Picture this: You need to get somewhere, but you’re across town and your car is tucked in your garage. So, you pull up a map on your phone, and see which of your friends have their cars parked in the area, and whether or not you have borrowing privileges. Or, you pull up an app on your phone that tells you which of your friends are on the road right now, how close they are, if they have any seats open, and whether they’d be willing to drive you.
Science fiction? Not if Mercedes, among others, have their way.
Where Apps Meet Cars
As we all know, newer cars increasingly have computers built into the console. The problem is that we tend to keep cars for quite a while, but computers get outdated with shocking speed: in fact, it’s held as an immutable truth called Moore’s Law that the power of computers will double every two years…which it has, like clockwork. So if you were wondering why a smartphone seems decrepit after two years, well, now you know.
Mercedes wants to change that. They have a new system called @yourCOMMAND that will both avoid becoming obsolete before the cars so much as roll off the line, and that will do a lot more and be a lot more flexible than the computers you see in cars now.
It starts with your smartphone. Sure, you may not have one now…but Moore’s Law, remember? In 10 years, the iPhone will come free with a box of Cheerios. Anyway, your smartphone is plugged into your car, and that connection is used to make contact with Mercedes’ servers. Instead of storing a bunch of software in your car’s computer, the software works with the computer over your smartphone. This is called “cloud computing”; if you’ve ever played a game on Facebook, it’s essentially the same idea.
This lets Mercedes upgrade and redesign the software without making any of their vehicles obsolete, although of course they’d like you to buy a new one every year. But that’s just the start.
Coming back to that smartphone application, Mercedes has a proposal called “CarTogether” in the works, which lets friends share their current travel time and location, where they’re headed, and whether they have an extra seat open if somebody needs to catch a ride. In theory, you could also create digital “keys” to your car to distribute to close friends and family, so if somebody needs a ride, they can borrow it.
Your Car on Facebook
This goes the other way, as well: Mercedes foresees a program that syncs with your Facebook friends and, as you’re driving, locates them using Facebook Places on a 3D map and tells you where they’re hanging out. Of course, this can have its downsides; sometimes we just want to be left alone, and having a friend pop in in the middle of, say, a quiet family dinner isn’t necessarily welcome. But still, the concept is neat.
When will this be hitting cars? It’s just a concept for now, but you can expect to see the technologies filter in over the next 10 years. There’s no telling how car insurance companies are going to feel about additional distractions on the road. And we’re really hoping that the creepy friend-tracker thing will never come into fruition. That might need to go back to the drawing board.