Automotive industry’s second renaissance of innovation is about IT

The 1903 Rambler.

In the next couple of days, will be launching a “Drive” section that focuses on advancements of in-car technology and the connected vehicle. So why would a technology-focused news site launch a section about cars?

Following the technology sector in a way that assists those that use it means keeping an eye out for innovation. Innovation is about more than the new hardware and software products that big vendors push out the door to their customers. It’s about looking at the big picture – measuring the incremental steps towards a sea change that transforms the way we live and work.

After the internal combustion engine was invented in the late 19th century, and the benefits of personal transportation that was both fast and didn’t require livestock to power was apparent, it didn’t take long to spur a frenzy of competition to offer the best product on the market – or more aptly in this case, the best car on the road.

Louis Renault broke into the auto industry by modifying a French clunker into the world’s first hot rod in just 1898. In 1902, a North American Car known as the Rambler made the steering wheel popular and positioned drivers on the left-hand side of the car. And in 1903, Henry Ford and his companies were manufacturing thousands of cars a year.

Brian Jackson, Associate Editor,
Brian Jackson, Associate Editor,

Special Feature: In-car technology at the 2012 Auto Show

The innovation didn’t stop with the car itself. It quickly spilled over into the petroleum industry, with the industry scrambling to find efficient ways to produce gasoline. The U.S. congress reacted to the car’s popularity in 1916 by creating the means to fund road improvements. By the 1920s, a national highway system made the automobile the preferred method of travel for most Americans.

The car was an invention that put the pedal to the metal on innovation and didn’t let up on the throttle until it had transformed transportation in less than three decades. It contributed a major part of reducing the limitations of space and time on conducting business and other societal affairs.

Now we’re seeing a similar rush to innovation among auto makers. But this time the technology doesn’t focus on propelling us to our destination. Instead, it helps keep us connected to the people and information that matters to us even while we are en route.

Ford introduced its in-car IT system in 2007 with the Ford Focus. It featured voice recognition, Bluetooth connectivity, and a unified control panel to manage entertainment in your car. In the few years since then, car makers have raced to compete with more convenient ‘infotainment’ systems that offer connectivity and comfort. Manufacturers now see these systems as a key differentiator that will see customers decide what car to buy – not a powerful engine or fuel efficiency, but personal technology.

The roads paved for cars to travel on are now dotted with cell phone towers carrying broadband data networks. They’re already being used to push information into our cars through our cell phones, and increasingly more common, directly to cars via embedded computers. Cars are now powered by lithium-ion batteries as well as petroleum, and car makers are offering tech tools to help manage that new power source.

The spin-off technologies resulting from this automotive innovation are already evident. Voice recognition technology is now commonly used on mobile devices, and operating systems used first in cars are now powering portable computers.

Driving a car just five to 10 years from now might be an entirely different experience than it is today. The time we spend in our cars will be less about travelling and more about extending our work day, enjoying entertainment, or talking to our social circle.

Automotive technology is still eliminating space and time – just in a different way.

Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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