The best way to think about the LTE Connected Car, a proof-of-concept vehicle displayed for reporters in New York Nov. 3, is that it's a smartphone on wheels.
Just as multifunctional devices such as the Apple iPhone or the Palm Pre have taken the traditional function of a phone-making calls-and added all sorts of other features such as music and video, the LTE Connected Car takes the automobile-four wheels, powered by an internal combustion engine-and loads it with, well, music and video.
The concept car features four touch screens, through which driver and passengers can access navigation, entertainment, communications and vehicle diagnostics applications. A variety of companies, including Alcatel-Lucent, Atlantic Records, QNX Software Systems and Toyota, collaborated in bringing their particular expertise to bear on the vehicle. At the Nov. 3 event, representatives from those companies claimed to be in talks with automakers about putting the technology into upcoming vehicles, although they declined to name names or offer any sort of road map.
Nonetheless, if you ever wanted to watch a YouTube video of stupid hamster tricks while driving down a federal highway at 55 mph, your chance could be arriving soon.
The ability to watch movies or play games, fortunately, is not available on the driver's screen whenever the car is in "Drive" mode.
For the other passengers, though, the combination of Long Term Evolution (LTE) broadband radio link and an in-vehicle Wi-Fi environment allows access to video on demand, music, social networking (Facebook status: "Stuck in traffic. Again."), gaming and other services. The touch screens' colorful graphics even give adjusting speakers and temperature within the vehicle a vaguely "Star Trek" feel.
For the driver in motion, the LTE Connected Car allows access to navigation, and can add points-of-interest overlays to the touch-screen map provided by in-vehicle GPS. In other words, if you're driving and want to find the nearest restaurant or gas station, the vehicle will feed you that information.
The car's IT infrastructure will also take information from sensors located around the vehicle, providing real-time updates on maintenance status. If your left tire is a little underinflated, the touch screen will alert the driver to that fact.
Although the LTE Connected Car is currently only a concept, automakers have been adding a number of IT bells and whistles to street-ready vehicles. For example, Ford has built features into its vehicles such as a 76GHz radar system-which the automaker claimed in a presentation is the same technology used in F-22 fighter jets-to alert the driver to obstacles.
Ford also developed a MyKey feature that lets a parent program vehicle keys to enable default modes for specific drivers. MyKey can limit a chosen driver's speed to 60 mph, and even limit the volume level of the car's speakers. On top of that, Microsoft's Traffic, Directions and Information Sync application can bring the driver everything information such as driving directions and traffic reports.
Chip manufacturers are also exploring ways to port their products to the automotive world. In March, Intel rolled out a series of Intel Atom processors designed for in-vehicle systems. Paired with the Microsoft Auto software platform, the processors can power features such as mobile device integration and speech recognition.
"We're excited to see them introducing new low-power-consumption Intel Atom processors targeted for in-vehicle systems," Greg Baribault, director of product management for the Automotive Business Unit at Microsoft, said in a statement at the time of the Intel processor release. "Intel Atom processors and the Microsoft Auto software platform will provide scalability for the new era of advanced in-vehicle solutions."
Those solutions, as with the LTE Connected Car, could eventually assist drivers with navigation and vehicle status-monitoring ... and passengers in watching the latest YouTube clips.