One of the technologies that really amazed me at the Mobile World Congress is the idea of Connected cars. Also there are other technologies that we will be talking about in the coming days like 5G, Virtual Reality, Internet of Things, Cloud Computing and this year’s new phones. A lot of what people do revolve around smartphones, so the idea about connected cars is to enable the cars to communicate with the devices around it. Connected car is simply an ability of the car to remotely receive information.
It is important to note that since the days of the Am Radio, we have had the connected cars all along. But with smartphones, things have changed and they have become central to most people’s daily activities. That is why at this point most car manufacturers like Ford Motors are looking to tap into the smartphone experience and connect it to the cars.
But before we go to what the likes of Ford are doing on this front, let me share what I think could really help Africa. The concept of cars communicating with devices outside the car and the ones within the car, can be turned to something that can change how people access the internet especially in Africa. The idea is to turn each of the connected car into a moving WiFi hotspot. In Kenya for example, this would sort the long wished for Itumbi’s project of free WiFi in each of the Kenyan town. The Itumbi’s WiFi project was a great idea but the plan for it was not well thought out in terms of the cost and the man power it needed to be successful. When my colleague did a review of the first phase in Nakuru, sometime back, he found out that in some few places, it is working quite well. But then in other places it is not there at all, hence most people concluded that it failed from the beginning. Now imagine, if all the cars in Nakuru are made to be moving hotspots within the town. That would mean WiFi everywhere within the town and its environs but we have to assume that the owners of the cars will allow the others nearby to use their WiFi.
As much as I am excited about the cars being moving hotspots, I was told by two Ford executives that it is an interesting concept but it is not something they are working on at the moment. We will look at 5G technology in detail later but those companies working on the generation of mobile telecommunications technology probably would be the best ones to take this forward.
Meanwhile Ford Motors Company introduced its new SYNC 3 communications and entertainment system at the Mobile World Congress, allowing drivers to control their connected smartphones, audio, navigation, and climate functions with more conversational voice commands. The new SYNC 3 comes with capacitive 8inch touch screen which functions like a smartphone screen. But the best part is the number of apps one gets to access once it is fixed or installed on the car. When apps are mentioned, most will already be thinking about the phones they are using and whether their needs are catered for.
For the Android and iPhone users, you are covered but we have to say sorry to windows phone users for now, your time is coming. iPhone users can activate Apple CarPlay, more safer way to use your iPhone in the car allowing drivers to make phone calls, access music, send and receive messages, get directions. The system is also compatible with Siri Eyes Free which allows for easy access to Siri with iPhones connected over Bluetooth. Android users can activate Android Auto. Android Auto makes apps and services that drivers already know and love, accessible in safer and seamless ways including Google Search, Google Maps and Google Play.
The other exciting features available to the owners of SYNC 3-equipped vehicles are Ford SYNC report tracking and Event-seeker to find nearby music and other entertainment. As well as new SYNC Connect technology powered by 4G LTE enables remote start, unlock doors, check fuel level and locate a parked vehicle via smartphone
I find the SYNC 3 navigation capability very interesting, and in Kenyan context I can compare it to an app which was once developed by James Mwai called “Around me”. I am not sure what happened to it but SYNC 3 has some functionalities that are the same especially in providing the information about the things around the car. It provides the users with information about the surrounding of the car by simply talking to the phone. So if you want to know where you can fuel or get coffee or where to park, push the button on SYNC system and then talk to the phone. By simply saying for example “I need petrol” or “I need to park”, it would show you where you can get the coffee or where there is a space to park.
That awareness of the surrounding only comes because of the improved navigation map. From the map, the app is able to tell the driver where to get fuel, coffee, parking space and many more. And then there is Ford Service App which I think many Kenyans might find similar to another local app they are familiar with. The app provides drivers with Online Traffic Information on the navigation map for better journey planning, adapting to changing traffic situations. In my head I am comparing it to M3Route app which also provide real time traffic update to Kenyans.
“Whether you are craving your morning cappuccino on your daily commute or covering the cost of a journey by transporting a package, SYNC 3 brings to life innovative new ways of staying connected on the move,” said Christof Kellerwessel, chief engineer, Electronic and Electrical Systems Engineering, Ford of Europe. “Designed to complement modern smartphones, with an intuitive touch screen, SYNC 3 understands more conversational speech, is faster, and offers an easier-to-read graphical interface.”
SYNC connect vehicles will be rolled out across the world in the next three years. I guess for Africa; we will have to wait like for the next three years to get the experience but the prospect is interesting all the same.