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Can connected cars drive Africa forward?

January 17, 2014 • Features, Top Stories

It is difficult to imagine a world without automobiles and with the internet permeating every facet of our lives, from smart watches to smart TVs, it was only a matter of time before our cars also became- smart.

BMW showed off it's latest i3 model at this year's CES (image: BMW)

BMW showed off it’s latest i3 model at this year’s CES (image: BMW)

Connected cars aren’t particularly new, but 2014 will see the release of a lot more vehicles that are able to receive email, message contacts and book a vehicle service while on the road.

Major technology giants are getting in on the action, as Google recently announced with chip-maker Nvidia, the conclusion of a deal with GM, Honda, Audi and Hyundai to install smart technology in new vehicle models.

“We’re getting to the point where the car is an extension of you and really looks out for you. The car is ideally suited for this, more so than your phone or a tablet or another computing device,” Gartner analyst and Automotive Practice Leader Thilo Koslowski.

A connected car is a vehicle fitted with intelligent sensors and internet connectivity. The sensors in the vehicle can relay important information to the driver, such as engine running condition, exact tyre pressure or proximity to other vehicles.

The benefits of this technology go beyond mechanical maintenance, but it also provides lifestyle information as well as entertainment. In some of the latest models, vehicles can monitor outside temperature and prompt users to remotely start their cars in order to warm up the engine during winter months.

Those vehicles fitted with HUD GPS units can monitor morning traffic and (while connected to the user’s smartphone) wake users up earlier and suggest alternative routes to avoid traffic congestion. The possibilities are endless, and as long as these vehicles have a steady internet connection and a smartphone to connect to, cars are poised to become drivable computers.

What about Africa? Do connected cars have a future on a continent where users struggle to get by on expensive, basic, slow connectivity? Cisco’s Senior Vice President Howard Charney seems to think so.

“The automobile of the future is a very different animal. We will begin to see the availability of this tech in the next 5 years in the cities of the developed world. I think you’ll begin to see it in Africa in the next ten years, in the big cities. We are investing a lot of money to make the capability a reality,” Charney said during last year’s AfricaCom conference in Cape Town.

MapIT, a digital mapping partner in Africa, late last year announced the availability of deCarta’s Connected Car Platform on the continent. The platform is capable of delivering relevant content such as traffic conditions, petrol prices, traffic cameras, parking as well as location based search functionality.

There is no reason why these cars shouldn’t make it to our shores. South Africa manufactures and assembles vehicles for some of the world’s largest automotive brands, contributing upwards of 6% to GDP and accounting for more than 12% of South Africa’s manufacturing exports.

Adding to the vehicles already being assembled in the country, many of the component makers and drivers of the technology operate on the continent, such as Ericsson. The company recently announced the conclusion of an agreement with US mobile operator AT&T to improve connectivity for products powered by Ericsson’s Connected Vehicle Cloud.

“Ericsson’s vehicle cloud realizes the true potential of connected vehicle products and applications. We created the AT&T Drive platform to bring automakers the best the industry has to offer, so we can deliver innovation, not a one-size-fits-all solution.  Ericsson is an integral player in that platform of services,” said Chris Penrose, senior vice president, AT&T Mobility.

There is no doubt that the concept of connected cars will become more prevalent as the technology. According to research firm SBD, most new cars will have some form of connectivity by 2025.

“Not only will mobile operators play a major role in connecting all new cars by 2025, they are also well positioned to move further up the value chain and provide innovative value added services to their customers,” the company said.

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor

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