Connected car technologies are transforming the automotive industry much like smart phone apps revolutionized the mobile phone sector.  A new generation of aftermarket products are helping tech-savvy drivers reduce accidents, lower insurance costs, save fuel, and plan routes more effectively.

stephen-thompsonCars and trucks have become mobile computing platforms and the tech transformation is accelerating. By 2020, it has been estimated that 75 percent of the world’s cars will have the technology to connect to the internet and to each other via Wi-Fi. Studies by the U.S. Department of Transportation estimate that these connected-car technologies could reduce the number of collisions by 80 percent.

For companies such as Intelligent Mechatronic Systems (IMS), based in Waterloo, Ontario, the data that can be collected by connected-car technologies is a valuable resource that can help drivers save money and improve their driving skills. IMS’ DriveSync platform can collect data through automaker-installed systems, aftermarket devices, or smartphone apps. This data, in turn, is analyzed in real-time and the results are delivered as actionable information.  It can also be used as a coaching tool for young drivers to improve driving skills, or as a fleet management system that helps commercial operators reduce fuel consumption and insurance costs. A number of North America’s leading insurance companies offer drivers lower premiums if they install DriveSync and share the data.

During a presentation at the company’s head office, founder and CEO of IMS, Dr. Otmar Basir, said that the platform is “all about transforming your car from a dumb machine into a smart appliance. DriveSync is a platform for greener, safer, more human-centric driving.”

The speed of consumer acceptance and the demand for more and more internet-connected technologies surprises even some industry veterans. High tech has become a product differentiator in the fiercely competitive automotive marketplace.

“What makes a car different today is not the steel but the technology,” said Bob Moran, CEO and founder of Weather Telematics, during an interview at the company’s head office in Ottawa, Ontario. “Cars used to be about steel and rubber. Now, what matters is intelligence and connectivity.”

Weather Telematics applies advanced meteorological science to real-world driving needs. It combines real-time data from a vehicle’s sensors with up-to-the-minute weather-related information drawn from an array of internet-based sources to provide drivers with accurate intelligence about immediate road conditions.

This is not a ‘40 percent chance of rain in your region’ type forecast, but information about the specific conditions the driver will face on that particular highway within the next mile or across a particular route programmed into the GPS system.  Moran calls it ‘now-casting,’ not weather forecasting. “This is hyper-local weather advice,” Moran said. The overriding goal is to use these technologies to save lives and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Weather Telematics“Weather risks in transportation – rain, fog, snow – contribute to 10,000 deaths every year in the U.S. alone and traffic congestion wastes 2.9 billion gallons of gas annually,” Moran said. “We provide drivers with a new kind of technology that can help them mitigate those safety risks and reduce fuel consumption.”

The growing market for next-generation automotive technologies is drawing more companies into the industry. Ontario, Canada is one of the few jurisdictions in the world with world-class clusters in both automotive production and information technology and has nearly 100 companies now involved in connected-car technologies – and that is very good news for both sectors.

The number of vehicles on the road worldwide is expected to double from 1 billion to 2 billion by 2035, and embracing these technologies can make our roads safer and reduce GHG emissions.


Stephen Thompson is the Senior Economic Officer and Consul for Ontario International Trade and Investment, based in San Francisco