Opinion

The Internet of Cars: What racing ahead with connected vehicles means for UK SMEs

7 min read

17 February 2016

Belief that driverless vehicles could soon accelerate off the pages of science fiction and into our every day lives has become a serious likelihood for 2016, so we’ve looked at what these means for the UK’s businesses.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, autonomous vehicles were the hot topic as nine major automakers exhibited there. GPU chip maker Nvidia kicked off the week’s keynote speech with the announcement of its “supercomputer” for driverless cars.

Ever since, barely a day has gone by without the mention of “smart” cars from the likes of Jaguar Land Rover, or the commentary on Apple’s entry to the self-driving market.

Moreover, in the UK, advocates of driverless, autonomous vehicles celebrated the government’s green light to Google Cars earlier this month, applauding the fact they will soon be trialling their artificial intelligence driven machines in London.

Heralded as the future of transport, the belief is that regardless of the strong opinions surrounding driverless cars, they will be a staple part of everyday life by 2050.

Yet what is important to note is that driverless cars are just the tip of the “smart car” iceberg. Autonomous vehicles, whilst exciting, are a very small segment within a rapidly growing industry loosely known as “the Internet of Cars”.

The Internet of Cars refers to all “connected” vehicles. Cars with direct access to the internet that consume, create, supplement, direct and share digital information – whether that’s with other cars in a fleet or your home appliances so that the kettle turns on when you’re ten minutes away from the door.

Connected vehicles are possibly the most visible part of the Internet of Things. After all, for years, cars have been syncing with our various technologies to make travel smoother, safer, and more efficient.

Already they connect to our phones through Bluetooth, analyse real-time traffic reports and provide us “fastest” routes, offer safety nets with roadside emergency assistance through in-built connections such as the new, mandatory eCall service.

It is within this sector that development has reached breakneck speeds. Not only do many of today’s cars have the computing power of 20 or more personal computers, but some feature over 100m lines of programming code, processing up to 30 gigabytes of data every hour.

The biggest growth has been seen in safety features such as smart collision technology and emergency call systems, which are now valued around €49.3bn. This is followed by autonomous driving technologies, valued at around €39.6bn, as well as the €12.7bn value of in-car products that enhance mobility and vehicle management. The latter includes products such as AutoTrip, which is using connected technology to transform how businesses interact with their car fleets.

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The reason connected cars represent such a significant opportunity for British SMEs is the contribution they can make to reducing bottom-line costs whilst increasing the wellbeing of drivers. The accumulation of data allows for guidance on faster, safer and more economical driving and, over time, an accurate picture of how a business uses vehicles.

Take for example what AutoTrip is addressing by taking connected technology and using it to digitise and streamline the reporting of mileage data. This addresses the very real issue of unreliable mileage information, with an estimated 20-40 per cent of mileage data being inaccurate and almost always significantly delayed.

The status-quo is a sinkhole of wasted time and money which the company aims to plug with technology. These are the products that will make the most difference to British businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises for which resources are limited.

Products within the connected car sector therefore address an issue faced by the majority of businesses using fleets – whether that is haulage truckers, care workers visiting homebound patients, or accountants traveling for audits. At the moment, there is a deficiency in reliable data on how corporate fleets actually work. Digitisation within vehicle and mobility management will thusly open up a raft of possibilities for companies.

As the sector booms, more and more pain points for corporate fleets will be addressed. Issues such as decarbonisation, duty of care and resource management will become easy for businesses. Technology will make it so.

Knowing this, SMEs will want to keep an eye on what’s happening to our roads. In the next few years, the belief is that the global market for connected cars will grow from €40.3bn in 2016 to €122.6bn by 2021. Becoming aware of the opportunities arising now, businesses can jump the curve and speed into the future.

It’s indubitable that connected cars have the potential to disrupt the entire automotive ecosystem. The industry will inevitably undergo serious changes as autonomous vehicles take over the roads, but the real transformation will be in the experience created by connectivity.

Because it won’t just be our cars that change, but our businesses. The technology available today will transform tomorrow. The question is simply whether the UK’s companies are ready for the ride.

Elsewhere in the car sector, it’s been revealed that 52 per cent of the UK’s small business bosses have confessed to hiring cars to win over clients – looks like those driverless car orders could end up going through the roof.

Alexander Nicholson, an expert on developing and commercialising technologies in the Internet of Things, is the co-founder and MD of AutoTrip