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The key to smart cars: Future-proofing

By Qualcomm

One of the big byproducts of the recent explosion in personal technology, especially smartphones, is that consumers have come to constantly expect big new innovations. People expect their devices to evolve quickly; in the automotive world, cars are starting to be included in that expectation. Smart technologies are transforming the driving experience by improving comfort, navigation, safety—and more. But will the next generation of cars be able to harness the latest in smart technologies, and do it quickly enough to satisfy consumers? Those are the big questions facing the auto industry today.

The fast pace of innovation has been great for consumers, who get ever-faster access to cutting-edge technology at ever-lower prices. And it’s been great for the tech industry, because consumers’ expectation of innovation is coupled with their expectation that they’ll be upgrading devices fairly regularly.

For automakers embracing smart technologies, this trend offers both challenges and opportunities. Advancements in connectivity, infotainment, and telematics promise to net new customers and revenues. But the extended design cycle for cars makes it difficult for even the most visionary of companies to quickly get new technologies to market. That means the capabilities and features that consumers enjoy in their smartphones and tablets could be generations ahead of the technologies contained in their cars.

In addition to the design cycle disparity, there’s the upgrade cycle to contend with: You might upgrade your phone every year or two, but drive the same car for a decade (the US national average is closer to 11 years).

Smart automakers (pun intended) are responding to these challenges by speeding up their innovation cycles, and recognizing that fixes and upgrades to existing cars need to happen more frequently. The future of driving is about giving consumers the ability to upgrade their current model car as needed, versus forcing her to upgrade to newer models.

Leading the charge to innovate smart car technologies are companies like Mercedes, Nissan, Hyundai, and Honda, all of which have built dedicated R&D labs in Silicon Valley. And beyond the traditional auto shows, nearly every brand now attends tech-focused shows like CES.

And the tech inside vehicles is evolving too. We’ve come to a point where 4G LTE connections in our cars are just as valued as the engines that power them. New cars are finally adapting to our tech-immersed lives.

The fact that technologies developed for mobile are being adopted by automakers makes sense. Qualcomm has been connecting cars for over 12 years, since the original days of OnStar. Connecting cars with LTE is transforming the car industry, the same way fast data connectivity and powerful processors turned our feature phones into our smartphones. Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. (QTI) is on the cutting edge of the connected car revolution, working on multiple fronts to extend the smartphone experience into vehicles.

For example, to make it easier to incorporate advanced infotainment features in cars, Qualcomm Technologies offers automakers an integrated hardware and software platform that provides an array of navigational and multimedia features and uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon¹ processor and modem, advanced GPS (GNSS), Wi-Fi and Bluetooth with pre-integrated support for QNX and Android operating systems.

Smart car technology is transforming the driving experience and increasing customer expectations. We want all the latest: 4G LTE hotspots; touch screens for our dashboards and entertainment systems; 3D navigation and turn-by-turn instructions; 360º cameras for parking, wireless charging for our personal devices—and more.

In answer to the question of how automakers can make smart cars deliver technical innovation over the life of vehicles, in-car technology should become upgradeable and swappable as the years go on, letting cars add new features as they age gracefully.

This isn’t easy, but automakers are tackling this idea head-on. Qualcomm Technologies and Audi worked together to debut the first 4G LTE connected vehicle in 2014. The German automaker also fits its newest models, like the A3, with graphics boards that can be swapped out when new hardware is available, giving the cars added life and functionality as they age. Tesla is leading the way with wireless vehicle updates that can unlock new features, such as automated driving assists, once they’re tested and deemed road-ready. Ford will be doing the same thing. Chrysler allows owners who don’t order navigation to pay for it later at the dealer, which then seamlessly activates it with a software upgrade.

Just as with the pace of personal tech innovation, these practices will be great for all. Automakers are acknowledging how their customers use technology once they leave the showroom. And consumers have the assurance that their cars will continue to run reliably, once they’ve inevitably fallen a few model years behind. They’re also getting the option to upgrade, within reason, the car they’re already comfortable driving. It’s a win-win.

This article was written by Qualcomm and not by the Quartz editorial staff.

¹Qualcomm Snapdragon is a product of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

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