By Patrick McLaughlin
Recently my 11-year-old sport utility vehicle had a mechanical failure and left my daughter and me stranded. Well, maybe "stranded" is too dramatic a way of putting it because thankfully we were not very far from home and pretty quickly got the help we needed to get on our way. But this is has been our family's go-to vehicle for long trips, sometimes to remote locations. So I certainly was counting my blessings that this mechanical failured happened where it did, when it did.
The situation got me thinking maybe it was time to investigate purchasing a new vehicle. At its age and with its recent history, the SUV was in that dreaded state of "when," not "if" the next breakdown would happen. So I visited a local dealership, and that was when I got my real-life introduction to the Internet of Things. I had read plenty about the IoT. But it came to life when I sat in the driver's seat and got the rundown of the vehicle's capabilities.
A couple caveats. One, we are family of five (six if you count the dog, and we do count the dog), so all six of us and our stuff puts us in the market for either a large van or SUV, or a small bus. And evidently, nowadays, when they're building something that big they load it up with amenities because, what is a family of six going to do, buy a compact? And caveat number two, it had been 11 years since I bought a new vehicle, so pretty much everything from the proximity key to the built-in DVD player was a new experience for me. But it was the use of sensors in the vehicle, and the ability to communicate with the outside world from the vehicle, that made the most significant impression on me.
It has been years since technology companies first allied to develop Ethernet-based networks within automobiles. More recently, the cabling industry has gotten closer to this effort by becoming part of OPEN (One Pair EtherNet), an initiative to use twisted-pair as the in-vehicle communications system. And much more recently, I enjoyed the fruits of some of these efforts by connecting to the WiFi hotspot that resided in that vehicle on the dealer's lot.
In my mind sensors are the DNA of the Internet of Things, and modern vehicles are sensor-rich. Critical pieces of security (anti-theft) and safety (crash-avoidance, airbag, GPS-based communication) systems, sensors generate significant amounts of data about a vehicle's use and condition. All that data resides somewhere, of course, and that somewhere is the Internet of Things.
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