Notes from Jasper’s Connected-Car Confab

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

In a wide-ranging conversation, executives from AT&T, General Motors, LoJack and ChargePoint discussed the IoT in context of today's and tomorrow's connected-car applications.

Last week, I attended a panel discussion sponsored by Jasper, in which Macario Namie, the firm's VP of strategy, queried representatives from ChargePoint, General Motors (GM) and LoJack about the state of technology in connected cars and what they see coming down the pike in the near future. Jasper plays a role in these firms' Internet of Things services by offering a cloud-based platform for managing electronic devices that transmit data via cellular networks and handling the associated subscription billing, sensor provisioning and troubleshooting.

The panelists included Emad Isaac, LoJack's CTO; Ajay Agrawal, ChargePoint's CTO; and Steve Schwinke, who directs GM's advanced development and concepts for its Global Connected Customer Experience division. Win Williams, the VP of IoT solutions for AT&T, one of Jasper's long-time cellular operator partners, was also on hand to provide the telecom's perspective on the IoT and automobiles.

LoJack was founded as a vehicle-recovery system, but also provides GPS tracking and telematics services for managing commercial vehicle fleets. Municipalities, employers, places of business and homeowners have installed more than 22,300 of ChargePoint's electric vehicle stations, and a number of carmakers have integrated the ChargePoint charger application—which directs drivers to the nearest available plug, mapped via a cellular network—in their electric vehicles. GM leverages the IoT through its OnStar security and navigation system, of course, and also through its connected-car applications.

It was an interesting discussion, though some of the questions and answers were a bit predictable. Namie asked the panelists to address the recent hacks into connected vehicles, and it seemed like Schwinke punted on his answer, saying that the "whole system is locked down" in reference to GM's connected-car technology, and then claiming he couldn't make more remarks without talking to his PR team. I don't necessarily think it was Schwinke's intention, but that only made me even more curious about what he wouldn't say.

Of course, the hack that UC Santa Barbara researchers perpetuated on a Corvette earlier this year was accomplished by leveraging a Metromile OBD module. Still, the event raises questions about whether the Corvette also has security weaknesses that made the hack—in which the researchers gained control of the car's braking system—possible. So the hack was the elephant in the room that Schwinke avoided.

But LoJack's Isaac was more direct on the topic of connected-car security, noting that hacks will happen and that vendors need to act proactively when they do. Isaac also offered some advice that is sage, regardless of your particular vertical: It is paramount for any company developing IoT solutions to establish a team dedicated to security. "Don't have the same people who set up your IT also set up your security systems," he stated.

Five Years From Now
In terms of what the next five years will bring to connected-car technology, ChargePoint's Agrawal said he thinks that just as consumers shifted to smartphones, they will shift to connected cars as well. We'll look up in 2020, he predicts, and just about all cars will be connected. Of course, consumers purchase new phones far more frequently than they buy new cars, so even if the comparison is apt, the rollout will be far slower.

Schwinke said he was confident that semi-autonomous vehicles would become common in five years, with such safety features as crash avoidance. He also envisions a level of personalization enabled by connected-car technology that will let a driver communicate with his or her car. Just like consumers who buy a new smartphone can customize it with the apps they want most, drivers will be able to do the same with their vehicles. "How are you going to make it your experience, so it matches your lifestyle?" he asked. "That's where I see us moving the needle, so that people have this love affair with their car."

That may not happen to the degree that GM's sales force would like to see, however, if the trend away from car ownership and toward a reliance on ridesharing services continues. Yet, it's easy to imagine a day much sooner than 2020, when you will hail an Uber and step into the car, and the vehicle's radio will start playing your favorite podcast or Apple radio channel, or a touch-screen in the back seat will queue up your favorite game.

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the editor of Internet of Things Journal and a former staff reporter for RFID Journal. She also writes about technology, as it relates to business and the environment, for a range of consumer magazines and newspapers.