As municipalities across the globe roll out smart city initiatives, transport remains a top priority, involving both public and private transport services, writes Raj Paul, vice president, IoT and Connected Services, DMI. How will the move to autonomous vehicles change our lives?

Technological advances, the proliferation of IoT devices, changing urban-dwellers’ behaviour and expectations, better congestion management and environmental concern are fuelling the smart city agenda.With the conversation often surrounding driverless vehicles, the critical question is how far away are we from this being a reality? There is no doubt that the future of the automotive industry faces some challenges, however as with all challenges come new opportunities.

Connected versus autonomous car, what’s the difference?

The difference between the connected car and an autonomous one is often blurred. A connected car can deliver many of the novelty features that are important to us today – including entertainment, productivity and information services – but it is the autonomous car that will drive the true evolution of the automotive industry. Removing the need for a driver, the autonomous car sets the scene for the future of transit and mobility in a city.

What opportunities does the future hold?

Once we begin to witness the mass roll-out of autonomous cars, both consumers and those involved in the process of making and selling cars will experience big changes. A fully autonomous vehicle can transform the long-established model of car ownership, opening up the ride-sharing market to create transport-as-a-service (TaaS) or car-as-a-service, which people will probably access through apps.

Within congested city areas, autonomous vehicles, and the proliferation of TaaS, presents great benefits for all. For the city, it can reduce pollution levels and traffic, while the money saved by using pay-per-use vehicle services compared to owning a car is highly attractive to consumers.

For automotive brands, the potential lies in reacting creatively to these changing behavioural habits; there is an opportunity to strike up a new customer relationship through delivering additional services.Indeed, in this new environment, we might start to witness car brands competing with the likes of Uber, Lyft or even logistics companies as they become transportation companies rather than just manufacturers.

Connectivity is essential

One of the main challenges for the roll-out of autonomous vehicles is connectivity. 5G will undoubtedly make connections faster and able to cope with more data. This will be extremely important to make driverless cars ‘responsible’ enough to be safe and effective in delivering connected services.

‘Not-spots’ in 5G coverage could be a challenge for autonomous cars. Telecoms operators will be vital in providing ubiquitous 5G connectivity. Widespread 5G deployments are due in 2020, so we’re not likely to see large expanses of connected highways until after that.

An ecosystem of partnerships and collaboration

Considering new behavioural patterns and the expansion of TaaS, there seems to be an obvious need for partnerships involving technology companies, content providers, city management agencies and the automotive industry.To better meet the needs of customers, OEMs will start increasing vehicle apps and related services.

Imagine if in future cars helped owners automatically keep track of petrol station loyalty programmes and accumulated points, or if they could tell people where restaurants with great lunch menus are, or decide whether it’s worth a detour from the weekly grocery trip to pick up a special offer in a different store, or remind you about an important meeting. In such circumstances, we could see cars become mobile assistants while you’re on the move.

Raj Paul

Of course, this relationship too has its barriers to overcome, especially in terms of the development lifecycle of cars in comparison to the mobile industry. What’s more, this future transport experience leaves some questions open as to who pays for the services and whether they would be built in or add-ons. Regardless, there is great potential for monetisation.

With the possibility to do far more than just take its driver and passengers from points A to B, the evolved automotive industry could change consumers’ lives and business opportunities in equal measure. Technological advancements (in all aspects including connectivity), mobility solutions, IoT and changing driver-person as will create whole new markets for the ecosystem and brands around cars.

At DMI, we believe that the connected/autonomous car will fast become a medium for brands to engage with their customers and build loyalty. Just like our mobile devices, the future car will become an extension of our everyday lives.

The author of this blog is Raj Paul, vice president, IoT and Connected Services, DMI

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