Can a Smartphone Make Your Car Smarter?
Five applications designed to control your automobile.
Industrywide, automakers have seen the future — and it involves integration of digital technologies that people use every day into the cars they drive every day. This is why we are seeing more new automobiles that can interface with handheld devices such as cell phones and digital music players. Motorists can already make hands-free telephone calls or even stream Internet radio through their vehicle's sound system using an iPhone's wireless capabilities.
But now automakers and some aftermarket manufacturers are focusing efforts in another direction: smartphone applications that provide some level of control over the vehicle itself, letting users remotely lock and unlock doors or even kill the engine when needed, for example. And that's not all these apps and devices can do. While the current selection of software is limited, here are five apps that mark the beginning of the next big development in automotive technology: using your smartphone as a universal remote control for your car.
What it does: Key fob makers beware — the first wave of car control apps can do everything your products can, and more, simply by a driver tapping a button on a smartphone's keypad. Mercedes-Benz's mbrace app, for instance, can do simple functions, such as lock or unlock the doors. It can also pinpoint a vehicle's location using GPS technology. Security concerns hobble the app slightly, requiring a code for the locks, and limit location-tracking to within a mile of the phone. But as the kinks of wireless car control are worked out, users will have other features to play with, such as access to a concierge to make restaurant reservations or track down concert tickets.
Platform: iPhone, BlackBerry
Availability: Requires mbrace membership ($280 annually, or $520 for mbrace PLUS). The app is free at www.mbusa.com/mercedes/mbrace/mobile_application.
Directed Electronics SmartStart
What it does: Replacing both the fob and the key, the SmartStart app can open door locks and pop the trunk without the user ever having to enter a pass code. It can also start the engine remotely. The catch here is the hardware: A remote-start unit must be installed in the vehicle, providing direct, secure wireless access to key systems. The system also allows users who shelled out for a compatible alarm system to activate or disable it with their phone, and to get text-message alerts if the alarm is triggered.
Platform: Android, BlackBerry, iPhone
Availability: Requires $399 remote-start unit or $599 start-plus-alarm system. The free apps are at www.viper.com/smartstart/.
What it does: This system has struggled to find a market since it was introduced in 2006, but basically it equips any car with services like those of OnStar. Along with lock control and remote starting, the Anywhere app can let you know when your vehicle starts moving, track its location on a map and even shut off the engine remotely. There are less drastic functions, too, such as keeping logs of where the vehicle has gone in the past month or when it passed a given speed limit, nice features for concerned parents.
Platform: Large number of phones, including BlackBerries and iPhones
Availability: Requires $500 adapter. The app downloads from www.connect2car.com/mobile/.
What it does: General Motors first dipped its massive toe into control app territory at a January 2010 press conference, when it demonstrated a program that allows users to remotely start charging the Volt, GM's eagerly awaited electric vehicle. While that app isn't yet reality, since the Volt has yet to be released, GM has folded some of that software's functions into a more widespread OnStar app, debuting on the 2011 Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC models. Functions include remote start and door lock and unlock. Users will also have access to vehicle diagnostic info, such as fuel and oil levels. When the Volt is released, the app will also be upgraded to allow owners to schedule charging times, with the option of refueling as quickly as possible or whenever electricity is cheapest.
Platform: Android, iPhone; others expected to come
Availability: Launching with select 2011 models in October.
What it does: Not much is known about this electric vehicle's forthcoming app, except that it provides real-time battery-level information and that it has nothing on the Volt's also-not-yet-available app. The only advantage the Nissan app has is its ability to remotely precondition the vehicle's cabin, turning on the air conditioning or heat while the Leaf is still plugged in. Preconditioning is a key to real-world EV feasibility, since it extends the effective range of the vehicle. We expect the Volt to have a similar function closer to launch.
Availability: Expected to launch with the Leaf in December.
Based out of the Boston area, Erik Sofge is frequent contributor to Popular Mechanics and Slate.com. He specializes in everything scientific and technical.
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Definately an amazing potential for abuse by hackers if security exploits are found. Otherwise I think it's a step in the right direction. Combine this with a vehicle that can drive it's self and you'll never have to take your eyes off your phone.
They can park by themselves. So what, if they cannot find a parking spot?
Until there is an app that drives me home after a long night at the pub, I refuse to be impressed. My 1908, 1hp buggy could do that, without any problem.
If You Don't appreciate this sort of tech.. You will never fly your own Car...
With this sort of advanced gagetry. My Only Question is simple..
WHY do I Need Fossile Fuel to go to the Store...
Tar and Feather any one in politics, or Big Oil.. Ship them all to Afganistan and let them live in peace, with the rest of their kind.. Bring our soldiers home..