Opinion: ‘Connected Car’ super cool, but is it safe?

There’s something innately exciting about a car that can flick on the furnace before you get home, don’t you think?

Imagine it. You’re on your way back from a five-hour road trip with the family. While the two kids happily blast each other on the PlayStation in the back, your wife or husband in the passenger seat looks up the perfect recipe for tonight’s dinner.

You’re navigating the car with a hands-free GPS system while at the same time, the vehicle emits location signals to friends or colleagues and on-the-fly diagnostic information to its manufacturer.

OBJ360 (Sponsored)

That’s the automotive vision that Alcatel-Lucent showcased earlier this week, with the unveiling of its LTE Connected Car concept, created by the company’s ng Connect Program (a technology ecosystem spawned by Alcatel-Lucent that includes local company QNX Software Systems).

Alcatel-Lucent’s Chris Carfagnini, the company’s director of emerging technology and media, told me that he expects this type of car to be in production by 2012, give or take.

“And the power of the (technology) allows you to reach up through the cloud, and retrieve cloud (computing) assets that belong to you or reach your home IP and pull down media files from your home computer,” he says.” Or with video monitoring, if you’re on a long trip, you can punch up the IP video camera and turn the lights on at home and make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be.”

That’s a stunning vision, and certainly fits with what the good people at Alcatel-Lucent have envisioned as the future of driving as we know it.

But – and I don’t want to sound like a prude here – I do worry about these types of automobiles and the safety of Canadian roads. Some people are bad enough drivers without new distractions.

Indeed, we’ve just seen a law passed here in Ontario and other parts of the world banning the use of cell phones while driving. The anti-texting-while-driving movement, as well, is gaining steam across North America for good reason.

Are innovations such as the Connected Car, while stunningly advanced and super cool, taking us in the opposite direction?

I’m not sure, but it kind of seems that way.

It’s true the vehicle will offer hands-free, voice-activated services for the driver and others, thus limiting much of the current problem with hand-held devices. Mr. Carfagnini also told me that all video monitors in the driver’s line of sight will likely revert to GPS mode, and therefore become less distracting, once the vehicle is removed from park.

But we’ve all seen it before: a driver with a full car dealing with 10 different distractions, halfway paying attention and slightly weaving into oncoming traffic. Does anyone really think a car like this won’t cause more of that? That’s not even mentioning the retina-burning power of some of those backseat video screens when engaged at night, as they shine at other drivers following behind.

It’s hard to argue against the fact that this kind of innovation is indeed the future, though. And while QNX’s product marketing manager Andy Gryc says he doubts this technology will become standard in vehicles anytime soon – “My car still has roll-down windows and manual locks, so I think it might take a while,” he chuckles – Mr. Carfagnini also adds market research indicates a strong demand amongst many consumer segments. That’s not surprising.

Let’s just hope, as we ease our way into the automotive future, this is done right – for all of our sakes.

Get our email updates

Get up-to-date news about the companies, people and issues that impact businesses in Ottawa and beyond.