chips, antennae, and software right into the cars. Tech
industry giants, including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and
Intel, have been making sizeable investments in car-based technologies
for several years.
These companies are sensing opportunities, and rightly so. Global sales
of passenger cars will top 70 million in 2014, led by China (at 18
million units, or more than double the sales in the US). Among drivers -
even in lower-income countries - there is a clear interest in avoiding
traffic and collisions, and optimizing the driving environment with
safety, comfort, entertainment, and information. The companies behind
these technologies also understand that driving somewhere is evidence of
consumer habits and intent. In emerging markets, having capable and
reliable broadband networks, the right business models, the ability to
connect multiple device types, and tailored solutions for different
demographic segments are some of the more obvious challenges. As these
challenges are better understood, there will be openings for hardware
and software companies, mobile operators, service providers,
programmers, and many others. One day soon, you may have to squeeze your
Google Roadster between an Apple iCar and an AlibabaVan on the crowded
streets of Bangkok.