On-the-Road Improvements: The Value of Aftermarket Connectivity Solutions for Automobiles

The age of highly connected vehicles brings with it an armada of benefits, making use of the vehicles’ connectivity to share environmental and traffic information between cars, platooning services, and other cooperative systems that enhance the driving experience. Many of these systems also improve the safety of the roads, with collision detection and prediction systems being a key selling point of connected and autonomous vehicles.

From cars anonymously reporting what route they take in a given direction to later be used by another passenger to pick a quicker route to alerting vehicles in the area of an accident down a certain road, there is a lot of benefit to be obtained from being part of the grid. The reality is, however, that many of these systems are developed with a stringent minimum level of connectivity required in the vehicle – a level not met by many vehicles on the road today. This results in legacy vehicles becoming blind spots in a transportation environment thriving off data it gets from vehicles as they make their way throughout a city.

As the introduction of connected cars is still in its early stages, the majority of vehicles on the road will be legacy, unconnected ones. The ability for a vehicle to have internet access on the road is largely thanks to embedded telematics modules that use cellular networks to connect vehicles to cloud-based services. Services that don’t operate in real time, such as mileage statistics, diagnostic information, and over-the-air software updates can be accomplished using a home’s Wi-Fi connection, however most cars on the road today lack even this technology, much less dedicated SIM cards to provide data over cellular networks. The aforementioned benefits are ready to make their impression on society; however, the number of non-participating vehicles limits their effectiveness. For services like traffic prediction that rely on data aggregated from large numbers of vehicles, a low participation rate results in an ineffective system, putting the technology to waste. How then, can these innovations find their way into today’s society? Enter, after-market connectivity solutions.

The automotive after-market is a booming industry set to see a total net worth of close to $300 Billion by 2020, and added connectivity is a large driver of this trend towards growth. Automotive suppliers already offer advanced telematics modules that can seamlessly integrate to any vehicle, with many talking directly to the CAN bus to receive fuel economy information, data on driving patterns, vehicle diagnostics, and other data to be used in big data analytics. Many of these modules include over-the-air update capability, guaranteeing that they remain up to date with any innovations that take place in the connected automotive industry. Rather than invest several thousands of dollars on a new vehicle, drivers have the ability to purchase a new head unit or telematics box for a fraction of the price, letting them share the benefits as well as improve the quality of the services offered. Some connectivity add-ons don’t even require such an intrusive installation and can just be plugged into the OBD-II diagnostics port, offering vehicle location services, driving logs, and more.

Some providers offer connectivity solutions through OBD-II dongles that interact with the user’s smartphone. The phone becomes a high-functioning remote control for the car, giving access to remote features as well as data analytics. Others provide aftermarket devices that fill in the connectivity holes found in most mid-high grade vehicles on the road today such as Bluetooth cellphone connectivity and tire safety monitoring devices. Finally, several firms offer advanced telematics in the form of universally-adaptable head units, giving users cutting-edge connectivity for the fraction of the cost of a new car. These units communicate directly with In-Vehicle Networks such as CAN without use of the OBD-II port, giving them more customization options for each individual vehicle.

For users not willing or able to invest in a top-of the line connected vehicle, the aftermarket is a valuable source for the ability to participate in these user-experience and safety-oriented systems. Along with the outfitting of legacy vehicles with cutting-edge connectivity, however, is the concern of cyber security for those vehicles. Every new connection channel added to a vehicle is a potential attack vector, one that can lead to a loss of personal data, property, or life. The need for security alongside such connectivity cannot be ignored, and as such security measures that can co-exist with aftermarket add-ons are the only feasible solution.

As the features offered as a result of this connectivity increase, so will the value one gains from having a vehicle capable of integrating with them. The need for cars to be able to be retrofitted with connectivity options cannot be understated in the effort to improve road safety through connectivity-based strategies.