The Upgradeable Car: A Software Influenced Future for the Auto Industry

As an automotive blogger that also works in the IT industry, I feel I have a somewhat unique perspective on in-car technology. Whereas a new car may have a three to five year buffer between upgrades and replacement models, for electronic devices such as mobile phones and computers it's more like six to eighteen months.

This brings up an interesting conundrum: what to do when the sat nav or Bluetooth devices in your car age more quickly than the car itself? Few people this side of Dhiaa Al-Essa can afford to replace their car every six months, so the answer - to automakers at least - is to do the same as software companies: roll out upgrades.

It could be something as simple as the dealership checking your oil and tire pressure remotely to recalibrating the transmission or updating the car's sat nav system. San Francisco based Cisco Systems has even constructed an experimental dashboard out of LCD panels that acts as a giant touch screen: driver's can drag and drop instruments, personalize the look and feel of said instruments and add new functions such as g-force meters.

The obsolescent of in-car technology is becoming more and more of a concern, especially in the light that market research firm R. L. Polk reveals that many of us are keeping our cars for up to 9 years. Advances in computing technology in our car's ECUs and other systems are also bound to cause headaches for automakers in the future.

As Dirk Schlesinger, a senior director in Cisco’s Internet business solutions group explains, "Complexity is killing the industry. We can’t change the silicon fast enough."

Software updates, a common enough occurrence when your car is taken in for a service in this day and age, may soon be rolled out automatically and via the internet or satellite, like they are for computer software.

In the words of Dave Evans, Cisco’s chief futurist: “The car is becoming the most sophisticated piece of computer equipment you own.”

That's as good as maybe, but with technology such as Ford AppLink giving its drivers access to Pandora or Twitter from behind the wheel or GM / Mercedes-Benz's OnStar and Mbrace systems allowing remote support for driver's and their vehicles, one thing is for sure: the future is closer than we think.

By Tristan Hankins

Source: NY Times